Storm stirs up questions, ideas

November 2, 2012 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

As “super storm” Sandy approached on Monday, we prepared as much as we felt was necessary. We didn’t anticipate that our area in upstate New York would be hard-hit. Some rain, lots of wind. Perhaps we’d lose power for a while.

Our children didn’t appear particularly affected by the impending storm. Our two teenagers mulled the likelihood of school being cancelled. Our 8-year-old son was busily practicing his Harry Potter spells for Halloween, and his immediate concern was whether or not Sandy would ruin trick-or-treating.

At bedtime, he started to ask questions. What was a hurricane like? Would there be a tornado too? It was dark and raining a little. The wind did not sound nearly as powerful to me as it had during an overnight storm some weeks back, when the house shook from its seemingly relentless blows. He was not awake during that storm and did not have that perspective.

“Can a tornado and hurricane happen at the same time?” he asked. The earnest look on his face made me want to say “no,” but I suspected I would be lying. I skirted the question, but he persisted.

“But a tornado and a hurricane can’t happen at the same time at night, right?”

I reassured him that his dad and I would do everything we could to keep everyone safe. He was satisfied enough by my answer that my follow-up diversionary tactic worked, and we got back to discussing Harry Potter and whether or not he could bring his wand to school for the Halloween parade.

It’s difficult when something unsettles our children – particularly when we don’t have good answers. It’s important to acknowledge their fears but to also keep calm, because they will feed off our anxiety. We understand we need to provide age-appropriate limits on their exposure to news. For example, our girls (ages 14 and 16 years) might read about the storm or talk about it in school; we don’t need to leave the newspaper on the table for our 8-year-old.

Our son didn’t ask any questions after the storm. (The fact that school wasn’t cancelled apparently allayed his fears about Halloween and trick-or-treating.) The girls, however, were aware that New York City and surrounding areas had been much harder hit. We talked about how hard it would be to go without power for eight to 10 days, as was expected by someone we knew on Long Island. We discussed the fact that we take our power and technology and access to stuff for granted.

It made us think about how, when in November we all too briefly focus on thankfulness, perhaps we need to be a little more mindful of how fortunate we are. We went online and joined We’re considering upcoming volunteer opportunities, and decided we will sign up for something as a family.

What we have not talked about is a disturbing story we came across several days after the storm, in which a Staten Island mom’s babies, ages 2 and 4, were swept from her arms by a wave. Some reports say neighbors in the area where her car had broken down reportedly turned out their lights and shut the door in her face as she pleaded for someone to call 911. The boys’ bodies were found the next day. Although true, it is almost too heartbreaking on every level to comprehend.

Then there are stories about people like Gus Veintimilla, a 30-year-old sanitation worker, who was awakened by rescue workers knocking down doors as they helped people from their homes. When the team did not return, Veintimilla borrowed a dingy from a man and spent three hours ferrying people from their flooded homes to dry land.

The reality is that we can’t control the world around us – and we especially can’t control the weather. What we can do is take positive action amidst the uncertainty. We can model what it means to be a good citizen. We can step up to help someone in need. Our hope is that, when our children and their peers are grown, they will help others in need.

Because someday, those “others” could be us.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES compiled a list of “Seven Ways to Help Victims of Superstorm Sandy Online.”

For ongoing volunteer opportunities, check out Search for “volunteer” in your local area.

You can also check out national databases, such as or “kid-friendly” in the keyword box.