One of the things I love about homeschooling is the freedom to set our own schedule based on our own priorities. This freedom is so important when disaster looms.
This past week, the meteorological tracking models predicted that Hurricane Matthew was about to strike very close to our home in south Florida–so close that if they were wrong by even a few miles, we’d be at ground zero. We’ve been through a few hurricanes previously. When Wilma hit, we had furniture piled against the front door and we pushed against that furniture for what seemed like forever as we battled to keep the storm from pushing our front doors open; we later discovered that a couple of our neighbors had not been able to prevent theirs from flying open. During Frances, a huge tree in our backyard was partially uprooted and hung over our house, threatening to crash into it until we found a neighbor who had a tree removal business could help us take it down. During Jeanne (or maybe Frances–the two were so close together it’s hard to keep them straight in my head), we were without electricity for about three weeks–we seemed to be the final ones in our area to get power restored. And of course, there was the horrific cyclone that I went through as a child that I wrote about in my book, “Around the World in a Cement Boat.” I knew too well what we might be in for and wanted to do all we could to prepare.
So, I used our freedom to call an end to our regular lessons before the public schools did. We cancelled some planned activities and put aside our planned lessons, and worked to prepare. We filled bottles, pitchers, jugs, pots and pans with water in case our water was compromised; we’d have drinking water (and the kids learned that it isn’t necessary to panic if the stores run out of bottled water since we have containers around the house and running water to fill them with). We filled buckets of water for washing and flushing toilets. We filled plastic containers with water to fill the freezer to make ice to help keep food frozen when the power was gone. We filled bags with ice, too, and turned the fridge and freezer to their lowest temperature settings. We went to the library and stocked up on books to read–including some about hurricanes since I’d discovered in the past that reading up on what hurricanes are and how to prepare for them is the best way to reassure kids who are traumatized by storms. We removed furniture, plants, and other loose objects from the yard to prevent these things from becoming missiles in the strong winds. We removed almost everything from the garage, took out the shutters and started installing them, and repacked everything else in the garage so tightly that we could actually store our newer car inside as well. We caught up on laundry and dishes, so we’d have less to worry about if we were without electricity and water. We put up shutters and talked about our “safe room” and other procedures that the children might need to understand if we were directly hit. We filled the car with gasoline and stocked up on tuna, crackers, granola bars, and other items that would feed us if the storm left us without electricity and the grocery stores with empty shelves and pulled out our camping stove and Sterno canisters for cooking if we were without electricity for days after the storm. We pulled out the flashlights, candles, and old-fashioned hurricane lanterns, as well as the radios and batteries. We feasted on the more valuable foods in our fridge and freezer, and did all I could think of to prepare.
Then, when the public schools were cancelled and the local news showed incredibly long lines at gas stations, grocery and hardware stores, we parked our ancient clunker sideways in front of the garage to break the massive winds that might hit it, and we sat down to work on lessons.
“But schools are out now. Don’t we get a day off?” the older kids asked.
“You got time off earlier, and doing lessons now will give you something else to think about,” I explained as we pulled out the Algebra 2, “A Tale of Two Cities,” and grammar books. “Besides, wouldn’t you rather work on lessons while you’re cooped up inside than when you can get out and do other things? Let’s use the time wisely.”
Thankfully, while the storm came close to us, it wobbled away a bit at the last moment, sparing us from a direct hit. The teens and I sat up that night, by the light of our hurricane lanterns chatting, reading, building with Tinker Toys, and knitting as we listened to the weather reports on the radio for several hours after we lost our electricity. Thankfully, our preparations kept us from losing food in our fridge and freezer despite going without electricity for fourteen hours. Our water was never compromised, but I used the water later in cooking and washing and such so it wasn’t a waste. And my teens, who are old enough that I keep thinking they’ll likely be on their own in a few short years and need to know how to care for themselves and their own future families, have learned a lot about how to prepare for a disaster.