Call me Hurricane Momma. Best board up your windows against my cyclonic winds, my raging wrath.
We were walking up the beach by my mother’s house. It was a deceptively crisp clear day, as if irate Irene hadn’t unleashed her own wrath only a couple of days earlier.
I hadn’t been able to reach my mother after Irene was finally spent. I hadn’t been able to drive out to see her, as the roads were still being cleared. I worried; her evacuation had been voluntary, and understandably, at 92, she hadn’t wanted to leave her cats to go sit in a crowded school gymnasium.
The night before Irene, she had assured me that she had a flashlight and a hurricane oil lamp. An oil lamp. I imagined her teetering around a pitch black house, balancing a lit lamp of oil, and I imagined the worse. When I asked if she’d stocked up on some canned goods, she said, oh, she hadn’t thought about that, it would be all right, she was tired and hung up.
After Irene had stormed up north, leaving behind 500,000 Long Islanders powerless, even though my mother had a landline, I had trouble getting through to her on my cell phone. I was feeling awful that I hadn’t been able to get out to her before the storm, as we ourselves only got home, cutting our vacation short, in time to secure porch furniture and buy some canned goods and bottled water.
By the time we made crackling phone contact, my mother was frantic. Rightly so, she feared she might drop the oil lamp, and her one flashlight was dying down. I put the boys in the car, stocked up on a new Target shipment of D batteries, grabbed one of our own battery lamps, and headed out on the hour and half drive to her house.
Just as we walked in her door, literally, no really, her power came back on. The Refrigerator woke with a roar, the kitchen lights blared. She clapped her hands, genuinely relieved, and the boys caught onto her happiness and clapped too. “Gramma has power, she’s so lucky!” (We still didn’t, obviously.)
I was relieved as well – and annoyed. My nerves were frayed, like yarn that can get tangled on the nails of my loom. Frayed from all the little crises that had piled up, my mother falling and landing in the emergency room; digging for her lost pill prescriptions through garbage bins; our vacation cut short by Irene; and food I would have to go home and discard from the refrigerator. I must be frayed, as driving out there, I let the boys lunch on big junk-food bags of potato chips, as they sang along to some loud pop station, “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was HOT like me….”
But no one else standing there in Gramma’s kitchen was frayed. They were rejoicing. “Let’s take a walk on the beach, it’s a perfect day!” Gramma declared.
A walk. With Gramma and the boys.
These multigenerational walks proved more and more of a challenge, as my mother has slowed down significantly. Once at the beach, we all walked down to the water, where the sand was wet but firm and she had surer footing. Then Ryan took off. Running.
Kenny meandered behind, until I told him to catch up to Ryan to tell him not to run so far ahead.
Kenny caught up with him, but they didn’t slow down. I should have figured out that he would just do as his big brother would.
Too quickly, they were both reduced to specks in the distance, hard to distinguish from the light glinting off the water, as I had to stare directly into the afternoon sun.
What I could distinguish was Ryan zigzagging in and out of the fierce tide, still turbulent from Irene. And far out of the lifeguard’s range.
“I’m ok. You need to catch up to them…” my mother said, as she had up at the lake this summer, when Kenny had drifted off oarless in a kayak, and I’d left my mother to lean against a tree.
At least if she fell, it would be on sand.
I walked faster, calling to Ryan.
I called until my throat hurt. I yelled for the whole beach to hear, running now, past rows and rows of sunbathers and Kindle readers who I imagined staring up at this frayed mom.
The more I yelled, the faster Ryan seemed to run. Heedless. As he had been ever since he was two. But then he had been a toddler; toddlers are heedless. Not seven year olds. Hurricane Momma was brewing.
I ran. I sprinted.
By the time I caught up with them, Hurricane Momma was in full force. She could topple a tree. She could rip one out of a brick sidewalk.
I grabbed Ryan by his arm. “What are you doing. When I call you, you answer me, get it?”
He stood in his sandy tracks. I was yelling in his face. “Damn it, Ryan! You’re not two!”
He had a handful of shells. Big clam ones, broken. Jagged.
I had to look away.
I turned around. I started back toward my mother. Staring wide-eyed down at the sand. Damn it, damn it. Language I would not use around my children under calmer conditions.
My mother now was a tiny speck, but I was grateful for that distance. It was a space I could call my own for a few brewing moments, where I was free to storm in silence. For those few moments, in that breadth between my mother and children, and all their needs and wants, I wanted to revel in some fleeting freedom of not giving a damn at all.
But I did give a damn. I was still seeing Ryan clutching those shells. Looking up at me in utter surprise. At how suddenly I’d stamped out the sheer delight, of just that. Running up a wide-open ocean beach. Heedless.
I looked back once, to be sure the boys were following. They were. Disconsolately. Ryan on tiptoe. Clutching those shells.
“How could they get so far so fast?” My mother asked, as she could marvel at how I could carry grocery bags just because they had become too heavy for herself to carry.
I had no answers today. I gave her my arm for support.
She resisted it. “I’m ok. Really.” She was fully my mom then, knowing her daughter was frayed. Knowing to allow for my lack of words.
Up by the parking lot, we sat on a bench to wait for the boys who had slowed to a turtle’s pace.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have called you. I could have gotten by, I just was afraid, with that lamp….” She was apologizing as she had in the emergency room, after she had fallen. Then, I had told her she should never be sorry. That she certainly should never not call me.
At this moment I was spent. I truly was wordless. My throat was raw from screaming. I was a hurricane that was downgrading to a tropical storm, but my winds still could whip the tops of trees.
Then Ryan was standing I front of me. With his jagged shells. “Can you hold these?” he asked tentatively.
It felt like an act of forgiveness.
I was grateful. I turned them over in my hands.
Then Kenny was calling to him. “Ryan!” He had climbed to the top of a wall of sand dredged up to protect beach erosion against Irene.
Thankfully, Ryan forgot about me. Joining his brother at the top, they slid down. Over and over. Laughing. Back to their silly selves.
I was relieved by, and in awe of, how quickly Ryan had rebounded. Although I knew it didn’t necessarily mean that he would forget. But at least forgive.
Still. I wished I could build a wall of sand against erosion from my own hurricane.