Last night, daughter Michele, her husband, Terry, and their two children, Emily and Nathan, had to abandon their car and lie in a ditch while a storm with winds at about 80 mph passed over them. It was the most frightening situation she has ever been in and one that gave me a lot to think about during the night when I was supposed to be sleeping.
Michele and family were driving to a local grocery store in preparation for a 4th of July camping trip in their new camper. The weatherman had been predicting storms; however, we all know how that goes. Half the time they're right .. and half the time they're wrong ... and they still draw their mega paychecks regardless of their accuracy. So assuming that the dire predictions of hail, strong winds and possible tornadoes would be as wrong as it usually is, the 4 set out.
I had been at the golf course and had come home after the sirens had sounded, sending all the golfers into the clubhouse to get rainchecks to return and play another day (we, too, didn't believe the weatherman and had gone to the golf course despite the forecast). Shortly after arriving home, I got Michele's first text advising me that they had just abandoned their car to lie in the ditch to avoid what they thought was a tornado. She and her husband and kids were lying there saying the "Our Father" over and over. She wanted to know if there were any more tornado warnings out. She told me of 2" hail, "dancing streetsigns" and bowing trees being pulled out of the ground by the roots. I could sense the fear in her text to me, especially when it ended with the word "Pray."
I immediately started saying the Rosary, while texting her to "call me" as soon as she could. A rather disjointed call followed, and, then, more texts, indicating that they were trying to either get to the grocery store or home, but the roads were all blocked with fallen trees everywhere they turned.
After several hours, they did manage to make it home (with groceries!) only to find a number of large trees down in their own yard, a piece of siding missing from the house, and a lot of flattened plants. Miraculously, a large branch right above their brand new camper had been ripped off a tree but had been flung aside without touching the camper or the house! We started saying prayers of gratitude instead of prayers of petition.
This morning, I went over to Michele's with a homemade coffee cake. I knew I didn't need an "excuse" to see my daughter with my own eyes in order to satisfy myself that she and her family were okay, but, I also knew that she would accept it easier if I came for a reason ... delivering the coffee cake. Terry and a neighbor, along with Nathan and the neighbor's son, were busy cutting up the fallen trees and carrying the logs into the "woods" behind their house. The coffee cake was my offering for "breakfast" for the workers. Michele saw right through it and, with tears in her eyes, hugged me and thanked me for coming. Her tear-filled eyes matched my own ... we both realized what a close call she had experienced. She vowed that she would never again take weather for granted, and might even begin believing the weatherman when predictions of adverse weather were made.
I was frightened when I talked to her last night to think of the danger they were in trying to outrun a storm. I was saddened when I heard about the damage to their beautiful home and yard, Michele's pride and joy. She is the caretaker of both and the yard and the home both reflect her creativity, artistry and sense of neatness. But I didn't get REALLY frightened about the experience until 3:00 a.m. today. You know ... that "witching hour" ... when all of the problems in your world become larger than life and it seems as if there is no solution to any of them.
What I thought about at 3 a.m. today were all of the horrible things that could have happened to them lying in that ditch. When I heard about the trees on the road everywhere they turned, I realized any one of those trees could have fallen on them or been hurled through the atmosphere by the strong winds, landing where they were taking shelter. Even their car, which they had abandoned on the roadside next to the ditch assuming it would act as a buffer between them and the wind, could have been blown on top of them, had the wind gusts been strong enough and coming from the right direction. Either one of my grandchildren could have been picked up by a wind gust and dropped at a point far removed from where their parents were. The possibilities were endless, each one more frightening than the last.
Thinking of the damage to their home, I thanked God that Emily and Nathan had not been home alone when the storm blew up. They are 12 and 8, old enough to be left alone while Mom and Dad run to the grocery store. In fact, they often stay home alone in such circumstances. Fortunately, the 4 of them were all together, so that no small child was left huddled in a room wondering if the end of the world was coming as siding was being ripped off the house, trees were crashing around them, and the wind roared overhead. I worried about the expensive repairs had any of the trees landed on the house. There was so much to worry about .. and so much to be grateful for. Finally, gratitude won out over fear ... and I fell back to sleep.
I have only recently begun to accept that my children are no longer "children" in the sense of being a child. They are adults who must face dangers on their own without my being there to protect or guide them. While that is what parenting is all about .. raising an independent child ... it is difficult to accept that an adult child is really no longer a child. I think of that periodically when I read an obituary of a young person (in their late 30s or early 40s) or hear from a friend whose "child" has suffered a stroke or died from cancer. My "children" are now old enough to face the same dangers and ills that I, myself, have to face. And they must do it without me, even though I want to be there for them at all times.
Weathering a storm like Michele and her family did is an experience that ended well, thankfully. They will never forget it, nor will I. Because it helped me realize that weathering the storm of parenthood is an experience that doesn't end .. it just continually changes.
While I am here for my children at all times, I also know that they are experiencing life in all of its fullness without me on a daily basis and I am hearing about it after the fact. The worry and fear of a mother never goes away ... at 3:00 a.m. you worry about a 30-something daughter and family no differently than you worried about that same daughter when she was 6 and had strep throat. You can't pick her up and rock her and hug her and kiss her and make it all better. All you can do is the one simple thing my daughter asked me to do for her last night. Pray.