Add hurricanes to the list of things more fun pre-kids

At 10:27 am two weeks ago, Sunday, Aug. 29, I texted one of my oldest friends. She lives in Spain now so I didn’t know if she’d be paying attention to Hurricane Ida making a beeline for my college kid in New Orleans.

“Good luck to Sawyer,” she said. “Hope he’s safely hunkered down. That looks like a big-ass storm.”

“Yes, big ass,” I responded. “This was much more fun with you and Andrew as the 20something kid — NOT the parent!”

And then, as she has many times in our friendship, she spoke the plain truth: “So many things are much more fun as the kid than as the parent.”

Sarah and I were 20something reporters in South Florida in August of 1992 when Hurricane Andrew was headed directly toward our town of Stuart. It ended up making landfall south, with a direct hit on Homestead on August 24. The next morning, Sarah and I packed up our reporter’s notebooks and drove south.

My actual notebook from covering Hurricane Andrew in August of 1992.

Things I remember:

• Shopping with my friend Laura for hurricane supplies. The shelves were pretty empty because 20something planning skills are suspect. We panic grabbed SpaghettiOs and laughed our way through Publix. We definitely bought alcohol.

• We had some sort of hurricane party.

• We had a plan that involved going to my boyfriend’s apartment because he lived further inland and SpaghettiOs Laura and I lived right by a canal. Laura had a couple of cats, I had three cats and Alec the Pomeranian, Greg the boyfriend had a psychotic cat named Lau.

• As the reality and wine coolers set in, I changed the entire plan and decided I couldn’t take all my animals to Greg’s. Did he bring Lau to my apartment? I have no idea. I barely communicated this change of plans to Laura who, as the reality and beer set in, wasn’t too happy with me as now she had to go through the hurricane alone. We lived across the parking lot from each other but still, this was a big-ass storm. We are still BFFs so thankfully, 20something anger is short.

• I left the next day with Sarah (we were all local newspaper reporters) and made it to Fort Lauderdale, I think.

• I came back and left a day or two later with a newspaper staff photographer for Homestead. We talked to people who had lost everything and took a helicopter tour of the devastation.

What I don’t remember:

• Talking to my parents.

My oh my how things change in 29 years.

I started texting with Sawyer about the hurricane probably the Tuesday or Wednesday before it hit. When we moved him into his apartment near the Loyola campus ONE WEEK PRIOR, we’d left him a half-ass hurricane kit: 3 big jugs of water, a first-aid kit, protein bars, cashews, a flashlight, and extra batteries. A parent suggested in the Loyola parent FB group that a solar phone charger might be helpful. Amazon got that to his porch on Friday.

The half-ass hurricane supplies we left Sawyer when we moved him in a week before Hurricane Ida.

I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and the first half of Friday fretting over whether we should bring him home — to Sawyer, to my husband, to my friends, to his roommates’ parents. When his 24YO brother said we should bring him home, I momentarily panicked. Was I being such a negligent parent his big brother knew best? Turns out, he just wanted him to come visit.

Once the decision was made that they were staying, I spent the rest of the weekend watching the hurricane on The Weather Channel and discussion of the hurricane on Twitter.

Now, a quick Google search tells me The Weather Channel was a thing in 1992, so I’m guessing my mom was doing the same back then. And it’s quite likely she called me a few times with prep ideas and my dad called a few times to fret. We have no proof of any of this and my mom, the family historian, sadly isn’t here to remind me the details. I really missed her calls as Ida got closer to Sawyer. Her usual “it’ll be fine” was reassuring and when she was worried, I knew there was cause.

Sawyer is a competent young man. But he’s 21. And he’s lived in landlocked Dallas his entire life. I was a competent young woman. But — at 25! — I was panic buying Spaghetti0s and forgetting to let my best friend know where we were sleeping that night. It didn’t help when I asked Sawyer Friday afternoon what they planned to do if they lost power and, therefore, the food in their refrigerator, he said this: “We’ll just order takeout.”

Oy vey.

Turns out one roommate took a page from my SpaghettiO book and Ubered to Walmart on Friday (mind you, the hurricane is making landfall on Sunday). He found pop-tarts, cereal, and chips. As per the 20something script, they also had a hurricane party that night.

Hurricane Ida was planning to hit New Orleans as a Category 4. Hurricane Katrina devastated the city on this exact same date 16 years earlier as a Category 3. My hurricane PTSD comes from covering Hurricane Andrew (a Category 5) and working with our church to help those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Hurricanes do not fuck around.

Proof of life and evidence they were listening to parental advice at some point.

Bottom line: New Orleans’ levee structure held; its power structure, not so much. The Loyola boys easily survived landfall; the aftereffects, not so much. Their apartment lost power at 11:30 am that Sunday, just after landfall. Sawyer and his roommates spent a long day trying to charge their phones with the sun, hiding in a windowless hallway as the worst of the storm passed, reading Harry Potter books, and learning how to build a house of cards.

Reports were it would be weeks before the power was back on.

The roommates from Maine and Maryland couldn’t get home because the airport was closed, so a Dallas vacation it was. I drove into Louisiana on Wednesday and picked up three hot, hungry, and hurricane weary college students.

While much of Louisiana suffered far worse than New Orleans and plenty of people are still without power, New Orleans is back in working order. After 8 days of Texas culture (they now have a favorite taco joint and one wore his new cowboy hat on the plane back), the boys left Dallas to go back to college life a few days ago.

Roommate Kurt’s big-ass hat box is my favorite memory from this entire episode.

I hope Ida left them what Andrew left me: stories they will forever share, a healthy respect for mother nature, an understanding that mom and dad and hurricanes do not fuck around so LISTEN TO THE ADVICE, and a sense of how many people had it so much worse than they did.

I’m just leaving with the same hurricane PTSD I walked into this storm with, apologies for my dad for no doubt causing him much stress as I went through and covered Andrew, and a nostalgia for the ease of the 20something years and friendships.

Eat all the SpaghettiOs while you can guys. Because on this side of things, it’s all wine and Weather Channel and worries.

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Pros and cons of empty nesting, one week in

As I recall, it occurred to me sometime during my oldest son’s middle school years that the days of our living together as a foursome were numbered. I mean if you’d asked me, I would’ve given the sane answer of 18 years or so. But before that — in the trenches with babies and toddlers and elementary kids and the 1.874 million things that come to us in those trenches — it just never occurred to me.

The core four on a beach vacation in South Padre just before dropping Sawyer off.

Of course to think the foursome somehow ends at 18 is crazy talk — and thank god! When my kids were 8 and 5 or 12 and 9 or 15 and 12, I just had no idea what lay ahead. Although my nightstand was full of parenting books, to the exclusion of all the other gorgeous books available to me, this wasn’t something I prepared for. Is it just because we’re so in the moment, as kids pull us to be? Or is it because this is something we don’t talk about enough?

Maybe both. So, let’s talk about it.

My boys are 24 and 21. We had a shit ton of together time during COVID lockdown and now — as of a flight home from New Orleans to Dallas on Wednesday, Aug. 18 — we are empty nesters. Our youngest son has transferred colleges and is starting his new journey in New Orleans; our oldest graduated from college in Brooklyn just before COVID and is finding his professional and personal path here in Dallas.

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Flying home from college
drop-off in New Orleans

One week in, here are the pros and cons I see:

PROS

• There are no dirty dishes in the sink each morning from his midnight second dinners.

• Nobody bounds up the stairs at 3 a.m.

• The pillows remain on the couch as we leave them each night. Also there are no tennis shoes and dirty socks under said couch.

• There are no leftover containers stuffed haphazardly in our refrigerator.

• All the glasses are in the cabinet. (Parents of children still living at home, you may want to read that again because yes, one day you will be living this dream!)

• All the men’s socks that come out of the dryer belong to my husband. I’ve been dealing with sock ownership for at least a decade. At some point I just started putting them all in a basket on top of the dryer except for mine. This decision was not well-received by my husband, but self-care is important and I stand by my decision. My brain is now ready to receive things like algebra and how (allegedly) a cup of flour is different than a cup of water, I think.

• I bought everything I wanted at the grocery store for the week — at Whole Foods even! — and the bill was $129. OK I get my meat from a local farmer and our wine from a wine club but STILL.

• Nobody is here to finish off all the desserts (like the birthday lemon pound cake my MIL made me) that I love and don’t need.

CONS

• Nobody is here to finish off all the desserts (especially that lemon pound!) that I love and don’t need.

• Trash & recycling falls to us (I’ve negotiated an “I’ll keep doing all your laundry if you do all the trash” agreement with my husband so we’ll see how that goes).

• Our dog Sosa (who is really Sawyer’s dog) feels there are entirely too few people in the house to meet his needs.

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Sosa, waiting for Sawyer to come running up the stairs to their room.

• There is no one to go get the ice and beer for a small gathering we’re planning for Clyde’s birthday on Friday. (Also 35 other errands I likely need done and would rather send an offspring than face the Texas heat.)

• Sawyer won’t be here for the birthday party.

• Nobody brings me an extra taco from their lunch when I announce I’m eating at home (and am instantly filled with regret).

• Nobody in this house will notice when I color my hair tomorrow.

• We have half a watermelon in our refrigerator because we ate the other half on Sunday and Sawyer can eat his body weight in watermelon.

• I miss his face and laugh.

OK so it seems there are more cons than pros one week in. Still, it feels all is right with the world. Well, maybe not Sosa’s world.

This transition from the mom of children to the mom of adults didn’t happen when Noah or Sawyer turned 18 or when we dropped either of them off at college. Nor will it end when they pay for their own car insurance, ER visits, and phone plan (although honestly, I think the latter is complete fiction). As my brain is freed from the sock dilemma (and really will never do algebra or fret over solid or liquid measuring cups), I’m going to write about this transition in this space. I’d love it if you’d follow and share if strange land between 12 and ?? makes you laugh, drink, cuss, and cry. We’re all in this together and, honestly, it’s so much more interesting to talk about than nap times or baby’s first shoe.

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My multi-faceted writer’s life

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I think math is unforgiving. I love words because of their gorgeous flexibility and magical growth into sentences and posts and chapters and books.
 
I started freelancing in 1994, after the lifelong dream of a backpacking trip through Europe lured me away from my daily newspaper career. In my 20something single apartment days, I balanced a police scanner, court dockets, three cats, and a Pomeranian.
 
A few decades latter, I balance my love of words, my need to pay the bills, my passion for Africa, and my family. The empty nest is close but elusive. Thanks COVID.
 
I love my family, friends, and dogs. When I am not with them, I am happiest at my laptop. My passport is always up to date. I am obsessed with media and politics. I read non-fiction but do not write it. In my “real” job as senior editor at the International News Media Association, I focus on international media. In my side hustle, I write the chapters I’d like to read, mostly about gracefully transitioning from the parent-child relationship to the parent-adult child relationship.
 

My coworkers, left to right: Sosa, Hadley, and Roger

Sometimes I dance in Congo.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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