Tuesday, April 26, 2011


What if you and your kids had to leave home suddenly because of an earthquake, fire, tornado, gas leak--something that endangered your lives?

I don't know what I'd grab, besides the children and pets. Hopefully my purse, important papers, outerwear, a change of clothes. A couple photo albums if there were time. My husband might push his golf bag out the garage door if he could. :)

What would my children have grabbed if they were young?
My daughter would have taken her guinea pigs and favorite stuffed animal. My son, his Star Wars stuff and baseball mitt.

In reality, when they were young, we were once suddenly awakened early one a.m. by the smoke alarm. And we took none of the above. We woke the kids, grabbed jackets and slippers, called the Fire Department and waited for them on the deck. It was terrifying, even after the firemen told us the problem was just a large, smoldering beach towel in a laundry basket. (Babysitter error.)

The lingering terror that kept me awake for the remainder of the night came from realizing how much worse it could have been. How important life is when you and your family are threatened. And how unimportant material things are.

It is the same or worse when women and kids must suddenly leave home because of life-threatening domestic violence. Once the shock of losing almost everything subsides, other emotions and the reality of their sudden, complete life change, assault them ferociously.

Very small children and babies understand little about the move. They might miss their "binkie" or "blankie", but their distress seems more related to adjusting to an unknown and crowded environment. They also react to any problems their mother may have in meeting their needs materially or emotionally at the shelter.

Older kids and teens quickly learn they must keep their location a secret, and are usually not allowed to communicate with their father until things are "settled." They often have to change schools and miss their friends, their own clothes, their "comfort" toys and games.

Some need to see Grandma and Grandpa. Many don't like sharing a room with sibs and Mom once they're used to shelter life.

The real treasures they've lost, older kids realize, are the people they love. The neighborhood they knew. The teacher they admired. Their soccer team, library, favorite store, park, and back yard.

Many shelter kids never regain most of these treasures.
But they learn what's really important a lot younger than I did.

And how I wish they didn't have to.

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