Monday, April 02, 2012

When I Most Felt Like A Hero

Links to this video of a mother and child reacting to an earthquake made it around to me recently. It's cool and short: I put it here so you'd watch it. 

My daughter Josephine was 4 and we were at the Latona 3-5's Cooperative Preschool, temporarily located in a couple of classrooms in a former high school that had already undergone an earthquake retrofit and was at the same time the temporary home for an elementary school while their usual building was being made earthquake "safe."

I was walking in the hallway, returning from the playground, just before 11 a.m. Josephine was holding one of my hands, her friend Erin the other. We were right outside the classroom door when the shaking started. It was the beginning of what we now call the Nisqually Earthquake, a 6.8 event that is one of the most powerful ever recorded in our area. I knew right away what was happening, so I ushered the girls, along with a couple passing first graders, into our room and under a table.

The world was shaking, but I was completely calm -- much like this mother appears in the video. I was alert, for sure, wary of my surroundings.

Josephine asked, scooting under the table on her bottom, "What's happening?"

I said, "It's an earthquake."

"I don't feel it."

I surveyed the room. I could see most of our cooperative parents in there, as well as my mentor Teacher Chris David. The children were out of sight, safely under the classroom tables. The building shook. I made eye contact with Chris as well as several other parents. We seemed like we knew what we were doing, not panicking, looking out for the children. As one, we started clapping, just as we had during our earthquake drills, making it just like how we had practiced. It was only after the shaking stopped that we adults realized we'd done nothing to protect ourselves.

Afterwards we gathered the children and took them to the parking lot according to plan.

Josephine asked, "What happened?"

I said, "We had an earthquake."

"I didn't feel it."

We had this exchange several times over the next few minutes. It was if she felt left out.

No one seemed particularly upset. None of the kids were crying. I was joking around with the other parents. There was a certain buzz, of course, but in the particulars we were behaving just as we had in our drills, right down to kids goofing off and our hokey adult gallows humor.

Office workers gathered in an adjacent parking lot. From them we heard wailing and shrieks, shouting and panic. We, on the other hand, parents and teachers and children, were just talking, the way we always did. Within 10 minutes every single child had been retrieved by his or her parent, with the exception of Erin who was riding with us that day. The plan was to have lunch at Erin's house with her mom Donna and newborn baby, which is what we did. While the children played, Donna and I exchanged earthquake stories.

At one point I said, "I was expecting you to come pick up Erin."

And Donna answered, "She was planning to ride with you and I didn't want to change the plan."

That's what we did that day: calmly stuck to our plans. It's the time in my life when I most felt like a hero.

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Siobhan said...

What is the clapping for?

Anonymous said...

I think you need to adjust your drill to include the adults. You're no good to the kids if you get injured.

Teacher Tom said...

@Siobhan, we clapped because, I guess, we always clapped in that class when we'd accomplished something together, be it a fire drill or cleaning up the classroom. It was part of our ethic.

@Anon . . . This was over a decade ago. I don't know why the adults didn't protect ourselves. We always did in the drills. We were just so focused on the kids, and the building seemed solid, and it all happened so fast that none of us even noticed until some time later. The fact that were so calm and matter-of-fact, however, was powerful. said...

Your post really hit home for me. Ten years ago a tornado hit the school I was teaching at on the first day of school. It was severe enought that it destroyed a large part of the building we were in. When it was all over and parents arrived to pick up their children, one of the kindergarteners started sobbing, not because she had been frightened, but because she had to go home before eating her first school lunch. I think that's when the teachers knew they had done their jobs, keeping the children both safe and calm.