Seeing a flood through the eyes of a child

When I was five years old I woke up in the middle of the night needing to go to the bathroom. My dad was sleeping next to me. He told me not to worry, but the water in our house was ankle deep and he would carry me to the bathroom.

“Mom’s with Michael. It’s ok.”

I don’t remember feeling any fear. My dad was right there. Before we headed to bed the night before, my brother and I had sat on our front porch swing to watch the water rise. All day we kept track of what we could see. A bathtub had floated by.

We didn’t pay too much attention to our parents’ new car, a station wagon that was filling with water. It seemed fun to watch our dad row himself across to the church next door, where his office was, and pile books in the row boat. He brought them home and put them on the top shelves of our kitchen cupboards to keep them dry.

When we got up the next morning my parents had packed some bags and prepared us to leave our house. A helicopter hovered that morning as each of us was carried up in a sling. My mom went last because she wanted to watch my dad take the dog and cat, in turn, to safety.

My memories of that flash flood in southeastern New Mexico are good ones. It was fun. There was so much to see and experience and all of us, my mom and dad and brother and I, were focused on the same thing. It brought us a cohesion as a family that I don’t remember feeling in normal times.

I remember a few things about where we stayed after the helicopter took us to the home of friends. We played hide and seek with the other kids and made cupcakes in the kitchen from a cake mix. Chocolate batter flew off the beaters all around the kitchen.

The next memory feels heavier than these. It’s of my mom on her hands and knees, scraping silt off the floors of our house. She was just at the edge of despair I think, jaw set, pushing through.

What a difference perspective makes. A five-year-old’s eyes see different things than her 25-year-old mom’s. The thrill of the novel for me must have been fear and worry for her. I can’t imagine it is easy watching your children hoisted into a helicopter or looking back as the helicopter left to see your home surrounded by water.

It all rushes back today when I see the pictures of Texas. Water is devastating and powerful and isolating. You are forced up, as high as you can go. The most valuable things are pushed to the highest point.

Th things you leave behind end up filthy and warped. Some things are salvageable, but much isn’t. The brand new car has to be hauled off. If you have insurance, then some things are replaced.

I can’t imagine dealing with a flood of the magnitude that Houston is facing. Cold, clammy fear is warmed up to despair in the muggy late summer air. People die. They try to escape in their cars and are swept away by surprisingly powerful currents. They are isolated without their insulin or other critical medications. They have heart attacks. They drown.

For now I suppose we have to wait for the rain to stop as helicopters and boats rescue the most vulnerable. The next hell is waiting for after the waters recede to reveal what’s been lost and destroyed.

I’m sending hope into the universe that the children are seeing with eyes like my own when I was young, that this is an adventure and exciting, because I know their parents are swallowing terror and pushing with all their might what they love most as high as it can go.

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