Saturday, July 14, 2012

...and I'm living a b-grade gothic sitcom. Part I.

[Okay, yes, it’s been almost year since I posted anything. In my defense, I didn’t sleep, at all, for the first three months. The next three months were improved but hardly ideal. The three months after that involved recovering from the previous six. Several times, I wanted to mold a metaphor for my fatigue, but was too tired even to try. Now that Jeff sleeps consistently, school is out, Jon has graduated, my house is mostly under control, and my sister’s wedding is over, I will try –try—to catch up.]

There are a few immutable rules for crafting fiction.

Mystery? The butler did it. Play? The gun on the mantle must be fired before curtain close. Gothic romance? The house burns and falls down. (Or vice versa.) And in a television series, the pregnant lady always goes into labor during the season finale, at the most inopportune moment.

(Some might call these cliches, but let’s not quibble. If we get distracted arguing the point, the crazy first wife locked in your attic will seize the chance to escape and burn down your house.)

So what happens when you combine a pregnant melodramatic English major with a drought, a hurricane, and some juvenile delinquents? The inevitable, naturally.

Given my history of laboring early and fast, I had been negotiating with my doctor about an early induction. “I know there are a list of sound medical reasons why it’s a bad idea to induce more than a week early,” I told Dr. Collins, “But there are also a list of sound medical reasons why it’s not ideal to deliver in the car.”

Dr. Collins had agreed that I could have a weekly exam, and if I seemed to have progressed enough, she would consider just sending me across the street to the hospital. “Keep your overnight bag in the car,” she advised, “And have it with you when you come in for appointments, just in case.”

Remembering my experience with Daniel, I actually prepared this time. Not as early as Jon would have liked – he’d been reminding me for weeks – but I think having the bag ready at one month prior is pretty good for me.

I had also been thinking ahead to post-partum.  Between September and December, I knew I would be juggling two babies, transporting Daniel to a new charter school half an hour away, homeschooling Eric, teaching a homeschool co-op twice a month, and trying not to put too many demands on Jon, who would be finishing his final semester of school. “Something will have to give,” I thought, and started thinking about hiring cleaning help and freezing meals in advance.

Family, friends, and visiting teachers all contributed to that project. Thanks, everyone!

A friend of mine called and asked if I wanted to help him run for Governor of Florida. I told him to take two aspirin and call me in January.

See? Unlike a lot of women, I don’t have a problem with over-commitment. ;)

A few days prior to Labor Day, we noticed there was a potential hurricane heading in our direction. “Please, please, PLEASE hit us,” Jon and I both prayed.

(Finding myself praying FOR a hurricane unsettled me slightly. It sparked a humorous flashback. Twenty years ago, when I lived in Sarasota, Florida, my seminary teacher used to pray for hurricanes. Something about getting the attention of the wicked and the unprepared. We begged her to stop, fearful that someone with her faith might actually succeed in ‘calling’ a category-five storm. Also back then, my three-to-six-year-old little sister exhibited astonishing control over the weather through sheer faith. And cuteness. I suspected the combination was too much even for Heavenly Father, who ought, by now, to have plenty of experience in telling little girls “Sorry, but no.”)

We have been suffering through the worst single summer on record. Between June and September, 2011, there were over 80 consecutive days with three-digit temperatures. Plus several non-consecutive days, putting the total at, I think, almost 100 days in aggregate. NPR did nationwide articles about our drought on several occasions. A website called declared “2011 will go down in history as the hottest and driest season ever….”

Sadly, Jon and I obviously lack faith. Not only did Lee remain a tropical storm, never strengthening to hurricane status, and not only did it veer to the east, completely missing us, it also paradoxically helped to spawn wildfires in Texas. Apparently it sucked any faint wisps of moisture out of our air to feed itself, while also whipping up winds. Bad storm. Bad, BAD storm.

(It remained as unrepentant as Bad Kitty.)

On Labor Day, everyone made jokes about this being an ideal time to give birth. Though I wanted to avoid a cliché, I did think the timing would work nicely. I told Jon that morning “I have a brilliant plan. I will go into labor today while you’re home from work. Lots of people will be nearby and available to babysit…

On the assumption it wouldn’t be that convenient, though, I cleaned the kitchen. I figured I would likely go into labor sometime in the next week, and I wanted a clean house to greet whoever ended up babysitting.

The living room was also clean. In fact, due to concerted effort of tackling one room at a time, the entire house was remarkably orderly, given that I couldn’t actually bend over.
Around 4:30 I was satisfied with my labors and was starting to think about taking a nap.

Around 5 o’clock we started to smell smoke.

The house phone rang, but we ignored it. We’ve never given the number out, and its sole purpose is so the kids can dial out in an emergency. Plus we recently hooked up a fax machine.

We checked the news. It took a few minutes, but we figured out where the latest fire was. Eric and Danny became concerned. “Will it affect us?” they asked, and I said “I doubt it,” thus proving that my fire prediction skills are just as bad as my pregnancy prognostications. Apparently I just don’t have the spirit of prophecy.

The phone rang again. This barely registered for us: Jon and I were juggling two different internet searches, Eric's and Danny’s questions, and Sam. Jon pulled up a map of all the families in the ward and started figuring out whose houses were most likely to be affected.

I kept trying to figure out the direction of the prevailing winds, and not getting an answer.

The doorbell rang. It was a neighbor, helpfully mentioning that the entire neighborhood was under a mandatory evacuation. Almost everyone else on our street was outside, throwing things into vehicles. Some clever people started their sprinklers before leaving. It turned out the two phone calls had been a reverse-911 attempt to warn us. Oops. [1]

Apparently the prevailing winds were blowing in our direction.

So much for a nap.

Jon called Bishop Loderup and told him what was going on. The Bishop invited all refugees to his home for dinner. “You are welcome to spend the night here,” the Bishop added, “But please bring your own sleeping bags if you can.”

 Jon immediately began grabbing our three day kits. I grabbed all the journals and binders of stories I’d written for the kids. Jon yanked hard drives from all the computers. I helped the kids round up the most critical elite stuffed animals. Eric and Danny were great, executing assignments promptly. They each took a backpack and filled them with clothes, books, and stuffed animals. We began staging all materiel in the entryway. Jon grabbed my overnight hospital bag, sleeping bags, and other gear and began loading vehicle trunks carefully. I yanked the filing folder with all our most important documents.

Jon, in between loads to the car paused and looked at me. “Honey,” he said firmly, “This is NOT a good time to go into labor.”

“Yes dear,” I agreed meekly, and grabbed diapers of the correct size for Sam.

Poor Sam was starting to freak out a little. He could tell the frantic bustle was not normal. With the front door constantly open, we couldn’t reasonably keep him inside, but everyone, including his big brothers, helped to keep an eye on him and prevent him from wandering into the street, where, every few minutes, another car drove off.

Eventually Sam got so fussy that Jon just strapped him into the car seat and let him cry. The smoke was getting worse, though, and I wanted to limit our exposure.

At Jon’s request, I went through the house and shut off the air conditioning. Shortly after that, emergency services cut power to the entire neighborhood.

Ash began falling. We were too busy to track the fire, but the situation appeared to be worsening.

Finally Jon decided he had the van and all “civilians” (the kids and me) as ready as we could be. I did one final sweep of the house. Everything possible was turned off, and unplugged. I took one last, lingering look at my library. I had grabbed the most irreplaceable items, but my library has been the work of decades. “Please don’t let it burn,” I prayed, and hoped that, this time, my faith would be more effective.

At the last moment, I had an inspiration. Running back inside, I grabbed two frozen meals made a few weeks before. It was my contribution to the large gathering I knew would be at the Loderup’s.

In all, I must say our family did well. Afterward, I realized things I had forgotten: a jar of alfredo sauce for the pre-cooked and frozen fettuccini; the box with all my writings from college; a pack’n’play for Sammy. Still, when you consider that we loaded three and a half children, emergency gear, irreplaceable items like handwritten stories and stuffed animals, food, water, clothes, flashlights, cell phone chargers, and almost everything else we’d need—all in about one hour—I think we deserve at least an A-minus.

We could have evacuated in less time than that, obviously. The kids, three-day kits, documents, medications, and hard drives took about twenty minutes. After that came the second-tier stuff: sleeping bags, stuffed animals, pillows, and so forth.

I drove the kids to the Bishop’s house. Jon went to help some neighbors who had only recently moved in. He joined us later.

As I left my neighborhood, I noticed several police cars setting up roadblocks and directing traffic. Vehicles were streaming out, but were not allowed back in.

I called my mom on the way and asked her to pray. “I like my house,” I explained, coughing slightly from minor smoke inhalation. “I really don’t want it to burn.”

Several families ended up gathering at the Loderups’. The Bishop and two missionaries were making phone calls. Jon was drafted into Ward Clerk mode (even though he’d been released shortly before). He set up his laptop and pulled up his amazing (personally-scripted) map of all the member households in the area and started coordinating which families still needed to be contacted. When possible, in between helping with dinner and chasing children, I tried to get weather/news reports on my smartphone. I was mostly frustrated by the attempt, but I did glean a few nuggets of information.

I helped in the kitchen for a while, then abruptly sat down. I’d been feeling odd tinges combined with exhaustion, and decided to try putting my feet up. “I want to help my hosts,” I thought, “But staving off labor is the most legitimately productive thing I can do right now.” Jon frequently quotes a cardinal rule of crisis management: “Don’t become another victim.”

During dinner, we got the news that the Whelan’s house was completely gone. It was the second church member house destroyed in as many months.

We ate a subdued dinner, had a short multi-family FHE, and then dismissed the kids while the adults planned.

Television news reports were still focusing primarily on the Bastrop fire, which was a far worse and longer-lasting disaster. There was also information about Steiner Ranch. We got very little useful information about the current status of the smaller Moonglow fire, though.

Sleeping arrangements were made. The Berry family was routed to the home of the Lathams, who made fantastic hosts. They even had a portable crib set up for Sammy when we arrived.

I had the idea to start checking facebook, which yielded some information about other families who had evacuated but not, at least yet, lost their homes.

Next in the triage tree: Bedtime. Poor Sam was trying to be a trooper, but was still a non-napped, tired toddler. Putting him down calmed the chaos considerably.

Eric and Daniel were more successfully brave soldiers, but shaken. Over the previous few weeks, I had been telling the kids an episodic bedtime story about alien invaders treating the Earth the way European colonists had treated North America. Perversely, that night’s installment, which involved breached force shields and a toxic cloud of chemical and biological contagions passing over Florida, actually helped to calm Eric and Daniel down. Nothing is so reassuring as routine, apparently, even when it involves tales of mayhem amid actual chaos. 

The last of my duties discharged, I collapsed into bed. The mere memory of my exhaustion has overcome me: rather than craft a convincing cliffhanger, I think I'll just rely on some annoying alliteration and then go take a nap....

[1] I love how this demonstrates that Jon and I are absent-minded professor types. There we were, trying to gather data online, but oblivious to the neighborhood evacuation going on around us.