A family in the rain
For some people, storms and other natural disasters bring out the best in the family unit. They're a time to pull together or be glad of a partner's skills and support. For others, they bring out the worst. Those of us on the ground in NYC have heard over the past few days all kinds of testimonials both for and against relationships.
Usually in the "for" camp, it's a person talking with trust about their partner's opinion. "Bob knows from hurricanes, and he says it's time to get out!" Or "Jane would never let us keep this kids in a danger zone." These are family units pulling together, with each partner reinforcing the other's expertise. I even know a mom who moved into a hotel with two tiny toddlers, in order for her husband to be near enough his office to keep working through the storm. Anyone who has tried to entertain little kids in a hotel room knows that this was a true testament to love and togetherness.
Unfortunately, there are the other stories too. The woman resentfully sitting home with the kids while the husband is off doing recon for hours (or has he stopped by the local bar?). The divorced couple deliberately keeping each other in the dark about where the kids are going to be, and so on.
The following is an anonymous dispatch about fighting during the storm preparation, from a Shine correspondent who evacuated Brooklyn on Sunday.
We want to hear from other Shine readers. Fighting with your spouse? Fighting with your kids? Really grateful and glad to be together as a family? Let us know in the comments.
My family and I can see the water about 30 yards from the window of our building in Brooklyn. Our car sits even closer, and our parking lot floods in big storms. Last fall, we evacuated for Irene, though many of our friends and neighbors didn't. We were teetering on the verge of getting divorced, you see, and during Hurricane Irene I found it unbearably gloomy to be trapped all together at home in the dark.
Last time, we packed up our two toddlers and went to my parents', where we ended up losing power for a week while the city was fine. This time, things were better in our relationship, and I wanted to stay.
We went to the playground Sunday morning, where we met up with all the other neighborhood parents, trying to run their kids around before the storm hit. It was cold, dark and windy already. While we were there, an e-mail came in saying schools were cancelled, and another saying that the mayor had ordered a mandatory evacuation of our neighborhood.
I still wanted to stay. Most of our friends agreed. Another couple from our building was at the playground, with three small children. They stayed through Irene and said they were staying, though our building management would close the storm shutters, making the apartments very dark, and turn off electricity and water, even if it didn't go out on its own. "One toilet for pee, one for poop!" my neighbor exclaimed.
That was all my husband needed to hear: "Let's go to your parents'," he said. "I thought we were staying!" I said. And in about four seconds, as disagreements between us do, the conversation devolved into him calling me crazy and irrational, and me shaking with rage.
Of course there's a long history, but the grievances (on my side) are involve feeling like there are no other priorities for my husband when his personal comfort is involved. Children's Halloween party scheduled for Wednesday at our house, with hundreds of dollars of supplies already bought? Irrelevant. Potential scary, traffic-choked drive to New England with thousands of other evacuees? Whatever. Desire to not be manipulated by the fear-mongering media and ass-covering city bureaucracy? Totally unimportant. The man does not want to shit in a toilet that already has shit in it, and that is the end of the story.
We avoided each other at the playground. We fought all the way back home.
On our street, we saw stacks of plywood leaning against the walls of the local businesses, in preparation for boarding up windows. Upon arrival, our doorman told us that the building manager was going to barricade the building, and wanted everyone out. My mother called to tell me that they were expecting 20-foot storm surges and that the building might be destroyed. How can you want to stay? My husband demanded. Do you want to go because you think it's going to be boring and uncomfortable, or because we're in actual danger? I asked. Then we started fighting about how obviously neither one of us knew anything about what was really going to happen. Our 4-year-old was crying and saying "Daddy, listen to mommy! I don't want to miss Halloween!"
At this point, between us, it hardly matters who is right. We're probably both wrong, or both right for the wrong reasons. When I fight with my husband, I feel like I'm under a black cloud, I physically shake, my back tightens, my brain shuts down. I feel slow and stupid and like I can't think, like a giant is standing on my head.
"We'll go if you insist," I said. "Obviously I can't prove that we should stay. How do I know what's going to happen with the weather?"
"No," he said. "If you want to stay let's stay. If they evacuate the whole city, we'll go."
"That makes no sense!" I cried. "Imagine an evacuation of all of New York City? If we're going to go eventually, let's just go now."
The reader can probably imagine how unpleasant our next few hours of back-and-forth fighting were, while we watched the news coverage (showing scary footage of previous storms) and argued. It was getting darker and windier out. A light rain had started to mist our several water-facing windows. My mother called again, both the land-line and my cellphone, and then again when I let it go to voicemail. Neighbors were texting to find out what we were doing and if they could borrow various items (air mattress, tarps).
Against my wishes&8212;by now we had changed roles and I was arguing to evacuate and he to stay-my husband went out and bought more supplies, more batteries, more plastic sheeting. I thought about divorcing him, a habit I'm trying to break. We've gotten better at managing our day-to-day conflicts, but the underlying status is that we have a hard time listening to each other. When one of us gets rolling, the other one has no influence. Would I be happier and feel safer in a crisis if I were on my own with my two kids? I know thinking like that is a dark response to crisis and stress, and tried to make myself stop.
When he got back, I went out (to the same block he'd just gone to, joys of fighting) to close the windows and remove an air-conditioner at my office space. On the way, just to enhance the aura of hysteria and crisis, I saw a car hit a motorcyclist, who then fell under his bike and was pinned. The city felt terrifying, with everyone half-panicked, wrong-footed and not paying attention. When I got back, the neighbors who'd stayed through Irene, the ones I'd counted on playing with in the halls, were packing their car.
I ran up to our apartment and said, "That's it, we're going!" "Why?" my husband asked. "I'm scared," I said. "Ok," he said.
We are bad at some things but good at getting stuff done. He storm-proofed the windows while I threw the children's clothes in a suitcase. (He'd already packed himself earlier in the afternoon, while arguing that we should stay.) Two hours later we were rolling through New Haven chatting about books, kids in their car-seats, bottles and pacifiers and emergency-ration Cliff-bar dinner strewn around our back seat.
Weirdly, the roads were deserted.
We are now at my parents' house, everyone having a good time.
One lesson of evacuations is that nobody listens to another person when it comes to grocery shopping. I am looking at a fridge with 6 cartons of whole milk in it. After my husband's last-minute over-shop in preparation for not evacuating, my parents went and did a last-minute over-shop (which I explicitly told them not to) in preparation for us evacuating.
And, as I type, I just heard through the wall that my mother is feeding my 4-year-old M&Ms at 7:50am. She just said "Let's not let this ruin our breakfast."
Wish us luck!
A family in the rain