Every year around Mother’s Day I think about things that never would have happened if I hadn’t had children, and of the things I did because of them that I would never have thought I could. Lately, I’ve been thinking about a night when I needed my mother’s “power” to save one of them — and how I drove through a hurricane to get it.
On Sept. 18, 2003, Hurricane Isabel was bearing down on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and the Eastern seaboard had hunkered down. My then-husband, my kids and I lived in Maryland, smack in Isabel’s projected path. Making it worse, my 3-year-old, Jon had bilateral pneumonia and needed nebulizer treatments every three hours. When I asked the pediatrician what to do if the storm knocked out our power, he suggested running the nebulizer off a generator that works off a car battery. I informed the doctor we had no garage, not even a carport to offer Jon shelter if that were to happen; he shrugged.
Knowing it was ridiculous, my husband set out anyway and bought the last generator our local hardware store had in stock; finding the kind that might have powered a house was out of the question. The next day, Isabel would be plowing into Maryland. When we got up that following morning, the sky was alive with black, churning clouds.
By afternoon, our lights were flickering, and it was obvious trotting Jon out to the car for his treatments was a ridiculous notion. The rain slashed the air, and the winds wailed. Uprooted trees crashed onto cars and power lines snapped. But if the power went out and stayed out, I’d have to take the kids and head for my mother’s. My husband had cerebral palsy and his mobility was too limited to allow him to leave the house in a storm like this. If I had to leave, he would stay and man the pump.
My mother lived 20 miles away in a senior apartment complex that still had power. My hope was there was a generator in the building to keep things that way. When our power went out with no sign of coming back, I bundled up in layers of clothing, pulled on my slicker, then got the kids into their gear.
Taking Sydney first, I picked her up and held her as tightly as I could. I ran across the yard and buckled her in. I told her I loved her and I’d be right back with Jon. I could barely manage the car door.
I ran into the house and fetched Jon, gathered him up much as I had Sydney but tried to shield his mouth and nose from the winds. I buckled him in and slid behind the wheel. I looked back at the kids and tried to smile. Their eyes were huge.
We headed out, and things whizzed by that night that I never planned to see go airborne — branches, lawn furniture, baskets.
“Mommy, I’m scared,” Sydney said.
“I know, honey. But it’s going to be alright.”
Then, like a shining beacon on a windswept hill there was my mother’s little apartment building.
My mother said she had never been so glad to see any three people in her life, and together we got on with the business of warming up, drying out and feeding two brave kids.