I am lucky and I know it. Days after the worst storm in my lifetime devastated huge sections of the New Jersey coast as well as local communities along various rivers, I have the luxury of sitting in my generator-powered living room, writing. My family is safe and warm, and our house is undamaged. My kids are getting a little antsy being homebound and annoyed that Halloween was canceled for the second year in a row, and my wife (a psychologist) and I are frustrated, unable to open our offices due to lack of heat and electricity. These are relatively small problems in the scheme of what could have been and what is for others. Understand, I was born and raised in New Jersey, and I have lived my entire life here with the exception of college and medical school. N.J. is not just where I live; it is a part of who I am, as much as it is for the families I care for in my pediatric practice. I am deeply embedded, consciously, within my community. And now, I am feeling its pain, and I'm struggling to find a way to help my patients. I first thought I could write to create awareness about some big issue like the real life impact of climate change, but I can't yet wrap my mind around it. It seems so indirect and disconnected right now. So I put out a call through my Whole Child Facebook page, our virtual community, for stories. Here's what I posted:
I know that we are trying hard to cope -- and help our children cope -- with the aftermath of probably the worst local environmental disaster in many of our lifetimes. I am wondering -- what are YOU telling your kids and doing to help them cope? I am trying today to focus, which is very hard, to create something constructive by writing about our experiences. Please help me out with your stories.
And so they did. I thought I would share some of our messages with you. I've edited a little bit for space constraints and to remove names but did not alter the content.
We have spent the last few days taking the opportunity to sort through our clothes and toys and put together an assortment of things to be donated. It has been something we have been meaning to do. After telling the girls about all the little boys and girls who lost everything, it has made it easier for them to give things away. The pictures of people's homes and the devastation have only inspired them more. I would never have thought at such a young age, how empathetic and compassionate kids could be.
I told my 3yr old that the storm made a mess and broke a lot of trees. Those trees fell on the wires that give us energy. And that's why we can't have YouTube and need to use flashlights. He actually is enjoying the "camping" experience despite the despair and sadness that is the real situation for so many.
I remind my children that my parents grew up without electricity and heat in Europe. They had an icebox for food and an outhouse for toilets. They heated water on a fire and washed clothes by hand outside. They had no antibiotics and medicine came from olive oil and plants grown outdoors. They ate what they grew in their farms -- all backbreaking work. We have truly become pampered by technology. I wish my grandmother were still alive -- I'd have so much to ask her.
Our kids age 10 & 8 are able to see the news footage and certainly feel sad for the families in NJ so badly impacted by this storm, but I think it's hard for them to realize just how close to home this is. Some of the lessons learned here were about heeding warnings and preparing ahead of time ... we did prepare some ... But b/c of this storm I will be dedicating a shelf in my basement to "emergency preparedness" and have it well stocked with all the necessities for a future event so we aren't running around crazy when supplies are depleted. Sending prayers to all the families so adversely affected by this storm.
We tried to explain the storm as simply as possible ... He was a bit concerned about all the sirens, fire trucks and ambulances but told us that someone needs help. We were very fortunate to have no damage and power outages. I keep thinking of all the children and families who had to deal with so much more stress and trauma. I hope they are able to find ways to heal from all of this.
Our kids love to help so we have had them help us clean yards, help with relatives and friends who are staying with us, etc.; helping seems to give us a feeling of purpose and routine. It is much easier being the "warming center" than the ones in the cold for sure.
He rationalized on his own, that our house "ran out of batteries" and needed to be cold until we were able to get more. Children are so resilient!
Lots of questions from my 5 yo. How were houses washed away? Just like her sand castles and bucket and pails. But from much stronger water and wind. Letting the children help has been huge for us. We all carry in firewood, we all pack the food with ice. We all help each other and reach out to help who we can. Lots of board games, fall asleep by the fire each night. One other nice exposure for us to give the kids is saying the serenity prayer each night before dinner. Thank you for asking. It really helps me to keep focus on what's important.
We've tried to focus on perspective -- on how fortunate we and our loved ones have been. We talk about our treasured L.B.I. locations and memories, and how we'll be sure to go back next summer regardless; even how the damage may at least create a lot of jobs for the reconstruction. She is a girl scout so I'm thinking there are a lot of community service projects that might be appropriate for her age group.
My children are older and have seen the news footage. We are trying to focus on the humanity and kindness that disaster can bring about in mankind.
Tell kids to study science, math, become engineers and work on improving our country's infrastructure. This disaster is a great lesson on "preventive medicine." Talk to them to imagine how we would withstand this disaster if we had buried cables, hurricane walls, invested in backup power and prevented future disasters by investing in measures to counteract the effects of climate change.
I am so moved by the resilience of our children and the diversity of suggestions. Maybe one of these messages will help you and your children cope a bit more easily. I know it has helped me.
For those needing assistance or looking to help, NJ.com has compiled a list of resources and opportunities to give support. Please do what you can to help the neediest.