When hurricane Sandy hit New York three months ago, my family and I were effected by it mildly compared to so many others. We lost power, had trees down throughout our neighborhood and had to huddle around the living room fireplace for heat at night. We were incredibly lucky that no one in our family was hurt or had damage done to our homes or vehicles. We also were able to lean on family who hadn’t lost power, to go there during the day to take a warm shower, eat lunch and do laundry.
With that said, I still remember how difficult and stressful it was. I felt like I was running around all day to keep us safe. I knew we needed ice daily, fire wood, and gas. My husband was working late hours as a cop in the city and I had a sixth month old and three year old who depended on me. There was no sense of normalcy and our daily routines were completely thrown off. School was closed for my son, baseball cancelled and I had to conserve on gas, so there weren’t any play dates or trips to places for activities.We ended up making the decision to have myself and the two boys go to California for two weeks until things calmed down in New York.
Through the eyes of a three year old:
We lost power during the day and by early evening the winds began to really pick up. A tree across the street fell down and all the neighbors went out to make sure everyone was safe. Thank goodness it fell into our neighbor’s yard. My son was picking up on my anxiety. I was trying to be very calm and distract him with his normal bedtime routines but he still sensed that something serious was happening. We felt like we would be safer sleeping in the basement as a family that night. so that also validated his feelings that something was off.
That evening he didn’t go to sleep until very late. He had high energy, running around the house with his flash light. He was listening to all the sirens from the firetrucks and police cars that were going to emergency calls all night long. He could hear the wind blowing with such a force that at times he was holding his breath. He could hear the crash of the trees and watched as his dad ran outside with the rest of the neighbors.
No one slept well that night.
My son began to talk about the “storm” a lot. He saw the trees and power lines knocked down everywhere and felt the sense from other adults that this was a serious natural disaster. We didn’t have power, so he didn’t watch the news to see the real devastation that it caused. But he still saw the aftermath in our community.
Halloween came and was a very odd day. A little boy who wore his batman costume for nearly a month, refused to put it on. He didn’t trick or treat by our house but did go near his Grandma’s (who had power). Maybe he felt safer to go over there? His demeanour had changed and I could tell that he was processing all that was happening around him.
We made it to California and it was amazing. I felt a big sense of guilt leaving New York during this time but knew that this was exactly what we needed. We were able to relax (myself included) enjoy our family and begin to establish a routine.
Gavin was talking about the storm a lot with my mom. He would say, “Now Gramy, if you are scared we can tell Papa and he will know what to do.” He said this repeatedly throughout our time there, usually when they were sitting together in a relaxed state. It was interesting that he threw the feeling of being scared at my mom, but never once said to her that he was scared. He was beginning to connect his feelings of fear with the aftermath of Sandy. He also slept in bed with me the entire time we were there. That is not a norm, he typically is happy in his blow-up bed made up especially for him.
Over the past three months, Gavin talks about the “storm” and now says, “I’m scared.” He has expressed fear before going to bed that a “big storm” or “tornado” will happen again. He sleeps with lots of night lights on and has to be reassured before he falls asleep and sometimes in the middle of the night, that he is safe.
He also has the theme of a big storm and tornadoes in his play. He knocks down his action figures, flips the cars over and tosses his toys all over the place. I know that he is still processing what he experienced. Its funny when you think everything is fine and that your family was minimally effected, but it actually had a huge impact on a preschooler’s life. I am sure that overtime this theme will disappear. But until then I encourage him to play it out and we talk about what he experienced, his feelings and reinforce that he is safe.
Different themes that come out in a child’s play is normal and healthy. Think about if your child had been hospitalized or experienced a day in the emergency room. These experiences can be traumatic, so as parents, care givers and professionals we should encourage them to play it out. This will provide emotional support, security and allow them to express themselves.