There Is No Playbook

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Twenty-nine years ago, my family woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of glass popping.

Ice-covered tree branches were piercing the small windowpanes of our porch. The moment I looked out my bedroom window, I saw two large branches fall to the street below. Ice was raining down from the sky. A minute later, we heard a giant branch from the tree in our yard strike the roof — and soon, other branches followed.

I soon noticed the room was getting colder, and my parents realized the same. Our power was out. Our heat was off. The entire street was in the same boat, and the ice continued to fall.

Twenty-nine years ago, everything my mom knew about parenting two young girls was challenged as we faced what was essentially an ice hurricane. Our area would go two weeks without power. Schools were closed for the same length of time, some even longer. We couldn’t leave our houses, as house doors and car doors were frozen shut, front stairs were encased in ice, and 18-inch icicles hung from our roof over our back door.

Even though my hometown is known for its epic snowstorms, nothing could have prepared my mom for that moment. Snow can be shoveled. Ice cannot. What do you do when you’re watching trees fall onto power lines, see your car covered in ice, have no heat, and realize your home is in danger… and you have two little girls inside?

There was no playbook for that. No parenting book, no hand-me-down advice. My parents were facing a once-in-a-lifetime situation and had to just do the next right thing for us.

I keep coming back to that these days. Just like there was no playbook for my mom and dad in March of 1991, there is no playbook for me during this spring of 2020. This coronavirus pandemic is far worse than that ice storm, but both brought an initial shock and anxiety.

To use a favorite football term, in situations like this we have to go no-huddle, making quick decisions in the pocket and hoping they work out. No one drew up a play years ago for parenting in this particular situation. We have to be nimble and resilient and make the best decision we can at any moment.

That is honestly the only thing you can do. You can’t panic, or you’ll be sent scrambling to nowhere and become overwhelmed — in football, it’s by linemen; in crisis, it’s by the uncertainty of the situation.

Years after that ice storm that paralyzed our city, my sister checked out a video documentary about it from the library. My mom looked at it and shuddered. “I don’t want to watch that,” she said. “That was the scariest and worst time of my life.”

We had no idea my mom felt that way. To us, the ice storm had been hard, but we had gotten through. My parents made decisions that kept us safe, and they never let on that they were panicked.

But they were. They were taking it hour by hour, trying to figure out what the next move was that would keep us safe. Now I know what they must have felt. And while I don’t have a pandemic playbook, I do have the knowledge that if I take each step with my children’s safety and wellness in mind, I’ll be doing the best I can.

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