Over the weekend, we had some tornado warnings go off here in good old Johnson County, Kansas. Saturday night my husband and I were watching The Hangover, laughing our asses off, when we realized the sirens going off weren't part of the movie. I'd like to point out that navigating two staircases to the basement with a dead asleep eight year old boy in your arms and a giant poodle swerving in and out through your knees in a bathrobe that is slightly too long should be an Olympic Sport. I would totally medal in that. My husband? He carried the laptop.
Anyway, apparently the sirens went off again later that night, at 2AM. We never heard them, I saw it on the news later in the morning while making breakfast. We really need a weather radio, I thought. And then I thought, surely there's an app for that, right?
And so today, just before 11am, while sitting at my desk as the third graders practiced their typing skills, my phone went off. I had received a text from the Weather Alert system, we were under a tornado warning.
My first thought: Are you fucking kidding me?
My second thought: Oh right! Get your butts downstairs!
By the time I called the office to say I'd receive the text, they had heard it too, and things began to move quickly. Five hundred kids, teachers and a few extra parents who happened to be in the building made it to the basement and assumed the position in a mere five minutes. The kids were a little freaked, but mostly fine as we were telling them no, there isn't really a tornado, but the conditions are kind of similar so we're down here as a precaution. Little white lies are totally okay when trying to avoid mass hysteria in children, I firmly believe.
Twitter was keeping me up on what was actually happening, and turns out there really was a tornado, and it was not far away. It was, in fact, less than a quarter of a mile from where my own children were hunkered down in their own school cafeteria, and having this information was both a needed salve of knowledge and a cause of low boil panic threatening to spill over.
And then we were told to do something that rarely happens: unbuckle and move the wheelchair-bound kids out of their chairs and onto the floor. Now, do it right now. And the very perceptive children hunkered around us realized this meant the real deal, and they promptly lost their shit.
I've often wondered what really happens during a tornado warning in a school. I remember practicing as a child, my elementary school did have a lower level and many then did not, and I remember marching downstairs and sitting indian style (now we call it criss cross applesauce) against the concrete wall and bending forward with my hands over my head (the position was different then, I guess.) But I don't actually remember doing it as part of an actual tornado warning during a school day. All the tornado warnings seared into my brain from childhood happened at night, like we had last Saturday.So I've wondered.
Now I know. And it works like a well-oiled machine. This is why we practice. We spent an hour down there, missing several lunch periods, but smelling the food, and when we finally emerged it took some awkward fanagling to get everybody fed and back to some semblance of a day. 138 missed calls on the office phone line, parents trying to reach the school during the warning, as if the secretary was going to be answering the phone and not also seeking shelter. Several parents even came up to the building and attempted to collect their children to take them home, during the sirens. Um, no, you cannot have your child, but you can join us down here in the hot and sweaty cafeteria, where it's safe, unlike your car on the road as you try and drive home to your basement. And still other parents, after the warning had expired and it was safe again, decided You know what? I think we've had enough excitement for one day, and collected their children and went home, probably to lay on the sofa and snuggle for the rest of the day, holding them close.
I wanted to do that myself. I wanted to be with my children in this emergency, I needed to hug them. But turned out a bunch of school children who barely know me yet needed a hug, too. So it all worked out.