Last week after school, my two sons and I headed to the house where my youngest stays during the day with her amazing sitter. When we left school, I noticed it was getting cloudy and I could hear thunder in the distance. As we drove, the wind picked up and leaves were blowing in the street. I could tell it was about to rain, so I told the boys to stay in the truck (engine was running) while I ran inside to get their sister.
It took me a few minutes to gather up all of my daughter’s things and ask what she needed for the next day. By the time I headed back to the truck with my daughter in tow, I noticed the wind had picked up even more. The branches were whipping back and forth and the thunder was getting louder in the distance.
When I opened the door to put the baby in her car seat, both my boys were crying hysterically.
I immediately started asking what was wrong. I thought they had hurt each other. When neither would answer me, I felt the panic start to rise in my chest. I finally got my oldest to calm down long enough that he asked me, “Is it a tornado?”
Let me go back.
On April 24, 2019, our small town was hit by an EF2 tornado. As an adult, it was one of the scariest things I have ever witnessed. I had been out to dinner with a friend and a sitter was at my house with my kids. I got home around 9:30 p.m. and climbed into bed about 10:00.
At 11:14 there was a large crack of thunder that made me sit straight up in my bed. There had been no rain and no other rumblings of thunder before the sound that woke me. Immediately, I heard the wind outside as it started to get stronger. I halfway laid back down and continued to listen for another minute. At this point, I heard what I could only describe as what sounded like a train moving at a very high rate of speed. I grabbed my baby out of her crib and ran into the next room where my boys were asleep in their bunk beds.
I shook them and told them to hurry and get out of bed. They both opened their eyes and then quickly closed them again. This time I yelled, as the sound was getting louder and louder. Finally, hysterics must have registered in my voice, because they both started to get out of their beds.
I had no idea where to go.
Being born and raised in Ohio, we would have gone to our basement. Obviously basements aren’t common here, so I pushed us all into the shower in my bathroom. My heart was pounding and my kids were just staring at me. At some point the electricity went off. At 11:24, the wind died down and it was calm. I made my kids stay in the shower while I called my old boss, who happens to be on the Volunteer Fire Department. He missed my call and when he called me back, all I could say was, “Where do I go?! Where should I put my kids?!” He had no idea what I was talking about. Unbeknownst to both of us, the tornado had taken out the radio tower.
This is the electric substation in our town after the tornado.
This is a giant tree that was uprooted by the tornado.
My kids went back to sleep, but I never did. I tried to explain to my kids about what had happened and what to expect. They still did not understand the extent of the damage until we drove around the next day. It was a giant shock for them to see how much the town we lived in had changed.
I am sharing this story because I believe with my whole heart that my kids suffer from mild PTSD related to this natural disaster. I say mild PTSD because it has in no way affected their school work or their daily functioning. It just makes them have an extremely emotional reaction when they think it is going to storm.
Here are the things I try to do to help them cope:
1) I reassure them in the calmest voice possible that it is not a tornado, just a thunderstorm.
2) We talk about something happy that has happened recently.
3) If they ask me about details they remember from the tornado, I try to be as vague as possible.
4) While we are waiting for the storm to pass, we play a game that requires them to focus, like card matching games.
5) Sometimes, if nothing else is working, we just cuddle. If they need that physical safeness, I just give it to them.