I’m brushing Leta’s hair after her shower when she bites her lower lip, slowly looks up at me and asks, “Mom? Can tornados happen at night?”
I don’t hear her correctly and repeat her question back to her. “Do Doritos happen at night?”
She laughs nervously because she’s worried about the answer to her original question. “No, MOM. Tornados.”
“I’ll have to look it up on Wikipedia, but my guess is that Doritos can happen pretty much any time. Like, they could happen right now. They once happened on my birthday.”
“Mom,” she drones.
“That’s the thing about Doritos. Totally unpredictable, those things. Sneaking up and just happening. Next thing you know the tips of your fingers are covered in orange.”
She never calls me this, so I relent. “Why are you worried about tornados happening at night?”
“Because no one is awake. We’d all be asleep. How would anyone know that something horrible is happening?”
I stop brushing her hair and turn her so that we’re facing each other. I know she’s anxious.
“First of all, tornados don’t really happen in Utah. It’s very, very rare. So rare that you don’t need to worry about them.”
“Wait. In places where tornados DO happen, there are people called meteorologists, people who study the weather, and some of them only work at night. They’d be awake. They’d be watching storms. They’d make sure that a warning went out.”
“What kind of warning?”
“Well,” I say as I squat so that my face is closer to hers. “You know that I grew up in Tennessee, right? We had thunderstorms and tornado warnings all the time. There’s a siren that they set off to let people know if a tornado has been spotted in the area. When we heard that siren we knew to take cover.”
“Take cover where?”
“The safest place is in a basement,” I explain. “But where I lived the houses didn’t have basements. So the safest place to take cover when I was a kid was the bathtub.”
“Your bathtub was supposed to protect you from a tornado?”
(Holy shit, my kid is smart. Thank god I never thought of that question in the middle of a tornado warning. I am retroactively petrified!)
“A bathtub is really heavy, and there weren’t any windows in our bathroom. If there was one place to be in the house, it was there. I got so scared once that I slept in the bathtub with all of my stuffed animals. Every night for two weeks.”
“YOU SLEPT IN YOUR BATHTUB?”
“I did, Leta. I slept in the bathtub, and Grandmommy has had a really great time telling that story for over 25 years.”
“Since we have a basement, can we sleep there if we hear a siren?” she asks.
“Of course,” I say and I kiss her on the forehead. “We can sleep there. But remember, you don’t need to worry about tornados in Utah.”
This conversation seems to satisfy her for about an hour, up until I’m pulling the covers up around her neck and saying goodnight.
“WAIT!” she suddenly blurts out. “What happens if the those people who study the weather fall asleep? Who would set off the siren then?”
At this point my Granny Boone would have lost her patience and yelled, “HEAVENLY FATHER WOULD. NOW GO TO SLEEP.”
But Leta is too smart for that, so I stroke her hair and tell her not to worry several times, finally lowering my voice to a whisper that she can’t hear and saying, “If they did, we’d hire someone to shoot them.”