Over the past couple weeks, our family had a nice equilibrium. Things were not stress free or work free — the kids still pushed some buttons, I was frequently up to midnight because of a work deadline (when I was not already up late because of an ER shift), and my wife traveled for 4+ days for a conference (I managed to avoid using curse words until the final day, which I consider a massive success).
However the stress seemed manageable, and the time was enjoyable. We had quality time together, no one was sick, the kids were sleeping well, etc.
We focused on maintaining the good rhythm, as we knew some downturn would happen.
The toddler will get an ear infection. Someone will have a terrible day at work.
Or perhaps Rogue Two (age 4) will intentionally use paper products to clog a toilet, and also stay up to 10pm multiple nights in a row, and Rogue One (age 8) will wake up with a nosebleed at 3am and proceed to freak out, despite having dealt with these many, many times.
None of this is that bad, but s*it happens.
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When the equilibrium is disrupted, in addition to trying to figure out how to get back on track, many people, reasonably, try to minimize the problems. We utter platitudes about how much worse others have it, or how this too shall pass. We say these things to give ourselves “perspective,” and maybe to make ourselves feel better; sometimes it does help, but sometimes it just makes you feel worse, because it doesn’t help you handle the issue causing the stress.
Perspective is ideally something you establish in the good times, so it’s already there as an anchor when you hit the bad times.
When we are in the good times, we don’t spend a great deal of time preparing for what we would do if things get worse, because we were just there.
When we’re in the bad times, we don’t prepare for even worse times. You assume that if you keep your head down and slog through, things will return to “normal,” as if such a thing exists.
We forget there is no “normal,” there is only life. When the toddler is sick, he’ll probably get better, but maybe he’ll get worse and you’ll end up in the ER (and maybe I’ll be the doctor). Maybe the car just had a big repair, and now you have to pay the ER co-pay (not my fault).
When things are going well, when we are in a rhythm instead of a rut, the platitudes disappear and we enjoy things as they are. When we’re in a rut, we don’t dwell on the fact that we could fall off a cliff. After all, that would be too negative.
So what happens when everything suddenly goes up in flames?
The Tubbs Fire
That’s what happened to EJ, a husband, father, and cardiologist, who blogs at DadsDollarsDebts. We became friends through the blogosphere. His blog started almost exactly a year ago. We have some traits in common (we’re doctors, and we’re both brown-ish people married to non-brown people). We also discovered we have a close mutual friendship — someone I met in middle school, whom he met during his cardiology training.
I’ve never met EJ — he’s an internet PenPal at the moment. We’ve shared some blogging tips and emails and online conversation, and I hope to meet him next year at a conference.
He lives in Northern California — wine country. It sounds like an amazing place to live. Unfortunately it is also the scene of the worst wildfires in the history of California (so they say on NPR — I’ve no idea if that is true).
His family was recently woken up in the middle of the night by pounding on the door — a neighbor alerting them to a raging wildfire encroaching on their neighborhood. The fire came with little warning, and there was no planned evacuation.
He and his wife and child grabbed a few things and left, because that’s all they could do. Not long after, they learned their house was destroyed in the fire. Literally everything they own, other than a handful of objects they grabbed on the way out, are gone. One of his cars melted, and his fireproof safe wasn’t fireproof enough, as all the documents inside are gone.
Fortunately his family is fine, and while his material possessions are gone, he has the ability and resources to rebuild. His job is still there, he has insurance, and he emergency cash.
Yes, things could be far worse. Platitudes are made for times like these.
The Emergency Blogger Chain
My blog recently passed the 6-month mark, with little (i.e. no) fanfare. I’m mostly happy it’s still going, and I expect we’ll make it another 6 months. Hard to say what will happen beyond that time.
While there are millions of people blogging, there are many communities within those millions. After EJ wrote about his experiences evacuating from the fire, word spread, as many of us read each other’s blogs.
This has started a chain of blog posts about emergency preparedness, sharing EJ’s experiences and adding on additional experiences. You can read EJs post to get a lot of great tips about emergency preparedness that he and others have put together since his post. You can also go to this post by Chief Mom Officer, where she has linked to many posts in this chain that has developed.
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My wife and I lived in Houston in 2008 during Hurricane Ike — it was an eye-opening experience, but nothing compared to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey (as a reminder, 10% of all blog revenue this year is going to Hurricane Harvey relief).
The American citizens in Puerto Rico, where much of the country has no electricity or water, is already so far off most people’s radar that people don’t realize how terrible the situation still lis down there. A news report I heard a few days ago indicated that those without cash were mostly SOL — no electricity means no credit cards and no working ATMs.
Awesomely enough, another report talked about the culture of resourcefulness that was on display in Puerto Rico — people were using PVC pipes to bring water from the mountains, and using water to “refrigerate” a woman’s insulin because she had no working refrigerator. They all would probably prefer electricity and running water (consider donating), but their ability to keep going should give us pause.
I do not want to re-hash details about how to prepare for an emergency. You can read the post from EJ and Chief Mom Officer (and those they and others link to), and use a 3-second Google search to find you everything you want to know.
Despite our personal experiences, and the recent disasters hitting multiple parts of America, we’ve been slow to prepare ourselves. I can make a list of the things we don’t have that we need, but that would be embarrassing.
I’d rather talk platitudes — seriously.
Whether you are in good times, bad times, or dealing with a disaster, what most of us often lack, or at least temporarily forget, is “perspective.”
Those with the biggest zombie preparedness kits — a safe room, lots of guns and bullets (and knives, because you don’t want to waste a bullet on a zombie; bullets are for The Saviors), cash, gold, bitcoins, solar panels, generators, whatever — probably understand better than anyone that things can go sideways at any moment.
While you don’t want to spend your life expecting a disaster, you want to be decently prepared for one. When you are in a groove, you don’t want to spend all day preparing for the disaster, but you need to spend some time not just avoiding the rut, but the cliff.
When you are in the rut, yes, it is good to remember that others have it worse than you. I believe, however, you need to do things to connect you to others. Maybe it’s donate to a charity, or checking on a neighbor, or calling your mother (she’ll always expect a call, no matter the circumstances). If you can do something besides survive, it’ll help you keep living your life.
The platitude of maintaining some sense of “normalcy” is important, and how to do that is hard to imagine in many circumstances. EJ and his family can’t sleep in their own bed. They have almost no possessions. They have to rebuild their house from nothing.
EJ mentioned he needs to buy some clothes to go back to work. Going back to work/school when life sucks sometimes is the best way to feel normal — that’s where we have routines, friends, and tasks to keep us busy.
It’s EJ’s continued blogging, however, that I find most impressive. He’s sharing his experiences in real time, turned the fire into a semi-joke about minimalism, and launched an online discussion about emergency preparedness that continues to spread.
That is perspective and maintaining your equilibrium.
EJ is turning lemons into lemonade. It’s a platitude we can all rally around.