Thursday, September 18, 2003

Isabel Prep

My family summered on Cape Cod long before we moved there permanently, and we were in our little cottage in Chatham in August of '91, when Hurricane Bob hit. We had the requisite water, flashlights, bleach (does anyone know what the hell the bleach is for???) etc. We still weren't fully prepared.

My sister and I were 8 and 10, respectively, and as we piled into the basement for what would be a 5 hour stay, the only entertainment we had was our imagination, and our cats. As any parent can tell you, the imagination of ~10 year olds is rather active, and their respect for a cat's (or a kitten's, puppy's, etc) privacy is inversely proportional to their boredom.

Parents, have something in the basement for your kids to do.

Royale and I spent the first 10 minutes being scared by the force of the winds and the fact that our parents, normally bastions of authority and confidence, were obviously worried and uncertain. However, as David Brin notes in The Postman, the human mind simply cannot sustain fear very long in an unchanging situation. When Brin's protagonist finds himself staring into the grinning skull of a dead U.S. postman, he freezes up - but after a minute, the fear is dissipated by the boredom of remaining frozen, staring at an unmoving corpse. Similarly, Royale and I quickly became bored in the basement.

At first we ran around playing and screaming, but Dad, who likes his quiet and was under a lot of stress, got very irritated and made us sit down. So we started playing with the cats. (We had nothing else to do.) At that time we had 2 cats, a female calico named Troops (named after and in support of our troops in the gulf war) and a male orange tom named Treacle (after the delicious english desert of the same coloring.) The cats kept trying to get away and sit in peace, but naturally we kept dragging them back to play with. At this point it was not Dad, but Mom who became irritated, and justifiably so - we really should have let them be, but didn't know better. So to give the cats some peace, she put them out in the Hurricane.

Ooooh boy was that a mistake. We tease her about this all the time, she has never lived it down. Treacle immediately went to the ground level recession at one of the windows into the basement, and huddled against the wind staring down at us meowing. Troops clung to the screen door of the basement sliding door until the wind tore her off and she went cartwheeling away. As soon as mom saw this she rushed outide to grab the cats and bring them back in, but the damage was done. The cats were now very frightened and happy to keep me and Royale company, mewing softly and trembling for at least an hour.

I guess the point of my story is that in addition to the more obvious preparations, you should prepare yourselves, your children, and your pets for the long wait in the storm cellar that will inevitably accompany Hurricane Isabel, assuming you are in her path. Have board games, books, anything you can think of. Get coloring books, cards, dominos, cd-players, walkmen or gameboys with earphones. Get anything that's relatively quiet and time-consuming. Finally, if you think your kids are bothering your pets, whatever you do, don't put them outside. Have carrying cages in the basement with you. It will give your pets a sense of security and some privacy, and best yet you won't be tempted to send them out into the storm, which as my mom can tell you, would make you into a terrible person who abuses animals and should be mercilessly teased for the next 10 years. Right mom?

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