> Family > Parenting


May 8, 2009 | by Yael Mermelstein

What to do in case of an earthquake and other household emergencies.

I know I am about to hear a good one from the way I see my kids bounding home from school as I watch through my kitchen window. They burst through the door, eight and nine-year-old bundles of energy, bringing with them the rugged scent of little boys.

"Mommy!" they shout simultaneously, their words frothing over the tips of their tongues and puddling into an incoherent stream.

"Woah," I tell them. "Slow down."

They pause -- for a second. "Drills!" one son starts breathlessly. "An Israeli security officer came to our school today to teach us how to act in case of emergency."

"Yeah," my other son chimes in. "We learned what to do in case of an earthquake, a shooting attack, an air raid siren..."

"Great," I interrupt. ‘Death options' is never a favorite conversation topic of mine. "So what do you do to protect yourself?"

One son runs under the table. "This is what you do in case of an earthquake," he says blithely. "Is this the heaviest piece of furniture in the house?" I nod, sighing.

"And this is what you do in case you are in a shooting attack," my other son chimes in, crossing his arms across his chest and backing away. "Unless he's within six meters of you," he adds. "In that case you try and grab his gun ‘cause it's your only hope." I gulp.

"And if there's a fire," the first one adds, "you have to make an orderly line and quietly exit the building single file."

My sons demonstrate exhibit A, dutifully slinking silently around my living room, one behind the other like cars on a train.

"I wonder how easy it is to follow the rules when real disaster strikes," I muse. "Well that's why you keep practicing!"

"It's very dangerous if you don't follow the rules," my younger son adds.

"Yeah," says my nine-year-old. "You can really get hurt."

"I wonder how easy it is to follow the rules when real disaster strikes," I muse. They look at me incoherently.

"Well that's why you keep practicing," they say. "They told us that we're going to keep having drills until it becomes 'shigrati,'" they tell me. Until it becomes second nature to react appropriately.

They move on, but as I scoop potatoes and carrots on to their plates, I am thinking about drills. Physical drills and spiritual drills. And these thoughts are still hovering around in my mind when my kids come home from school the next day.

"He's bothering me."

"He bothered me first."

"She bothered me so I bothered him."

My children are chasing after each other, screaming. One of them reaches for a soda bottle (to use as a weapon? I hope not.) and pushes past a glass grape juice bottle. The grape juice bottle goes flying, and my nerves splinter into a thousand shards of glass right along with the bottle, lying across my floor like a model car wreck.

I look over at my son and his lip is quivering.

"I broke the grape juice," he says quietly. My temple is pulsing.

"Go to your room," I say, my voice sounding like an automated teller. "I don't want to see you until tomorrow."

The evening unravels into an unfurled spool of disillusionment with my son and with myself, and I go to sleep with my thoughts tossing and turning within me.

Drills. Can they really work? Can I program myself to react differently when my most precious relationships are in an SOS situation?

I role play in my mind. I plan escape routes. Locate the fire extinguisher. Anticipate the worst and plan on emerging unscathed. I will try. A few days later my son arrives home from school.

"Hi Sweetie. How was your day?" I ask him.

"Horrible," he replies. He throws his knapsack across the room.

‘Do you want to talk about it?" I ask him.

"No," he says angrily. "But why don't you ever send me anything good to eat?"

Never. Always. Everybody else's mother. Dreaded words to a mother's ear. My heart clenches. And then I remember. Drills.

If someone approaches you with a gun, cross your arms across your chest. Bow your head. Protect your internal organs, your heart, your mind.

"Mmmmm," I say noncommittally. "Must have been a rough day. Can I give you something to eat?"

He sniffs the air. "No. It smells icky. You made something with cheese. You know I hate cheese."

Yes, I want to yell. I know you hate cheese. That's why I almost never make it even though some of us love cheese. And you know that there is a cheese-less lasagna in the toaster for you.

You should never push people during a fire or an air raid siren. Someone is bound to get hurt that way.

"I have a cheese-less lasagna for you in the toaster." I take it out and serve it to him.

"I don't want it," he says. He pushes the plate across the table and it falls on the floor, showering the room with tomato sauce.

The smartest place to be in an earthquake is under a heavy piece of furniture or out in an open area.

I breathe deeply and gently hand him a towel to clean up the mess.

"I'm going to my room for a few minutes," I say, until the earth stops trembling. And then I walk, single file, calmly to my room, like the little engine that could.

It may not be second nature yet, but I'm getting there, one drill at a time.

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