Sunday, September 17, 2017

Burning Down The House

So, school is on week 4, we're knee-deep in after school activities, and I'm now home to manage it all. And manage it all I did NOT.


All week I put great store in my ability to create a chart over the weekend that would make all the weeks ahead simple and easy, but I think for once my faith in charts was too strong. Or my chart was too weak to support my faith in charts? All I know is, this didn't make me feel better.


Landon being able to do unassisted back handsprings and moving up a level in tumbling has basically ruined my life. Or just my Mondays and Wednesdays. He also starts running club in another week, which is twice a week after school- he's so excited, he never gets to do sports with school friends because he's a year off age-wise (have we discussed that I regret red shirting him? because I do and no one ever says that), and I think he'll love getting to run in a more organized way than the running he does around the yard on a daily basis. (Like swimming, track is just more suited to his athletic and competitive but not aggressive personality).


Aggressive Winston-ing

But zomg, that's 6 things in 4 days. I told him we can try. He LOVES the tumbling and he's so proud of his promotion. Given the gigantic state of his feet and his likely future height, I feel like there's really only so far he can probably go in that (to the exact you can really "go" anywhere in tumbling), so he should get to enjoy it now. Ultimately I think he'll join club swimming- I say this as a former swimmer and not a mother, he is just incredibly talented, but James and I both believe strongly in holding that off until at least middle school. So this is his time to do other stuff. We told him that if his grades stay where they are and his emotions stay in balance and homework doesn't become an issue, we'll make it work for a semester and reevaluate.

But ugh. After years of clinging tightly to nightly family dinners and limited activities, we've become a family who won't eat together at least two nights a week. And Cora doesn't even do any outside of school activities yet! I know this is far from unusual, but I hate it. I hate everyone being scattered and the girls eating at a different time than the boys on Mondays and Wednesdays (damn you 6:30-7:30 Tumbling II time slot). But my new chart and I are going to try to make it work for a few weeks. I'm hoping to make the best of it -- enjoy some extra quality girl time, and James will actually be picking Landon up from gymnastics (because it's so dang late [angry face]), so for the first time in two years, James will be able to watch some of Landon's other sport and they can chat on the drive home, and that's a good thing too.

And I'm just going to have to get over the fact everyone won't be in bed at 8 p.m. every night like they have been every night for the last decade or so. It's like no one even cares that I won't be able to get my photo books done while re-watching every episode of The Great British Baking Show. Probably because I'm complaining about something I helped create and am literally (and figuratively) paying for.


"Did he lose something under the dishwasher?
No, I think he was just walking by and then fell asleep like that."

Sigh.


Moving on. My parents continue to move forward while staying still. It remains hard. It's going to be hard for a long time. Submitting their insurance claim has been a trial. Pictures of everything; links to replacement items; somehow getting everything 4 to a page to PDF and send to their adjuster. They have a clean, separate apartment with wifi and it was still a huge multi-day project with lots of frustration and phone calls; as I think every time I talk to them, how do people in less fortunate circumstances do it? It is so hard. My dad and brother sent a few updated videos. The house is looking really good- or as good as a house missing it's bottom four feet can be. Moving forward...


I got a comment on the last post from someone in Tennessee who said she'd been reading the blog for years and never commented, but last week her daughter's school had adopted Kingwood High School and was collecting money to send in support. It made me teary. I sent it to my family and it made their eyes leaky too (in my dad's words). I love how sometimes the internet can make the world bigger and smaller all at the same time.

Let's see, in other news- Winston spent two solid days in a self-imposed timeout because he refused to leave his crate knowing he'd have to respond to a "sit" command when he did. In the words of our dog behaviorist, "Winston decided he didn't want to play this training game anymore and he is trying to see if it's an all-the-time thing. Do not let him break you." I'll admit I may have broken (have you SEEN his squishy face??), but Winston the Stubborn Bulldog had no idea how far James the Stubborn Human was willing to go. On Tuesday, after 10 hours in his crate (with no-play-on-leash-super-boring potty breaks and lots of opportunities to freaking sit on command and be free), he finally sauntered out of his crate, tucked his dainty little legs under his behind, and sat beautifully before trotting to the kitchen and eating the breakfast that had been there since 8 a.m.


"Sorry dad"

Then he made up with his human.


Since then, he has been fully back on board with the training game/way of life. As a reward, I took him with me in the car on Friday to take Landon to a friend's house.


He loved it.

Until Landon got out; then he was concerned. (My brother was skeptical that that was Winston's concerned face, but he is clearly SUPER concerned.) But then he went back to loving it again. He can only worry about so much.


That night we went to get ice cream after dinner (a dinner of these AMAZING pesto pepperoni pizza rolls I made from scratch; note for next time - and there will BE a next time - double the recipe if you want to feed five hungry people who all love pizza, pesto, and pepperoni) as a treat from Papa and Gigi to celebrate the big kids' incredible progress reports and Cora's clear dedication to school that we're getting from her new daily picture updates (such focus; such concentration; those pictures are the highlight of my day).


Turns out, despite a lot of past protest, Cora likes ice cream. And she really likes CHOCOLATE ice cream.


I'm not sure why we keep trying to convince her she likes these terrible things, but much like playing board games, what's the point of having children if you can't get one or three of them to do a little indulging with you once in a while? I want Cora on board. And on board she now is.

On Saturday we had Claire's soccer game, but before that we had my millionth Orangetheory class in a row (using up 6 classes in the 9 days left in my billing cycle has been UNPLEASANT) and then Cora's epic tantrum after she dropped a piece of cheese on the floor. I'm not even sure who she was mad at. Surely not herself. Gravity, perhaps? The soccer game was good and then we had swimming and quiet time and then dinner at our favorite Austin restaurant that finally decided to come to Fort Worth!! Hopdoddy we've missed you!!


I only wish a few dozen people, some hills, and the hill country views would come too (and Polvos; omg I miss Polvos).


The wait was too long, but the parmesan truffle fries were every bit as magical as I remembered and the burger was the best I'd had in at least a year. Dammit Hop Doddy, I'll be back for you and your ridiculously long lines soon.


Unfortunately, as I was stuffing my hundredth fry in my mouth, I thought I'd move Cora's hamburger eating along by cutting her kid's burger in half so Claire could have some.


Omg. MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY.

You'd have thought I cut her own hand off. Devastation. Tears. Wailing lamentations and gnashing of the teeth. James whisked her outside and the older couple next to us toasted their glasses in our direction as I signed the check and collected the larger children who were devouring Cora's burger, "we've been there."


#Solidarity

It was a rookie mistake. I could have asked if she wanted to share her cheeseburger or have it cut in half, but I've never had a child who cared about these things before. Landon was all "eh whatever," Claire only cared if you were upset with her and then she was upset at you for being upset at her, but Cora. Cora will burn this motherfucker DOWN for such an infraction. She will light the world on fire and she will GO DOWN WITH IT if only so she can keep eye contact with you as you burn for your mistake.

Then she will pop her pink purse on her shoulder and prance about being utterly charming and complimenting stranger's outfits. As my dad noted, "when she is good and cute and amazing she is really spectacular but when she is bad she is also spectacularly good at that! What a girl."

Like this morning, while James and the big kids were grocery shopping and I was making fancy healthy Teff Pumpkin Pancakes, she randomly turned to me and said "Sorry mom." ... "Sorry I was yelling and crying about my booger." I took me a minute to even figure out what she was talking about. Then, after I translated booger to burger and we had a little chat about the proper channeling of emotions and not burning restaurants down, her favorite song popped up on my Spotify and she yelled "WAIT! Wait! I have to get ready!"


Twenty minutes later I've moved on to prepping the amazing, hearty, and healthy Superhero Muffins that are a vital part of our life and have long forgotten that we ever had music playing, and she yelled, "Okay! I ready now!"


And was she. Dance outfit, an audience, a Winston, and a very beautiful dance routine.


I mean, when they aren't being the worst, toddlers can just be the freaking best.

[Now rearranging the chairs because her "polar bear can't see" and killing me.]


The rest of today was cleaning and organizing and baking and making charts. A wax appointment, a walk with Winston, some soccer in the front yard with Claire, and our first inaugural game of Ticket to Ride which was recommended on a Law Mama facebook post and I was horrified to find had a million Amazon reviews and I'd never even heard of it! I LOVE board games! And this one is super fun! Landon and Claire played their own hands and they definitely had the hang of it by the end. I look forward to many more afternoons building train routes this fall and winter.


Friends came over to swim and then we were supposed to eat a delicious pot roast I had simmering in the crock pot all day, but it still had an hour to go and we were starving so we left it in the crock pot and went and bought expensive delicious pizza instead. Oops. Sorry not sorry.

And now it's after 11:30 again- as far as I can tell, blogging only happens close to midnight, and I'm supposed to go to Orangetheory again in the morning (last one! for this cycle anyway), so I must go join my softly snoring husband and loudly snoring Winston. May your weeks be full of benevolent toddlers and charts that really do make your life easier. Night!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Surfacing

Hello there. I'm not really sure where to begin. I can't believe a full week has gone by since my last post. After seven days of daily updates, the pause seems like forever in blogland, but it flew by here.


Back to School Picnic

I basically spent the last week feeling like I was behind at everything. Work (still behind); mothering (go to your rooms); wife-ing (Happy Anniversary! I will now fall asleep on the couch just after being pissy because you weren't happy enough that I was home (seriously wtf, me-of-last-Sunday)); school (does homework exist this year? yes? oh you've done it? well, okay, good! pretend like I knew that), activities (what? you got moved up at gymnastics? but that fucks with my whole carefully crafted fall semester carpool schedule! can't you just stay at level 1 and pretend it still challenges and fulfills you? no?), PTA (meeting on Tuesday night? that's today? I'm discussing the by-laws? I know nothing of these by-laws); dinner (um, we could go out for tacos (read: margaritas), again?); exercise (ughhhhhhh); teaching barre (late for my first class back, a class with TWENTY participants, though I did have a rocking new 90's playlist that reads as vintage to my new college student clientele); and basically everything that exists in my life.


It was a long week that started on Tuesday but felt like it started on negative Saturday. It was 100 days long. It was technically 4 days long and I worked from home on Friday, so it was really only 3 days long but omg that is a LIE. I was so exhausted every night I tried to read a book (that I love, from a series I've read many times before) and fell asleep while holding my kindle on at least two occasions. I know falling asleep while reading is a normal thing for most people, but I've done it three times in my ENTIRE life and all three of them were in the last 10 days. It's just been a lot. I'm forever grateful I was able to jump out of my life to go to Minneapolis to be with my mom and grandmother, and then to do it again to be with my parents and help them after the flooding, but at some point there's a reckoning and my reckoning lasted all of last week.


So here I am. Barely. Today was also not great and a million hours long. I left my house at 7:15 a.m. to drive to Dallas with a coworker friend to spend a million hours in a conference room and then had a super stressful drive back full of traffic and frantic texting with my nanny who was already late for her second job while I tried to get 2 of my children to two different activities and my toddler to a safe place she could spend the 20 minutes before I could get home, all with a cell phone on 3% power that died 20 minutes outside Fort Worth. We all ended up home at 8:15 p.m. I've had a margarita. I have not had dinner. Let's see where this takes us.


~ ~ ~ ~

Parents. My parents are doing okay. It's hard. It's hard every day. There's still a million logistics and contractors and bids to obtain and organize. Everything about flood insurance claims is about as difficult as it can be; there are so many hoops and though they are in the best position to try to jump them, it is still so hard. Their dream home is dismantled. They've moved into their one-bedroom apartment across the highway with all the contents of their downstairs in 60+ bins, plus all the clothes from their water-logged drawers that their sweet friends washed for them at night during the cleanup that are now just sort of in stacks on the floor. There are forms and claims and pictures and a million water-damaged items to list and detail out for the adjuster. The flood insurance settlement, whenever it goes through, goes directly to the mortgage holder which is then paid directly to the contractors. "But what about the work we did ourselves? And the supplies we bought to do it?" "Well, there's a separate form you can fill out to claim that." Of course there is. And underlying all the steps and processes is the cold knowledge that flood insurance, something they are beyond grateful to have, does not make you whole. It has a cap. They'll far exceed it. They're paying rent + a mortgage and recalculating how many more years they have to add to their much-anticipated-and-planned-for retirement. And again, they're the lucky ones. They have the insurance. They have savings. They have jobs they CAN extend. They don't have young children at home. They don't have to pretend everything is okay. They have the apartment we found on day 2. But it's hard. It will be hard for a while. But I'd say they're doing okay, most of the time. (I can barely watch the coverage of Irma, it just feels so close and personal; I hope very much that my Florida and southeast coast readers are safe and okay.)


My mom went back to school today. Their first day of school! Now at a new high school they're sharing way across town. It's tough. She was allowed 45 minutes in her old classroom at KHS on Saturday, with a mask, under supervision, to get what she could out. 45 minutes; to pick between personal items, special things from students over the years, and all the stuff she needs to actually try to teach this year. That was hard. I'd say it's just all kind of hard. Her former 5 minute commute is now over an hour; her in-class teaching time is much diminished and she's worried about cramming all the Biology II AP content her students need into 2.5 hours per week. She's a wonderful teacher; the idea of not serving her students weighs heavily. My sibs and I had flowers delivered to her today. And by delivered I mean my brother picked them up and drove them over because he's the best. She was thrilled. We just wanted a little brightness in her day. (Particularly since her birthday was Wednesday, the day they moved into the apartment, which was... not great.)

My grandpa. He's doing better than okay! He moved out of ICU to a crowded room on a different floor that made my grandma get lost and stressed, but then he was moved to a cardiac recovery room that was much better and now he's in a rehab facility! A lovely rehab facility that is making him work very hard which makes him very tired and possibly crabby but every step is literally one step closer to going home. My grandma joyfully texted yesterday that he has a transfer date to Texas! He'll still be under medical care, but they have a hospital connected to their retirement community and it would be SO WONDERFUL for both of them to be back home. His hopeful transfer date is September 18th, exactly one month from the date of his heart attack. He has some benchmarks he has to hit before then, but we know he's working hard to get there. It's hard to believe it's been 3 weeks (and a short lifetime) since that awful morning but I'm so, so glad he remains on the path of recovery that will lead him back to singing "You Are My Sunshine" with his Mary each morning.


Me. I'm doing okay too. Better than okay much of the time. I don't want to wallow in it too much more, but I will say that even after a week's distance, being in Houston was decidedly one of the harder things I've had to do. My parents are still young and working and very much in charge of their own lives. Despite being 34 with a family of my own, I think I a little bit expected them to comfort me when I got to their flood-ravaged house. Like they would make me feel better for them and we'd all bond and laugh and fix things up before going out for dinner. Not really, of course-- but somewhere secret in the back of my mind, precisely that. It was... shocking to see the house. Shocking to see them in it, sad and overwhelmed and stressed. Shocking to need to take charge of certain things, to work alongside and occasionally in front of them in their own home. Just as it had been shocking the week before to see my mom hurting and a little scared in my grandfather's hospital room when he was still very much on the edge of 50-50. I have no idea how my brother is still going (he and my dad power washed their whole back patio/possibly the entire yard yesterday) because I slept like 12 hours in my first day back and was still kind of wrecked the rest of the weekend.

But the weekend ended and the week began. We're slowly finding our groove. We've yet to have a full week of school where I am here for all of the days, so we're trying that out this week (which already started out crazy due to the aforementioned conference in the too-far-away land of Dallas). It seems to be going well. They both love their teachers. I have yet to hear about homework (I mean, they have it; they just do it before I'm home and it doesn't seem to be a big deal yet). Claire is (finally!) getting super into reading (thank you Happily Ever After and Ivy and Bean book series). Both big kids obsessed with their roller skates and roller blades and we spend a lot of time out on the street wheelin around. Landon got moved up in his tumbling class, which I didn't even know was a possibility, because he can do back-handsprings unassisted and now instead of class on Wednesdays at 4:30 which allowed for a beautiful carpool with a friend and Tara and which didn't mess with my precious family dinners, he now has class Mondays AND Wednesdays from 6:30-7:30 which is wrecking all kinds of havoc but he's so delighted we're making it happen anyway. Somehow.


Winston is on week 4 of his dog behavior training. Despite the story I'm about to tell you, he's doing great, and it's making a difference every day to have the structure of commands and pack order in our lives. This week, our new homework is to add a "timeout" whenever he doesn't obey a command. Timeout means he has to go to his crate or a different room or wherever you can get him the fastest that is away from us, wait a few minutes, then go spring him by asking him to redo the command. If he does it, he's out. If he doesn't, back in timeout he goes. Over the last week he went to timeout a handful of times, fairly cheerfully, and got out on the first try/redo. Then yesterday he decided he didn't want to lie down on command anymore. Just, no. I asked him, he refused, he went to timeout. I opened the crate 5 minutes later, he walked out, I told him to lie down, he refused, so back in the crate he went. Then we did it again. Then on the fourth time, I let him out, said firmly and clearly: "Winston, DOWN." And he looked at me and TURNED AROUND and walked back into his crate. He flopped down with a huge sigh and probably an eye-roll, tucked his fat wrinkled head into his paws, and sighed again.

Unsure of what do to, I closed the crate.

After a while, I opened it back up and this time he stood up, turned around, and flopped BACK DOWN facing away from me still in the crate. I... closed the door again.

He spent a really long time in timeout simply because he refused to leave it. Eventually it was bedtime and he had to get out to go potty. So, I feel like he won that round.


(I took the picture above early one morning last week when I came out of our room at 6:45 a.m. and found Landon and Winston lying on the ground. "Winston woke me up at 5 a.m. but then he got tired and didn't want me to move. I've been here a long time." I feel like that story sums up both Winston and Landon pretty well.)

Also this week, between a PTA meeting I'd forgotten about and new kid activity logistics I'm still trying to figure out, I played games with Cora. I was just about to sit down on the couch and read my book or look up something I didn't need to know on the internet when I realized I could use this time better. Particularly since, as I joked on facebook, a huge part of why I had three children was so someone would always be willing to play board games with me.


I love them like I love margaritas, nachos, and beautiful shoes.

Winston and Cora played Zingo, another family favorite. Then Claire had to put her game away because she was cheating and somehow that was my fault.


Family games giveth and family games teacheth life lessons and taketh away.

On Saturday, James and I finally went out to celebrate our anniversary! We went to our very favorite restaurant and it was every bit as delicious as we always know it will be.


New appetizers, new desserts, same ridiculously good entrees and bosc pear martinis. (That last one is just for me.) Oddly, the only other picture we took was of an empty plate between us, which feels symbolic in some way. Or literal. Every plate they brought us ended up licked clean.


Cora got a new dress from a friend who knows her heart and she wore it every waking moment of the weekend. As you can see, it's perfect for all occasions.

An ensemble for waiting on the dog trainer to arrive?


Nailed it.

Going on a family bike ride?


Done.

Little bit of pogo-swinging in your afternoon?


Perfect.

I love everything in my closet, but nothing with quite the intensity that Cora feels for all her most beautiful items.

Also this weekend, I cut 4 inches off my hair! But no one noticed because I never wear my hair down.


It felt significant on the inside.

And we went to the zoo. One hour before close on a beautiful Sunday evening. We had most of it to ourselves and it was lovely. My kids will never fully appreciate how incredible it is to live 5 minutes away from such a great place.


And so here we are. Trying to get back to things. My to-do list is largely caught up. I'm not starting every text or email with an apology for being behind. At least 50% of the phone calls with my mom do not involve either one of us crying. My grandpa is taking short shuffling steps back to San Antonio. The kids are good. James is good. Winston is working really hard on it.


My neighbor brought me dinner last week after reading my last post. She's a former teacher who read about my mom and her classroom and the new school and me in Trader Joe's and decided it was all too much, so she made me food because she couldn't make any for my parents and she didn't want me to have to go back to the store for another day.

It was incredibly kind and given my insufficient planning for that first week, quite needed. She talked about a time when her kids were young and her sister had passed away unexpectedly and she had to go identify her because her parents couldn't. "That's when I grew up," she said. Never mind that she had children and a husband and a home of her own. It's the first time you step up and in for your parents, the last little part of you grows up. Even if they're still there, and- to be clear, mine are still very much there and working their jobs and very much handling their lives... it's just, I understood exactly what she meant. It's a moment- even brief- of stepping up for them that you hadn't had to before. And you're so glad you can, that you're there, that you can give back, but it's... hard. It's hard and it is exactly what family is for. You're just used to all that help and support flowing down in one direction; it's disorienting and deeply gratifying to get to push it back up.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Harvey to Home: Four Hours and Light-Years Away

As often happens lately, I'm not quite sure where to begin. I'm back in Fort Worth. I'm so glad I stayed up until midnight each night I was in Houston writing blog posts about our days because so much of it is already a blur. Surreal and impossible. I was standing in Trader Joe's today and just looking at all the people buying healthy foods for their week ahead and I just wanted to yell "do you know what Houston looks like right now? do you know there are piles of drywall everywhere? and mold is starting to grow and spread? and people don't have flood insurance? or money or power or AC or water and it is all just fucking awful?" But of course they don't. I mean, some may have gone down to Houston like me and seen it, but one of our necessary abilities is being able to move on from other people's tragedies to focus on ourselves. You can't let every disaster devastate you. You help, but you stay in your circle and you live your life. I've done the exact same thing over and over again and you must, but it was just so jarring to have gone from a drywall covered emotionally overwrought hellscape to... Trader Joe's, four hours and several light-years away.


driving out of the neighborhood to go home

Even me- I'm stressed about going back to work- to REALLY WORK- for practically the first time since my grandpa had his heart attack. I'm stressed out how much we needed to get done today to prepare for the week ahead. I'm stressed about how my kids were behaving today (fucking TERRIBLY). I'm stressed at how I've been a decent daughter and granddaughter over the last two weeks, but a fairly lacking wife, mother, and lawyer. I'm stressed that I'd missed my kids so much but spent much of the day yelling at them. And then I have one brief phone call with my mom (and another with my uncle who is back in Minneapolis with my grandparents in the hospital because yes, that's still going on) and my stresses seem ridiculous. I need to be yelled at in a Trader Joe's.


we accidentally stood in "kid' order

So I'm struggling a bit with the transition.

I just feel so sad. So sad and fragile and tired. But life moves forward- I've been ignoring mine for some time and it needs attention. My house didn't flood and James needs me to help him run it. And since I am in a house that was not flooded and living a life that is otherwise unchanged, I'm not quite sure why I can't just slip back into it.

I got home last night around 6. Yesterday was James and my 12th wedding anniversary and my mom really wanted me to be home for it. I also felt like, while there is still much to do, they were in a pretty good place with what I could offer with my personal skill set. My brother is a work-horse and construction and engineering-minded. He was the foreman for the work crews. I can organize and list-make and check off all the things. I organized the inside crews of helpers- the packing and storing of everything that wasn't damaged. And blessedly, thanks to a previously unappreciated amount of upper cabinets and built-in shelves, that was a lot of things. I helped find my parents an apartment and got the utilities started. I made the shared folder for our insurance claims photos.

My last self-appointed task was to pack up all the clothes from drawers and closet bars my parents had run upstairs and thrown on a guest bed as the flood waters were rising. My mom kept saying they were fine, but it was literally a mountain of clothes and I couldn't leave that there. In a crisis, you're just thinking about the moment, and in that moment, a mountain of clothes on a bed was not a priority. They were fine. But I felt like my job was to think forward to a month from now, when my mom is getting ready for work, and needs to get dressed in their one-bedroom apartment far from that upstairs bedroom that has been sealed off with plastic while the reno work is happening on the house below. I had my brother take me to the house early with him at 7 so I could get that done before letting her make me go home while he went on to another friend's parents' house to rip out more dry wall even after 4 days of non-stop work tearing out drywall at our own.


Kingwood High School flooding


(And speaking of my mom going to work, my high school- where all 3 of us graduated and where my mom has worked for 15+ years, was completely flooded. It has been condemned and closed for at least a year. 3,000 students, teachers, and staff, displaced. Classrooms all ready for the new school year destroyed. Records lost. It breaks my heart. They will have to share with another school across town for a full school year. My mom can hardly even think about it... how can she as a Bio II AP teacher preparing her kids for a college exam cram her hour+ labs into 30 minutes in a classroom that isn't her with lab equipment that isn't there? For a teacher like her, the idea that she won't be able to serve them properly is killing her. And the thought of setting up a new classroom right now while her house is destroyed is overwhelming. She's supposed to report to work this week, with classes starting next Monday. It's just too much. I wish so much that her job and her students could be her escape and instead it's an extra and very intense source of stress.)

But back to the house. I got the clothes done. At one point, I asked my mom if she wanted to take any of the items she had hanging up in that guest room closet. She stood there, pulling out dresses, saying over and over "this is silly, I know this is silly, what does it matter what I pick?". But if it's your stuff, of course you're going to think about what you're picking out to wear for the next many months while you live somewhere else. When it's me, a third party, I just pack without thought. It's why it took my volunteer teacher crew one day to pack up the entire inside of the house but it's going to take my dad 5 to do his garage. He's thinking; we weren't. It's why my mom knew to stay out of the packing entirely. It's just one more thing that's hard and reminds them they won't be in their home for a long time.

Around noon we heard a knock on the front door. Not expecting anyone, but used to friends and strangers just showing up to help, my mom opened it to find their saviors, the good samaritans, standing on the stoop. I was so excited to get to meet them that I immediately crushed them in a tear-filled hug when they politely offered their hands to shake. I don't think I ever actually introduced myself or said my name and I just cried when I tried to say thank you. Obviously, I make an incredible first impression.

I don't think I ever got to write this full story, but when my parents were evacuated they were driven by the high-water vehicle to a parking lot a short ways away, just above the waterline, and left. They waited there, in the pouring rain, with their bag, a container of dog food, and three large dogs, for a bus to take them to a shelter somewhere. And waited. And waited.

They started walking without a destination. Eventually, a family walked over in the rain and offered to help them carry their things. And so they walked together- still in the rain, now with help, but still without a destination. After a little while they asked my parents where they were going. "We don't know," they responded, "to find a bus to a shelter?" The family said, "we have an extra room, would you like to stay with us?" My mom said it was one of the more humbling moments of her life to nod her head and say "yes. please. thank you."

And so they went, sopping wet, with three big wet dogs, to their new friends Pam and Andy's house, and met their two sons who made my parents feel as comfortable and at-home as possible while the rain poured and the waters rose a few streets over.

When my mom texted us the full story and the names of their rescuers the next day, my sister immediately texted on our "Rice Kids" thread, "so what are we doing for them?" a millisecond before my brother asked the same thing. They were there when we couldn't be and we'll be forever grateful for it.


So it was great to meet them. And then they insisted on getting to work, shoveling and raking outside while their sons, ages 12 and 13, swept up slimy drywall from the garage that we'd saved for last. No complaints, no breaks until we made them. They'd been working in houses every day since the rain stopped. I think they're like 3 years older than me, but I want to be like them when I grow up.

We were visited by a few other friends looking to help, a man stopped by with hot dogs he'd grilled on his back porch to see if we wanted any, and a friend of mine with high school arrived with our lunch. She still goes to our old church (the one I'd been married in exactly 12 years before) and said they were running a whole project command center to help with the floods, so I was able to give her any the supplies I'd brought from Fort Worth that we hadn't used. I was so glad they were going somewhere useful, to the hands that needed them. It has been so heart-warming to get to see facebook posts from my friends who are still in Kingwood who are doing so much to help and coordinate that help (we're grown-ups now!) alongside the heart-wrenching photos of friends showing pictures of the devastation at their parents and/or their own homes. If there must be bad, it is wonderful to see so much good rise up alongside it.

Around 2 p.m., clothes packed, lists made, and supplies donated, I packed up our suburban to white-knuckle drive back. I gave Eric and dad sweaty hugs and a tearful one to my mom. I'm so glad I was able to be there. It was so hard. It was SO. MUCH. HARDER than I thought it would be. Seeing my parents hurting is something I hadn't experienced before. But it was good to be helpful. Good to be old enough and in a position to genuinely BE helpful.


A huge part of that is because of James. As I wrote, my Harvey Day 4 was also our wedding anniversary. In some ways it felt right- we were married in Kingwood after all, with a reception at the now flood-ravaged Kingwood Country Club. And, though being apart is never our preference, it was also fitting to be relying on his unwavering love and support while I helped the people who who taught me the love and resilience that is the backbone of our marriage. I have three kids and a busy life, but when I found out my parents' home had flooded I dropped everything and left for Houston within hours (a week after doing the same for my grandpa in Minneapolis). And I could do that- and I could be fully present in Kingwood for four days- because I know that when I drop one weight to pick up another, James will take on more to handle the redistribution.


He sent a few pictures of their day yesterday, ending with "We miss you, but we've got it here. Stay as long as you need." Before Harvey, I had thoughts about this anniversary. Twelve has been hard for us in ways that prior years have not. But at the end of the day, when the flood waters rise, he's there, steadfast and quietly competent.


Something I appreciated even more today when I lost my temper with each of my children multiple times and he looked at me across the room in perfect understanding and I was like "THIS is what it's been like?!!" Those four days without complaint or a hint of guilt were the best anniversary present he's ever given me. And I still came home to a new necklace, a card, and a bag of double doozie cookies.


new necklace; super tired person wearing it

So of course I failed to get a picture with him and took one with the dog instead. September 3rd is also Winston's birthday; he's now 4. Cora is jealous.


After I got home, we went out to diner with our borderline enjoyable children. James and I chatted on the couch for a bit after they went to bed, me finally filling him in on all the details of our days and noting that he should really consider reading my blog. Then, in a nod to the romantic occasion, I fell asleep on the couch for maybe the fourth time in my life. He woke me up forty minutes later and moved me to bed where I proceeded to sleep for 10 more hours straight through. I never, EVER sleep that long, and while it felt amazing, I'm still exhausted and it made me very worried about my parents and Eric. If being there for 4 days hit me like a ton of bricks once I got home, what is it doing to them? They have no escape.

And then I started my surreal day. We went to the park. I ran lots of errands. I talked to my mom. With the house about as complete as they can make it, they're now starting to slog through the insurance process. They missed the call from the apartment leasing agent before the office closed yesterday so now they can't get their key to move into the apartment until tomorrow. As with everything, it's up and down and stop and go. More people are getting back to their lives and they just can't. The move into the apartment is going to be hard. Living there out of bins will be hard. Creating an excel spreadsheet of every item they lost will be hard. The thought of school starting has her up at heart pounding at 3 a.m.. And then I'm in Trader Joe's overwhelmed by the blithe normalcy around me.


This post is a mess and more self-pitying than I'd prefer. The words just sort of spill out and it's nearly midnight and too late to fix them. Now that I've left, I'm just realizing that being in Houston was harder than I thought. Seeing my parents a little broken inside was really hard. Seeing the whole neighborhood destroyed, with everyone's water-logged belongings strewn about their yards is hard. Knowing there are people who are so much worse off is hard. There are no quick and easy solutions and this is going to last a long time. I know they will be okay and one day they will have their beautiful home back. They are strong and they will find a new normal. I guess that because I was able to drive out of the drywall-covered streets and jump right back into my normal... I'm surprised to find myself struggling so much with the transition.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Harvey: My Day 3

I can't keep track of the days anymore. Do I start with the day the hurricane hit? The day the flooding started? When my parents evacuated? Is day 1 now my brother's Day Fucking One? I have no idea. I've been here for 3 days and a small lifetime. It's September 2nd, let's start here.

Today was better. I don't want to overstate- it's still hard and dirty and overwhelming and awful. But it was better.


Yesterday was terrible. I suppose we should actually start there. I got to town at sunset on Thursday and the images that greeted me will be burned in my mind forever. The trash, the mud and slime, the furniture and belongings strewn all about the yard. My mom standing in front of the house covered in drywall and looking so fragile. They were running on adrenaline, and after having 6 extra workers in the house all day, had made some good progress and were feeling like they had a good handle on the demo. We left the house late, got to Eric's later, and went to bed after midnight, me tucked into a daybed in Eric's 3rd floor loft with my baby bro a few feet away on a camp cot. It was like we were children again camping in my parents' trailer. Even though the situation was pretty sad and overwhelming, I slept the best I'd slept since the storm hit a week prior. Hard and instant, I didn't even know my brother had left the room in the morning until I shined my iPhone flashlight on his bed to discover a crumpled blanket without an Eric.


And so the day dawned, with many to-do lists and the realization that we needed to divide and conquer. The house didn't have power and cell service was terrible. We needed to talk to insurance agents, adjusters, and appraisers. Mom and dad needed an apartment. They needed a furnished apartment- no wait, they had furniture they could move - maybe just a 1 bedroom apartment. And a storage unit. There aren't any storage units available anywhere? Okay maybe a 2 bedroom apartment with a second bedroom for storage. Mom needs a car because hers flooded out. Have you talked to the insurance appraiser yet? Where is our adjuster? Are FEMA and National Flood the same thing?


Despite getting up at 6, lots of phone calls and lists and attempts at organization later, the boys didn't leave for the lake until 9 and my mom and I decided to head to Target to buy a laughingly insufficient 8 storage bins, intending to clean out their closet, and then stop at apartment complexes near their house to rent them a place to stay for a while.

We stopped at one complex. It took forever but we were finally able to see a unit. It seemed okay. We talked lease terms. Mom couldn't talk about lease terms. I wrote a lot down, we promised to get back to them. We drove to another complex. Mom liked it a little better. We talked lease length. Mom started crying. We decided to rent a one-bedroom here because it would be available 15 days sooner. We needed 3 separate money orders for the application fee and various deposits. We had to drive to a bank 2 miles away on a road so clogged with cars it took 25 minutes. Turns out, you can only buy money orders with cash. The bank only had an ATM in the drive-through lane around back. We got back in the car, waited in line, got the ATM. The ATM rejected mom's card.

My mom is a strong, smart, competent incredibly put-together woman. That moment about broke her. It didn't of course, but I was so glad I was with her, could hand her my card, could get the cash, could move the fuck forward through this ridiculous process to get a 600-square-foot one-bedroom apartment they didn't want for a length of time they couldn't determine so we could finally get back to the house she could barely stand to see to work all day to tear it apart.


We did finally get the apartment application secured, promising to tackle the "copies of bank statements and pay stubs" later that day (I ended up sending screen shots from their banking app; it worked, I feel like the leasing agent just felt bad for us by then). Mom and Dad had felt so lucky and productive the day before with all their help, they told people to move on to other houses, not quite realizing the extent of work still to be done in their own. Eric had a friend over who worked like crazy, but it was mostly just us. Mom and I got all the decorator items from the upper shelves of the living room to the upstairs for safekeeping and started to clear out the master closet. We realized there's a lot of sopping wet drywall behind all the built-ins and shelves, so we needed to get EVERYTHING out of everywhere downstairs so they could rip it all out to get to the water-logged stuff hiding behind.


Tons of work, so little visible progress, so much more water discovered. Our 8 bins were filled immediately with almost no difference in closet content, so I moved on to other things until we could find more. I was cleaning out their built-in desk and couldn't get the top drawer open. After yanking it out I realized it was FULL to the brim with water. It sloshed out onto the floor and I saw a calculator and several birthday cards we'd given them over the years floating around inside. It was just one more little blow.

We kept going, and we really did get a lot done, it was just a day of realizing how very much more there was to do. Their insurance adjuster hadn't called; neighbors had FEMA on site and we still hadn't heard anything from ours; we were getting conflicting information on what to tear out and what to save; the power was out... it was just a hard day.


We drive home, stopping to get Eric a tetanus shot (a shot located thanks to the fast googling of a far away friend), ate pizza, vegged out in front of the TV and went to bed. I have struggled with insomnia my entire life and I fell asleep so fast last night I was still holding my phone in my hand. It fell out and clunked on the floor around 2 a.m. and scared both Eric and I (and his dog, nestled between us) to death.

Today we knew better. We left earlier. We knew what we needed to do and we accepted the help to do it. My brother-in-law had arrived from Colorado with a burning need to help and a truck filled with the supplies to do it. His family friend Pete was with him from Colorado and his dad Bill (who lives in Kingwood but was blessedly unaffected) (well, in Kingwood, they have a house in Rockport that definitely was affected and which they're going to go fix up tomorrow) joined too. Billy's sister had her baby two days before and was coming home to their Kingwood house that day, but they were all at our house, working nonstop until we made them take water and food breaks and then back at it again. My uncle from Houston (temporarily stranded in Dallas after being in Minneapolis) had made it back to town and showed up and just hauled wheelbarrows of drywall trash out to the curb again and again and again x 100.


My mom's teacher friends showed up in a pack of 6 and worked like crazy helping us pack up every single salvageable item from the downstairs. All my parents' upper cabinets and shelves survived- in all of the kitchen, study, bathrooms, closets, etc., so, happily, many things were available to be packed. Unhappily, you couldn't get a plastic bin in all of the greater Humble area. Friends had secured some the night before and we took 8. My uncle had found 4. Another aunt and uncle hit jackpot in the Woodlands at the Container Store and bought 25 and hauled them over. We filled them immediately. They headed all the way back to the Woodlands and bought 40 more. We'll use every one.


Like apparently everyone else in the area, we forgot that flood clean-up would also involve a move. A teacher friend offered to store the bins in her home until my parents can go through them and pick what to put in the apartment. Another teacher friend pulled up with her truck to haul them away. So much of the work is managing the help being offered and knowing what you need to ask for- it can be overwhelming and I think it really helped to have me, a somewhat-neutral third-party to do that. My mom couldn't pack, it was too much, so she moved bins and filled the upstairs with as much as we could cram up there.


We got so. much. done. It was an upbeat day. A beehive of activity with people who were there to WORK. Friends brought lunch. Strangers stopped by with a wagon to ask if we needed water. The insurance adjuster finally called and though he can't make it to the house to mid-next-week, was at least able to give us some guidance on how to prove up our claim and manage the trash building up in the yard. The professional demo crew showed up and told us we'd done an incredible job and saved $30,000 on the demo bid for doing so much ourselves. It was a day of highs in what was still a sea of low.


There's a dead catfish in the pool, along with an inflatable pool and duck decoy that are not theirs. They still have a jet ski that isn't theirs in the yard. The giant tree and 30 feet section of 6-foot-tall wooden fence (not theirs!) are gone thanks to Billy and his chainsaw. There is still so much, but man, is that endless list shorter today and my parents' hearts are the lighter for it. Leaving the house tonight felt different. Even if it took 15 minutes to lock up because the doors are so swollen with moisture we have to keep sawing them to get them to close.


I tried to take a few happy pictures today. I had hundreds of the destruction for the insurance claims, but none of the family and friends helping us through.


My sister sent Billy with a note to my parents; it was beautiful and I lurked around while they read it to capture the moment. We have so much. Much of it is wet and out by the curb right now, but so much more than that is intangible and runs deep. The fact that my brother has worked non-stop since they got to the house- I learned today he ran ahead of them when they waded onto their street and was already tearing drywall out by the time they walked up. Me finding out about the flooding and being unable to sit still until I was in a car driving from Fort Worth loaded down and ready to help. My sister, going crazy up in Colorado and sending her husband and all his equipment and know-how down to help while she stays with Sky even though all she wants is to be here. My aunts, uncles, cousins; our friends; my parents' co-workers; the whole damn town. Our roots are deep, our hearts are full.


There's still so much to do. The garage hasn't been touched and is full of salvageable items and thousands of dollars of water-logged tools, many of which were passed down to my dad from his grandfather. The backyard is still a mess. The pool needs to be dealt with. My parents still need to make an inventory of every item that was lost. My mom still needs a car. They need additional experts and professionals at the house to give quotes and opinions on the stuff left behind. They need to move into an apartment, unpack, and re-allocate their possessions between a garage spot, friends' house, their own 2nd story, and their new rented place. We have some organizing to do upstairs. They have months in an apartment and a massive home renovation to oversee.


But right now, exhausted and dirty, it feels doable. It may not tomorrow; it for sure won't on some of the days ahead. But I truly feel they're going to bed tonight feeling like it's all a little bit more okay, and right now, that's the mark of a damn good day.