The night of Irene, under the threat of tornadoes and ninety mile an hour winds, the kids and I slept in the basement. We awoke in the dark. We climbed up the basement stairs and guessed at how long the power had been out and made coffee with boiling water poured over a sieve of coffee grinds.
In the evening, my husband and I went out to assess neighborhood damage and to bring home ice cream in celebration of power restored. Irene had hurled walnuts and sweet gum pods to the street. There were branches and leaves: ginkgo and maple and oak. Beneath the footbridge, the water, smelling faintly of the ocean, gurgled past. Someone had moved the feral cats’ food bowl from the woods to higher, dryer ground.
The sidewalks were unusually crowded with people emerging, blinking, from their houses, so happy to begin their lives anew: A man and his son rode an electric scooter; couples walked hand in hand; a girl on a pink bicycle with a white basket rode past us pedaling furiously, pretending to ignore us, but watching us watch her out of the corner of her eye. There was another girl just learning to ride, who announced, as we approached, Traffic to the left, much to the delight of her proud parents: Very good! That is your left.
Here and there were reminders of the storm: A generator controlled the traffic light at the corner. But down the street, the drivers—pedestrians, too—relied on old-fashioned common courtesy to keep traffic moving along. Everyone seemed nicer that day; gentler; happy to have escaped the storm relatively unscathed, hoping for our neighbors up the coast.
The grocery store was under auxiliary power. The freezers were sealed shut with yellow caution tape to prevent our opening them to get ice cream. We settled for a chocolate bar, happy to be able to walk to the grocery store; happy for this small indulgence.
Hurricane Irene dropped ten inches of rain and gathered in her great sweeping arms the heat and humidity, leaving us with temperatures below sixty. It was blanket weather. It was back-to-school weather.
* * *
Yesterday was the first day of school—Filibuster’s final year of high school. I remember when she and V were in Kindergarten and first grade. I lovingly packing their lunches every day: baking cookies, cutting their sandwiches on the diagonal, because they tasted better that way, slicing their grapes in half because I was afraid they’d choke if I didn’t. I remember sewing horrible back-to-school outfits for them: too-short pants and a thick denim skirt with an excess of pleats that caused the skirt to pouf out like a ballerina’s tutu.
I remember making bus tags, neatly writing my daughters’ names and addresses and phone numbers and bus numbers. I remember buying hand sanitizer and slipping it into their backpacks. I remember the panic I felt when I was told they had to transfer busses at a local elementary school.
“They’re too young,” I told my husband. “They can’t do that.”
And so, my husband arranged to work from home that first day. They headed out the door. “Do you have your lunches?” I called after them.
“We’re fine, Mom,” V said, smoothing down her denim skirt only to have it pouf up again.
They got into the car.
I knocked on the windows: “Are you wearing your bus tags?”
“Hon,” my husband said. “They’ll be OK.” He backed out of the driveway.
Filibuster rolled her eyes.
My husband pulled all the way to the edge of our long gravel driveway and turned off the car. Together, they waited for the bus. And after they’d gotten on, my husband got back into his car and secretly followed that bus to the local elementary school; making sure the girls transferred properly before following the new bus all the way into the next town. Every year after that, until we moved to Canada, my husband followed the bus on the first day of school.
Yesterday, the girls ran down the stairs and threw together lunches and ran out the door before I knew what hit me. “Bye, Mom!”
“Bye,” I said, as the door slammed shut.
And I realized that afternoon, as I looked out the window, that I didn’t even see them get on the bus.
“They’re growing up,” I told my husband. “They don’t need us.”
But this morning, the kids slept through their alarm and missed the bus. V ran down the stairs in her new uniform, a uniform she “hemmed” last night with safety pins. She and her sister hurriedly prepared lunches and got into the car where my husband waited to drive them to school.
And after they left, I noticed Filibuster left her lunch sitting on the kitchen counter.
Labels: Daughters, hurricane, Raising Children, School