Anatomy of the School Emergency Kit
Sweetie, do you know what I dread each September? The assembly of your emergency kit.
I know it seems silly; after all, the contents are simple, basic things I have lying around the house. But maybe, perhaps in the year 2045, you will be a forty-year-old woman with a seven-year-old daughter for whom you have to pack an emergency kit. Then my dear, you will understand how those simple, basic items placed in a labeled Ziplock can take your overly-imaginative brain to terrible places.
Here. Let me show you.
The first item on your school emergency kit list: Juice box/beverage (the school has some emergency water).
The school has “some emergency water”? Meaning what, exactly? One gallon per kid? One Dixie cup per kid? If the school’s not going to be specific, Sweetie, you get two juice boxes. Drink up. Or, share with a thirsty friend. It’s a scientific fact that generosity will distract you from the earthquake that has just flattened everything but (apparently) your 62-year-old school.
Next? Granola/cereal bar/cracker package/rice cakes. Dried fruit/trail mix raisins.
I slip four granola bars into your Ziplock, going back and forth and finally adding the granola bars with the almonds—a cardinal sin, I know, to bring tree nuts onto campus. But when that tsunami hits Seattle, and I cannot reach you, I want you to have some protein. Sure, I could give you a can of black beans and a can opener and a spork, but a can of black beans–even if it’s organic–will not say I Love You or I Will Get to You As Soon As I Possibly Can like a tree-nut-filled granola bar.
So four granola bars. And a handful of Hershey’s Kisses that needs no explanation or apology.
This year, I will also include a bottle of bright pink nail polish in your emergency kit. Was this the “Small comfort item (optional)” the school had in mind? Likely no.
Will it irritate your teacher? Perhaps.
But obviously, Sweetie, you cannot bring your brother (your favorite comfort item), and the Ziplock bag is too small to fit Phantie, the pink elephant(ie) with whom you have slept every night of your 2465 days.
I figure you and your brave classmates might get bored, sequestered in the classroom for 37 hours after terrorists bomb Seattle. So when inevitable tedium strikes, take turns painting each other’s nails a pink so bright and cheerful that you think of sundresses and sorbet and strawberries, not the reason you are stuck in a classroom with “some” water and your dear teacher who is reading Enemy Pie and The Adventures of Taxi Dog and Freckle Juice by flashlight, wishing he were home, safe, with his wife and daughter.
Pair of socks for hands or feet.
Socks for hands? When you were in preschool, it wasn’t as hard to imagine your little hands wearing a pair of socks after a natural or man-made disaster.
But you are nearly eight, Sweetie, and it’s heartbreaking to picture you, at this age, curled up in the dark, without your Phantie, lying beside your manicured classmates and fearless-on-the-surface teacher, wearing socks on your tender hands.
And let’s be honest. Nine times out of ten you pull a pair of socks on your feet and then wail, “But these don’t feeeeeeel right!” If socks never feel right on your feet, how on earth would socks possibly feel right on your hands?
Still, I add a pair of socks to the Ziplock bag. If all the other kids are wearing socks on their hands, I don’t want you to feel left out.
Which brings me to the tricky one. Note/Photo from home.
You know my friend, Rachel? She refuses to write the annual Emergency Kit Letter. She claims it’s simply too upsetting.
With most things, Rachel is peace and calm personified. Not when it comes to writing an emergency kit letter to her boys, not when she knows she might not be alive when they read it. A letter under those circumstances is a whole different ballgame.
I agree with Rachel. It’s terrible to write that letter. But I don’t want you, Sweetie, to wonder why there was no handwritten note tucked into your Ziplock. Had I been too busy? Too forgetful? Did I accidentally put both your letter and your brother’s letter into his Emergency Kit, just like I sometimes accidentally pack two desserts in your lunchbox or two chocolate milks in his?
A little girl with socks on her hands, listening to her teacher read Judy Blume by flashlight, shouldn’t have to wonder and worry why her note from home is missing.
That said, it’s an impossible note to write. I want to tell you everything will be OK, that I’ll be there in just a couple of minutes, that we’ll go out for ice cream afterward. I want to tell you that the biological warfare that has paralyzed NE Seattle isn’t dangerous enough to keep me from reaching you. I want to tell you that no quake or tsunami can separate us. That the massive meteor miraculously hit that big, already-empty hole in the ground that was going to be a new Trader Joe’s (what luck!), and I’ll be at the school ASAP.
But these might be lies. And I don’t want you to think this after reading my letter: You, Mom, Were So Full of Shit.
After some thought, I write this:
Sweetie. We love you so much! Daddy and I are missing you right now, but we know you are being so brave. Are you painting your fingers and toes with the nail polish? Make sure you paint your friends’ fingernails too. (And no, you do not have to wear the socks on your hands if they will smudge your nail polish.) Oh, we can’t wait to see you! Love and big hugs and kisses!
Mom and Dad
Next? Small flashlight and Solar blanket (optional).
Do I add them to the Ziplock? You bet. The solar blanket might be handy, should the earth’s rotation slow, causing a dark chill to fall over NE Seattle.
Does a solar blanket require the sun to warm a little girl’s body? Who knows! Will a flashlight only cast eerie shadows in an otherwise darkened classroom? Who cares! Light begets hope. Hope begets warmth, with or without a solar blanket.
Packet of Tissues and Index card with emergency contact information, health needs, etc. Those I add with no problem.
I seal up that Ziplock, write Sweetie Callender, Room 26 on the bag with a Sharpie, and I say a prayer that you will never have to read my letter, carefully crafted with loopholes and almost-lies.
I say a prayer that this Ziplock will come home with you on the last day of school, still holding those almost-expired granola bars and optional solar blanket and tacky nail polish, a color I would never let you wear unless meteors or 9.0 quakes or tsunamis were in the day’s forecast.
I say a prayer that I can use the exact same letter next year. Each year.
Because I agree with Rachel. Some letters are just too hard, just too anxious-making, to rewrite every single September.