How to survive a natural disaster… with toddlers

I’m writing at a hotel. I’d like to say I’m in some beautiful, exotic local, but I’m about five miles from my house in one of the few areas in Northern Virginia with power and phone service.  Friday night brought one of the wildest storms I’ve ever seen–nearly constant lightning with tornado-like winds that made toothpicks of trees all over town.

My husband and I woke up early Saturday morning and sought out coffee. We could tell by the amount of damage that power wouldn’t be coming back any time soon, so we found the nearest hotel and snagged one of the few remaining rooms for the next couple of days. So for now, this is home.

We went to the lounge for our complimentary continental breakfast. I had a waffle. I’m of the opinion that calories consumed during natural disasters don’t count, even if one is sitting in front of a computer at a hotel instead of doing yard cleanup. That will come soon enough, along with cleaning out the refrigerator, which I expect will be about as fun as cleaning my son’s bathroom.

At the next table over, a young mother fed her two children.  My guess is that they were somewhere around four and seven. No husband in sight–probably sleeping or working, having shooed the kids away for a few moments of quiet.  The children were well behaved, but from the demeanor of the mother, I suspect it was the exception rather than the rule. I know that frazzled, one-armpit-fart-from a breakdown look. I assume that every mother is doing the best she knows how to, given her children and her situation. That does not mean, however, that I won’t offer some advice, after having spent several years in her shoes and my child is alive to tell the tale.

1) When your child tells you he has to go to the bathroom, view this like a grenade with the pin pulled. You have limited time and must act quickly.  When entering an unfamiliar place, my first order of business was to always scout out the closest bathroom. It’s like knowing where the location of the emergency exit on a plane. It can make the difference between making it and cleaning it.

2) No matter what your child has done, if you are stuck in a hotel in ninety degree weather with few options for diversion, taking away the DS and the pool punishes you as well as your child.  Remember, you can’t send them to their room because you’re already there, so they cannot sulk in solitude. You will be their audience, and there is nothing better than a captive audience. Let them have the DS, but as punishment, take away the really cool games, and leave him or her with the purely educational ones. Let them swim, but make them swim laps. They will be occupied. But they won’t enjoy it, both activity and punishment, all in one.

3) Do not tell them “This is the only food you will get for a long time.” Doing so will guarantee that they will ask for a snack every five minutes. Take a bagel and a banana with you. The hotel will forgive you. And by all means, just let them have the stupid @#$*@$ waffle. No, it’s not organic, or whole grain, or even healthy, but it’s edible, and they’ll like it.  When you say “You don’t want that waffle. Look, they have yogurt!” They are thinking, “Yes, yes I do want the waffle.”  And they will hold it against you. Forever.

4) Unless they are using the breakfast area as a playroom, packing outside voices, or crying, listening to you snap at your children is more disruptive to other diners than your children are.  Sulking may bother you, but it’s quite palatable to those around you, unless it is accompanied by whining.  Let you child glare all he wants. It’s quiet. Ignoring such behavior is usually the best strategy anyhow. If it doesn’t extend beyond the perimeter of your table, we don’t care.

In situations like this, the key is getting through it.  It’s what we are all doing, and I’m willing to cut you some slack. So, take a deep breath. It will be okay. And later, when your husband is watching the kids, stop by my room. I thought ahead and brought wine.  I told you, I’ve been through this before.

Words by J. B. Everett