An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

Disaster Preparedness

So I guess Leta has developed a phobia of things blowing away, I’m not sure where it came from, but here it is and wow, does it ever pop up out of nowhere and hijack a good hour of our lives. Let me first just say that she comes by this naturally, I had all sorts of weird tics as a kid, tons of obsessive-compulsive behaviors, like praying to God a certain way, with very specific words, over and over again, EVERY TIME I SAT ON THE TOILET, that he protect our house from a giant, falling meteor.

What can I say. It worked!

We first noticed it when she started freaking out about the umbrella on the deck just outside our kitchen. Whenever it was left open and moved lightly in the breeze she’d start pacing the floor of the kitchen, demanding that someone get out there right now and save it from being whisked up into the sky. Which is understandable, I guess. Maybe? I mean, the thing only weighs a hundred pounds, and there WAS that freak tornado that touched down in Salt Lake City ten years ago, and Jon is all HEATHER YOU ARE NOT HELPING.

Oh, can I even tell you how relieved I am that we are not raising Leta in a state where tornado warnings are normal? I think I’ve written about it here once, but when I was seven years old a tornado touched down just a few miles from our house in Memphis, and for the next two years of my life I slept in the bathtub with all of my stuffed animals. In fact, I’d come home from school and go straight to that bathtub, the safest place in the house, just in case a tornado suddenly dropped out of the sky. Because that totally could have happened at any moment. And when it did, WOULDN’T MY SKEPTICAL PARENTS BE EMBARRASSED, because there they are stuck underneath a shard of the roof while I’m all safe and cozy in the bathtub with my Care Bears.

I mean, I don’t even want to think about the terror Leta would feel at the sound of the siren that signals a tornado warning. Last week I backed the car into the garage after a trip to the grocery store, and as I was unloading all the bags she sat in the car and started screaming, I mean, scrah-HEEEMING, and I run over to see if she’s got an arm caught in a meat grinder, and she’s all THAT PAPER! THAT PAPER! And I turn to see the receipt from the grocery trip floating out of a bag and onto the floor of the garage.

She was worried that a receipt was going to blow away.

And I was all, dude, let’s go grab all your books and spend the night in the bathtub!

Somewhat related: so we’re driving out to my mom’s cabin on Sunday afternoon, me, Jon, Marlo in the car seat, and my friend Cami sitting next to her (Leta rode out with my mother). And we’re talking about the Receipt Incident, trying to dissect why Leta has this phobia about things blowing away. And since Cami grew up in Texas she and I start to reminisce over tornado warnings and drills. And Jon’s all, what’s a tornado drill? And both Cami and I start to laugh not realizing that since he grew up in a desert, “tornados” are those things that happen in The Wizard of Oz.

So I tell him that in tornado-prone areas they teach all the students a certain drill to perform in the event that one happens during school hours, and I’m not even kidding he goes, what? So they teach you to go stand underneath a doorway?

Is that not the cutest thing you’ve ever heard? I mean, that was three days ago and I’m still smiling about that comment.

  • My knees are permanently screwed up from that duck and cover position along the hallway walls in grade school during the spring and fall tornado drills. I grew up in northwest Indiana and have absolutely no cartiledge left in either knee. True story!

  • Obviously he doesn’t know the skill it takes to stand in a doorway. Probably just as difficult as it was for them to teach us how to sit under our desks for ‘drills.’

  • Annie from Canada

    There’s always the sitting under your desk and hold onto the legs of the desk drill too. I was always worried that my fingers were going to get squashed when the actual earthquake happened. It never did but, hey! You never know! The West Coast will start to shake any day now!

    Actually I lie. We did have an earthquake in 2002. I was in the Drama room under a big huge vent with no desk to hide under. Go figure. No worry about my fingers in that situation.

    Maybe on a windy day, rip up a piece of paper and get her to throw the pieces into the wind…not sure if that would help or make her hyperventilate.

  • Deanna

    So, um, what DO they teach you an a tornado warning? (I thought that the ‘stand under a doorway’ thing was for earthquakes?) I live in Ontario and am perplexed… (All we ever had was fire drills)

  • I was always the opposite. I was intrigued by the gusty winds and possibility of a tornado sweeping me up and dropping me up over a rainbow. I used to dream that of riding on magic carpets, swooping down over myself in my bed, which I shared with my sister. Even as I’ve gotten older I have dreams of being picked up in the strong arms of a tornado and I always find it to be great fun. Then again, I’m only dreaming.

    So, does Leta have those drills at school or perhaps they showed some sort of disaster video?

  • Anonymous

    Just last night my five year old daughter was upset by the balloon that blew away 3 months ago….. weird.

  • Amy

    I grew up in Minnesota, so we had lots of tornado drills, and I know what to do in the event of most severe weather–from lightning storms to blizzards. When I moved to Seattle the place I worked had a series of drills for fire and other emergencies, and my boss said something like “oh, we don’t need to actually DO an earthquake drill, everyone knows what to do, right?” Needless to say, everyone was smiling or laughing at me when I wondered if the correct thing to do was to go outside. I still say tornados are a better foe, at least you know where and when they will probably be (and anyone who grew up in an area of tornados knows the weather change signs), and there are tornado WARNINGS. Earthquake warnings? Not so much.

  • My daughter is the same way. I don’t know where she gets these nervous tics. When she was a baby it was any noisy toy, then she developed a fear of the bathtub, that she still talks about all the time, but at least I can get her INTO the bathtub again. Then there is the constant need to know whether her cup she drank out of is “clean” or “dirty” (because I occassionally make her drink spoiled milk, ya know, just to keep her on her toes) Then there was the time we had to remove all her stuffed animals from her room because she swore to us that one of them winked at her. Oh! and her irrational fear that the car is going to all of a sudden start driving by itself and peel out of our driveway before my husband and I get a chance to get in. Oh man, that list just goes on and on. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who has kids like this.

  • You might get her “Attic of the Wind”. A very cool picture book from the 60s about where stuff goes when it blows away in the wind. Gorgeous mid-century illustrations.

  • i loathe wind in the worst way

  • The things they teach you in elementary school that are supposedly going to save your life during a natural disaster baffle me. When I was huddled under my desk as a kid (earthquakes, you know) I remember thinking that if the ceiling collapses those tiny aluminum legs aren’t going to keep 300 pounds from crushing tiny 50 pound me. Somehow covering your head with your arms doesn’t seem like it would prevent you from getting sucked into a tornado.

    Basically, I see Leta’s point.

  • Thank you for reminding me of those drills in elementary school where we all sat along the walls with our hands covering our heads.

    Leta never ceases to make me smile. She makes my Anna seem less nutso!

  • I have to confess I would probably have said the same thing! Growing up in California, we had earthquake drills and it was in the doorway or under the desk. So out of pure curiousity, What do you do in an tornado drill?!

  • gwendolyn

    Well, when we moved to southern oklahoma a.k.a tornado alley im pretty sure we were there about 3 weeks when one touched down and took out my new school.

    So im suddenly a city kid out in the country by myself in the middle of 20 acres in a farm house (shack) huddled in the tub with 5 of our dogs trying to put my twin mattress over my head. They had to hold my mother down while she was at work so she wouldnt drive to me. She would’ve gotten right in the tornados path. Either way she broke free but it had passed. Pretty neat to see one forming and terrifying.

    I think country life gets rid of a lot of phobias. I had a lot when I was a kid and when we moved to the country on a farm I had to get over a lot of it.

    But it also created some!!!!

  • Sarah

    I loved the tornado drills! My husband and I were just talking about tornadoes and I told him about the times I’ve seen them and funnel clouds and stuff (I’m from Texas, he’s not) and he’s all, “Oh yeah, well your brass balls slow you down, so I can outrun you when we’re being chased by a mountain lion, so there.”

  • Lara

    Oh my god, I was the SAME WAY! We had a very minor (and freakish) tornado touch down in my town when I was 6, and for 10 years after that, I kept a shoebox with all of my prized possessions stashed next to my bed, and if even the lightest wind blew, I’d grab it and head for the basement.

  • Sarah

    Oh, and my Grandmother and Aunt Sybil alwaysalwaysalways put on their Sunday best whenever there’s a storm/tornado warning at night. I love that.

  • Having grown up in Southeast Alaska with miles upon miles of coastline, it never occurred to me that the rest of the country didn’t have Seaweek every year, where you spend 4 days learning about all the fun creatures that live in the tidepools, and then you spend the last day at the beach.

    I mentioned “Seaweek” once to my husband, and he was all, uh, not everyone gets to go the beach for a week during school, dear. And I said, not the WHOLE week, just one day. He still thought we were spoiled.

  • Megan

    @68. June..was that the Oak Lawn High back in the 70s? I know that tornado, which did take the roof off the school made a huge impact on my parents and the elementary schools. My mom truly believed it would happen again, and since we lived across the street from the school, it was only a matter of time before the tornado came back to get us. We had drills a lot. It seems that a lot of people kneeled. We had to sit indian style, lean forward, cover our heads and necks w/ our hands. A very awkward position.

  • Lisa

    I grew up in the 60’s and that was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We were taught “duck and cover” in case they ever dropped a bomb on us. It scared me to death. I would lay in bed and hear planes go over our house and I would be afraid to even breathe thinking they would hear me and drop a bomb on my house.

    Shouldn’t it be scah-REEEMING? Not scrah-HEEEMING? It almost sounds jewish with your spelling. I had three boys before I had my girl and had swore my daughter would never scream like other girls. Well mine did anyway. I guess it is just part of their make up. You’ve got it times two. Ouch!!!

    Just wait…another story to tell Leta’s boyfriends!!! So swwweeeeetttt!

  • Andi

    In high school moved from tornado alley Texas where I’d only experienced drills, never a real tornado, and drought (school goes on you just can’t wash your car, fill your pool, or water the lawn/football field), to the east coast where school was delayed for fog, canceled for snow/blizzard, and released early for hurricanes!!! Total SCORE! 10 years later moved back to a different part of TX, within 3 days was in a storm cellar because a tornado was right outside of town. What the heck was I thinking?

  • AmyC

    Dude! Not only did we have tornado drills, during which we all went out into the hall and crouched down with our butts in the air and our hands over our heads . . . but, we had tornado safety poster contests. And I won! I won! That was my crowning glory and everything since has been down-hill.

  • Living in Minnesota, tornado drills were always a big part of my life. But the other day, somehow I got to talking with my 5-year-old about earthquakes. And he was very concerned about people staying safe during an earthquake. So I explained that it’s okay, that just like we build buildings here knowing that they might be expected to withstand a tornado, the architects in California plan for earthquakes. And just like we know what to do in a tornado (head for the center of the house, duck and cover!), people where they have earthquakes know what to do.

    So he, of course, asked what they do. And all I could remember was something about doorways–that they were either the best place or the worst place, because either they would withstand the quake and keep you safe, or they would collapse on you. And none of this was helpful. So after dancing around my lack of knowledge and probably scaring him for a moment, I just explained that people who live around earthquakes know these things, and if we travel to a hotel in California, I’m sure they will have a sign on the hotel room door for people who don’t know. You know, fire exit and earthquake instructions for out-of-towners.

  • hanna

    Oh that is definitely a concern – the wind blowing a big umbrella attached to a table away. A friend of mine had that happen a few years back after she moved into her new house. The table was on the patio and a thunderstorm with heavy winds passed through – catching the umbrella and then knocking it all over the patio and breaking the glass in the table. They were picking glass up for months.

    That is a funny comment (standing in door way). I remember those drills all too well. Originally from Ohio – they don’t do those up here in Massachusetts though. We have had a few micro bursts touch downs up here though.

  • Oh god, the OCD. You could set your calendar by my daughter’s OCD flaring up at the beginning of every school year. She’s starting 3rd grade in a couple of weeks, and already there is the hand washing.

    It’s all our fault, you know. They get the crazy from us.

  • Triptikgirl

    In the Detroit area, at 1 pm on the first Saturday of every month, you hear the county sirens going off. It’s very scary to hear them at any other time.

  • Jessica

    When I was little I was TERRIFIED of wind in the worst way…and I grew up in California. Santa Ana winds would send me running to my bedroom where I would curl up into a ball, rock back and forth and pray for the wind to stop. Ahh…the memories.

    You guys have YEARS of fun to look forward to!

  • I grew up in Texas, and had nightmares about tornadoes up until I moved to Seattle. The nightmares totally went away after about a year…

    Then someone mentioned EARTHQUAKES.
    Earthquakes!! I don’t have the training for this!

    Funny story about Tornado warnings – I had the nightmares, but my sister was the one who really freaked out. One day my mom and I were at the grocery when the warning sirens went off, and when we got home, my sister (age 10) was in the bathroom with the menagerie of animals we had accumulated.
    This included 1 black lab, 2 cats, 1 iguana, 1 rabbit.
    Needless to say this was not a peaceful arrangement.

  • LizC

    You mean not everyone had to periodically evacuate and sit facing the wall in an interior hallway covering their heads with their arms? What?

    Of course, the one time I was in high school when it wasn’t just a drill no one assumed the correct position. This is because we spent about 2 hours in that damn hallway waiting for a tornado that ended up bypassing the high school.

    Tornadoes used to terrify me as a child but now that I live in what is apparently the most natural disaster prone city in the country I’m just waiting for a tornado in a “well, it’s the only thing that hasn’t hit us in the last year” sort of way.

    PixelFish, it’s always been an old wive’s tale that you open the windows during a tornado (some bullshit reasons given: it equalizes air pressure) but most people who live in tornado prone areas have always known it doesn’t make a whit of difference. It’s only for the people who live in the non-tornado prone areas that they had to explain that, no, opening all your windows will not help in the event of a tornado.

  • Julie

    Oh how we all loved fire and earthquake drills (California) as a kid! They were fun!

    Now tornadoes….they creep me out. Always have.

  • KatieG

    I remember learning about Van Gogh and I was convinced someone was going to cut off my ears while I was sleeping. I had to pretend my sheets were magic and would protect me from the ear stealer and vampires.

    I also thought some kind of eel was going to come out of the toilet and attack me, and someone was hiding under my bed ready to slash my ankles… I don’t know what my parents were thinking when they let me watch scary movies as a kid.

    We had a tornado hit when I was at girl scout camp. My friend had the brilliant idea that we should all crawl under our cabin… We spent hours in the dirt with the spiders while everyone else was toasting marshmallows in the dining room:)

  • Mere

    My best friends daughter (3) has a phobia about automatic flushing toilets. She REFUSES to use one even if her bladder is going to explode into a zillion gallons all over the floor. NO WAY JOSE.

    Makes for very interesting road trips.

  • Hahaha, Jon’s comment just made my day. I can imagine him standing under the doorway while the tornado does his work. So nice.

    I’m from Puerto Rico, where there are no earthquakes or anything, just occasional hurricanes, but we did all sorts of drills just in the case that one day there might be an earthquake, or a hurricane might just randomly decide to show up at the door, or maybe someone would light the school on fire, etc.

    The best part was that the drills would happen randomly during the day and that meant classes were interrupted. Oh how I wished there was a drill during my history classes…

  • It’s amazing the things that freak kids out. I had completely forgotten, but your story about sleeping the bathtub reminds me about my weird phobia as a kid. I grew up in Oklahoma (talk about tornado territory!) and was terrified that lightening would hit the house as I was taking a shower and electrocute me. I took the fastest showers known to man during that year and would only wash my hair in the sink (because washing hair in the shower took too long and taking too long would of course lead to inevitable electrocution). No matter how sunny the day, I was convinced that a bolt from the blue would kill me. Somehow I survived.

  • Joy E. from Oklahoma

    You can let Jon know that in Oklahoma, we just go outside and watch the tornadoes. We don’t actually go into the doorway until we can feel the tornado. *haha*

    Actually, I’ve lived here in Oklahoma my entire 23 years and I still am overly terrified of tornadoes. I mean, I have a nervous breakdown everytime there is even the slight possibility of a tornado. Spring is a very bad time for me…

  • Kara

    Ok, but as someone who grew up in Southern California (with plenty of such Get Under the Desk/In the Doorway drills–and the real thing–implanted in my brain), I about peed myself when I lived in the UP of Michigan and there was this earthquake out in Vegas… And the local (fresh outta J-School) newscasters were all a twitter about the fact they had an EYE WITNESS of their own (on vacation w/ her husband) on site and on the phone to give a full report.

    The line of questioning, after the requisite, “Yah, it was really scary, eh!?” went like this:


    The end.

  • As a kid I was so afraid of any kind of storm that I slept underneath five blankets (even in the summer…I had a carefully rigged fan tunnel into my blanket cave.) Now I am the exact opposite, and just a few weeks ago when there was a tornado that popped up about 10 miles away, I climbed up on the roof and lamented that I didn’t have a taller roof and a telephoto lens.

  • We don’t get tornadoes here in Oz (yes I get the irony) so we don’t have drills to terrify the children. But we do have a lot of bush fires and a Lovely place called The Museum of Fire. They take the early infance kids there under the delusion that they are going to a fun excursion. Then they terrify them with images of pink Pyjamas burnt to a crisp. My daughter went there last week and we haven’t had a settled night since. To top it off she is now terrified of electricity because the lovely Fire people told her most house fires are caused by it. Try living with that one.

  • Christi

    I grew up in Ft. Worth and remember the yearly tornado drills as everyone described above (face and knees on the floor, interlaced fingers over the back of the neck). I now teach in San Antonio and there are no yearly tornado drills, unless there’s a tornado watch/warning/in the area and suddenly the teachers have to teach the kids what to do for this. Let me tell you how much fun it was the first time to try to instruct these teenagers how to sit in a tornado drill. Then, as I’m doing this and the kids are thinking/saying “What the F***?” the administrators figure that just sitting Indian style in the hallway is good enough, no need to crouch down. Then it was my turn to think “What the F***? You Administators, obviously were not raised with the Tornado Alley tornado drills ;-)”

  • I grew up in Mississippi. I know the tornado drills of which you speak.

    Right now my daughter is only 2 so she doesn’t understand that tornadoes are something to be afraid of. At this point, she believes that thunder is made by a giant panda up in the clouds. (And no, I have no clue where she got that.) I’m not looking forward to the age when it all becomes real & scary.

  • virgenia

    Worst week of my life–June 1969 in Carbondale, Illinois. One full week of tornado warnings every night. Cheap student apartment made of paneling. Lived alone. No where to hide. Electricity out every night. I thought I was the only one who slept in the bathtub. Me and my typed-on-the-portable-manual-Olivetti thesis in the tub every night. Scared of wind ever since.

    Oh, and the head on the floor, butt in the air worked in 1950’s to protect us all from nuclear attacks.

  • Grew up in CA and I was such a little goody-two-shoes that I loved earthquake drills so I could show off how good I was at hiding under a desk. I was so disappointed that no one gave me a star when I was the first person under their desk in a real earthquake!

  • so how much sense does this make…? In So. Ca. they used to have air raid drills and if you were in school you hid under your desk but if you were at home you got under a sheet. A sheet. Under a sheet with my crazy Grandmother. And apparently the sheet thing had something to do with protection from nuclear fall out. Who knew that’s all you needed.
    It was a much simpler time.

  • I used to have an unnatural fear of the wind. I was deathly afraid that the gate would blow open, and my dog would run away.

  • Lauren

    Hmm. I had that fear for a while when I was a kid. I still can’t really make any sense of it. Something to do with loss, but I can’t pinpoint why. Creepy. I need a therapist.

  • PJ in IL

    Not only are you funny, but the people who comment have me rolling around on the floor. I’m not even lying!

    I am not afraid of tornados or eathquakes. I’m only afraid of 1 small thing. RIDING. IN. VEHICLES. I used to be the person who drove everywhere and picked people up from O’Hare and anywhere else they needed me. And then the 1st panic attack happened. It’s only gotten worse over time. If I have to travel in a vehicle of any sort I have to take tranquilizers out the wazoo and travel in oblivion. It’s hard when you have 4 grown kids who had to graduate from high school and college and get married. And the funny thing is, they expect me to actually BE there! The nerve of those kids!

  • Jon’s way cute. Lucky you. Lucky Leta. Lucky Marlo. 🙂

  • Kerry

    wow, we even have tornado drills in Northern Michigan where we get tornados (small ones) once a decade!!

  • Kyla

    I can easily teach you how to do a phobia cure. They take about 6 minutes to wipe away completely.

  • I grew up in Oklahoma (you know, where they filmed the movie Twister) and its a crazy place because not only are there not enough doorways in the event the sirens go off 🙂 (LMAO by the way!) but they don’t even build basements down there where you can take cover. To add insult to injury, lets just say we have a very high percentage of folks who live in trailers/mobile homes, etc…yep its death trap. Natives know the “real deal” (run like hell to the Walmart which is glued to the ground when the sirens go off) of a proper drill down there though.

    I’m convinced, like your youth in Mormonism (mine was in the Oklahoma bible belt–we should trade stories–oh God I have some) my time growing up as a NON-BELIEVER down there (which by the way I can brag not only did I survive the tornadoes, I also survived the KKK lynching mob that doesn’t exactly take kindly to us NON-BELIEVERs) made me a stronger person. Now that I live up in Yankee country, I don’t even shake when the sirens go off (I mean I HAVE a basement nowadays!). However, I did spent most of my childhood in the central part of my home away from windows thinking GOD WAS GOING TO GET ME…so the joke is on all bible thumping Okies who told me I was going strait to hell–I made it out alive.

    There is hope for Leta! Oh by the way, you might not want to tell her we have a meteor shower coming tonight…:-). Just in case those freak her out too, lol.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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