On Motherhood & Sanity

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dispatches from my glass castle in Brooklyn

Last year hurricane Irene was a disappointment. This year I think it was difficult for a lot of us to take the perfect storm too seriously. 

Then Sandy came.

All through the night the goblins whaled and the fire sirens  chanted like proper sirens from the sea. To keep with the theme, the trees shook so violently it sounded like waves, actual waves made of water by the side of the sea.

The mother instinct again got the best of me and, around midnight, I carried my sleepy children down the stairs into my bedroom, to a makeshift bed  behind my own, should anything come crashing through the windows.

The sirens, the sea and the whaling goblins continued through the night. The family, in far away lands (Europe) kept ringing,

are you ok ?!
- we are fine
- the TV here is making it look like a horrible thing
- the TV here is making it look like a horrible thing too.

Morning came and the castle was still standing. We had electricity, we had phone lines, we even had cable and internet. 

We watched the news  as the footage of disaster started streaming in. From the comfort of my untouched home  it all felt far, far away.

Soon we ventured out and came across trees, large old trees that have taken decades to grow, possibly a century, smashed across the street, having taken with them whatever stood in their way. Children conquering them, but mostly people photographing them and themselves with it. We didn’t feel we had survived. We didn’t feel fortunate. Not yet. We felt like another Irene had hit us, another overblown scam.

Main street was full of people. Shops were beginning to open. Restaurants were full and wine shops were running out of stock. With no work, school or public transportation, we were all stuck in Brooklyn, this never never land that the storm had forgotten.

Halloween was overbooked. Parents were desperate to get the kids out of the house. Nobody could be at work, so we came out en masse and early. We filled the piñata up with just half of the sweets we collected.
Except it, the storm, hadn’t forgotten us. Our peers in Red Hook were living a very different post sandy situation. Our peers in Far Rockaways, Long Island, freaking down town Manhattan...

Slowly the full impact of the storm started to become evident.

TV kept feeding us with images that didn’t quite fit our reality. Work and school kept getting cancelled. The internet brought us images  that were real, but felt photoshoped.

- mommy is this for the poor children?
- no sweetie, they are not poor, they are just like us except their house got filled with water, or sand, or both  with the storm

It's hard to explain. I think they think we are making this up. 


Spam along the lines of “sandy updates” kept slipping through the inbox. Annoyingly. No work gets done because you are obsessed  checking and rechecking on this strange story they claim is unfolding around you, yet totally out of sight. It feels like watching the end of the world from inside your glass castle.

 Speaking with friends, confirming they are fine,“wish I could help, but have no way to get to you.”

I’m here, but without a car or public transport, I might as well be in a different land.

And then I started reading the inbox. The images from the screen started making sense. The horror is in the details. And it started to show its teeth.

It wasn’t until I snapped at my husband for doing absolutely nothing  wrong that I realized how much this inaction was affecting me. This strange loop hole. We are in the eye of the storm. So much so that we remain untouched.

I’m too busy to volunteer, fully,  because in one week I have to be in Nicaragua helping those people out. The irony.


Together with shame and confusion  came pride and awe.

People are really coming together. I did a “donation shop” with the kids,  and  it was clear that many people around me  were not doing the house shop: canned foods, medicines, baby formula, first aid kits, etc

Businesses volunteering their space for people to work in; gyms volunteering their space for people to shower in; people doing bake sales to raise money; friends sharing homes; families helping other families find homes; communities coming together to organize the community; occupy wall street started an occupy sandy relief  movement (very organized, they’ve been practicing); the marathon got cancelled, so someone set up the NY marathon relief, use all that training to get food and other much needed supplies up long flight of stairs for the elderly in need.

I’m not proud. It is hard juggling normal reality with a human catastrophe. The hubs cooked a massive hot plate of pasta that got delivered by some friends that have a car, together  with warm clothes, maternity clothes; children’s clothes (diapers, formula, meds and first aid stuff). Some volunteering. Some money. Not much. Something. Never enough.

The sirens keep chanting. More quietly so. And tomorrow the children go back to school, as if none of this ever happened. 

Resilience they call it.