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To The Mom In The Midst of a Disaster

Photograph by Twenty20

Dear Mom in The Middle of a Disaster,

I see you.

I write this from the center of week two of the Northern California firestorm.

I woke in the early hour of last Monday morning to crazy winds and the smell of smoke. I checked the neighborhood, closed the windows and sent a good wish that the smokey smell was just a small grass fire, soon to be extinguished.

My wish didn’t work.

Hours later, my parents arrived on my door fleeing flames. We watched as orange glows appeared frighteningly close on the hills to our north and our southeast. We were literally surrounded by fire.

We watched the news in horror as the fire ripped down a residential hill in what felt like minutes, jumped the freeway and incinerated the densely populated neighborhood I grew up in. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of the nightmare.

My county has lost over 6,000 homes and 22 people. Thousands of citizens are still under mandatory evacuation and more than 17,000 are without power. The fires are still burning. I’m no longer sure if I’m supposed to be thrilled or terrified when I hear helicopters overheard or sirens rushing past. The air is thick with smoke and we watch each new plume rising in the sky with horror. Spending time outside is officially dangerous and school is cancelled for at least another week.

I’ve witnessed countless tragedies on TV, safely removed from any real danger. I’ve donated money, shared thoughtful memes and been ever so thankful that it wasn’t me. Now, I’m consumed with guilt for moving on so quickly from prayers for Harvey to a fun day at the beach. Today, the world has moved on, but I can’t.

I’m still checking the weather obsessively, trying to parse the valid from the inflammatory on Facebook. I’ve changed my phone ring to the loudest, most obnoxious option and I still double-check it obsessively.

All I want is to be comforted, but it’s my job to be the comforter.

Social media has become a vital source of information and a painful reminder that outside of this community the world still turns. People are suffering with the case of the Mondays while we are trying to get our mind around another week of destruction. There are grumbles about getting back to the grind while so many of us wish desperately that we could be getting back to work and school and life.

Parenting through a disaster is so incredibly difficult. I'm trying to stay informed without freaking out my children. I keep sneaking into the other room to cry only to hurry and suck it up because I'm needed. All I want is to be comforted, but it’s my job to be the comforter.

When I finally fall asleep, I have nightmares of fire that are not improved upon waking. I want desperately to do more to help my community, but I have no way to volunteer with two young children in my charge. It's a struggle to remain calm and patient on the best of days; right now, it's almost impossible. I'm truly in survival mode in a way that isn’t the usual exaggeration we've all used to describe tough parenting days.

I thought I appreciated my little home; now, I wake every morning thrilled that it's still standing. I thought I felt connected to my family, neighbors and friends; now, we are bonded in a way that will never break. Before, I thought I understood tenacity, community, love and gratitude; now, those things have come into laser focus.

I will never again dismiss a far-off tragedy without taking some action, no matter how small. I will let other disasters remind me to give back to my own community and beyond. I will do my best to honor those suffering by being deeply grateful that I am not.

I now understand how painful it is to feel unseen during a catastrophe. So, dear sweet mama, doing her best during difficult times, I see you. I understand how hard it is. I get that the pain and fear and difficultly doesn’t leave just because the news crews have.

I want you to know that simply by surviving you are doing an incredible job. I want you to remember to eat and give yourself space to break down. I want you to ask for help. I want you to see all those annoying social posts as a beacon of hope. Someday soon, it will be you who simply needs another cup of coffee in order to get through your day. And when you snap a picture of that second cup, it will be accompanied by a gratitude that didn’t exist before.

You are strong and you are going to come out of this stronger than ever. You are loved and appreciated and needed—now more than ever. Hang in there, mama, you are not alone.

If you would like to help the victims of this fire, please consider making a donation to the North Bay Fire Relief fund.