I continued to climb, past my sister-in-law, and then eventually past my brother-in-law (who was, with the pure determination of a loving parent, miraculously pulling both of his 35-pound children up to safety), and suddenly we were at the top, far sooner than I believed possible given the length of our descent. Baxter stood at the top of the staircase in the woods, leaves and sticks swirling past him in the wind, with his hands over his ears and an expression of sheer terror on his face.
I could no longer run. Although we were decidedly not out of danger – in fact we were in a meadow with enormous, old trees all around us – we were finished climbing. My legs threatened to give out from under me from fear and exhaustion, but I kept walking rapidly to the house. Matt had sprinted ahead of me, depositing Lyle, and suddenly I was on the porch of our vacation house with my two boys, my niece and nephew, and my sister- and brother-in-law. And we were all okay. Matt ran back down the path to locate his parents and make sure they were all right; it was a horrible feeling to be racing ahead with our children in the storm, not knowing if our parents were safe. They were.
As we pulled the kids’ sandy wet clothes off on the covered porch, breathing hard, the rain began in earnest, finally joining forces with the wind. I filled up the big warm bathtub for the boys, and tried to catch my breath as the downpour again made its racket on the skylights above. It became obvious to me all of a sudden that I could barely breathe and needed my asthma inhalers stat; I sat in my wet clothes at the edge of the tub, shaking from the adrenaline and albuterol, marveling at our safety and trying not to think about how much more treacherous that already muddy path would have been, a mere five minutes later, in this kind of rain.
It was a fast-moving storm, without a doubt. And yet people more attuned to their natural environment (and less engrossed in a fun outing with their small children) would have paid more attention to that lovely dark blue sky in the distance – perhaps noticing it closing in on them – and the wind picking up all of a sudden. When we gathered around the table to eat our picnic dinner, still shaky, we suddenly noticed a huge tree limb that had come down in the backyard, just barely missing the house itself. It was impossible not to imagine anew something of that size crashing down when we were in the woods, with us underneath. News reports today confirm the speed and danger of the winds we were in, the flooding and power outages here and across the Great Lake at home. Chicago was hit quite hard, too, it turns out.
But on a personal level, I was extremely upset by how powerless I felt to keep my children safe. My older son, fancying himself a superhero, proved his Superior Speed and Strength by making it to the top first. But without the safety of an adult nearby, he was far too vulnerable. The one in my arms was nearly hit on the head by a tree branch, and I could not carry him all the way home. I’m sure Matt was right when he suggested that if I had not had the option of handing Lyle over partway up, I would have carried him the whole way, fueled by adrenaline and sheer parental will. But the fact remains that in the moment, I didn’t think I could.
For months now, I’ve wanted to get into better physical shape. I need and want more exercise. I just haven’t felt the motivation required to adjust my schedule and make it happen. But let me tell you, feeling like I couldn’t protect my children when they were in danger – because I wasn’t fast enough or strong enough? That’s all the inspiration I need.
While Matt was putting the boys to bed hours later, I was still working to calm myself. Putting on familiar, quiet music and pouring myself a glass of wine, I focused on mundane, everyday tasks that required no thought: washing dishes, putting the kids’ toys away, and sweeping up the sand we’d tracked in.
Opening the front door to shake sand off of the towels and blankets, I stopped for a moment and stood on the large porch. The storm was still raging around us: lightning and thunder had been added to the rain and wind, and it was a frightful scene. But knowing that, just inside, four beautiful, unharmed children were getting tucked into their warm, cozy beds by brave and loving parents filled my heart with much joy.
And indescribable gratitude.