Sarah R. Callender


In Faith, General, Parenting on September 9, 2012 at 8:41 am

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.

  1. My Little Man rips his open on the last day of school and scarfs whatever he can from it before I pick him up. I choose the “blinders on” method of packing this thing. As in, “It will never ever really be needed (as it has not for the past four years) so I’ll cram a bunch of stuff in there and curse next June when the Little Man has ripped it open in good fun and ruined the space blanket that took me FOREVER to find in the vast halls of Fred Meyer. Boy is this Emergency Kit that will never ever be needed a pain in the hind end to assemble.” (Where does one find a Space Blanket? Car aisle? Bedding aisle? End of the World aisle? I never remember and no one at the Info Desk ever knows.) Loved this post, Sarah, and it made me wonder if other necks of the country have to pack one or if it’s just a NW Earthquake thing?

    • I know! Each year the kids BEG me to let them open that little foil bundle that is, apparently, the solar blanket. No way, I bark. NO WAY!

      I grew up in Northern California where quakes were so frequent, and we had NO kits. The funny thing is, Buddy’s school (same district) does not do the kits. Not sure what that means . . .

      Thanks so much for reading and for commenting so funnily!

  2. It’s good they make emergency kits, though. Our schools don’t do them. I wonder if it’s because our two main worries are fires and quakes, so the kits would be ashes or buried in rubble. AAAAAH now I’m anxious, like the time I went to D-land with my dad and we were on Space Mountain and he said, “I hope there’s not an earthquake while we’re in here! This would be the worst place to be!” Thanks a lot, Dad!

    • Yes, thanks Dad, indeed! My son’s school (also the Seattle Public Schools) doesn’t do them . . . I guess the district feels that only certain schools are screwed. 😉

  3. I read this aloud to John and could barely make it through the “letter section” just thinking how terrrible it would be to be away from one’s kids during an emergency.
    So well written, Sarah. xo

    • Thanks so much, Sandy, for reading! Yes, it’s something that is just too hard to think about . . . and not very nice of me to force it upon my lovely readers! Hugs to you and John, plus the kids and grandkids!

  4. My kids are now 31 and 27 and vividly remember crying every year I wrote those letters for the emergency kits.

    • Thanks, Kay, for the empathy. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who has a tough time with this! As the kids get older do you want to still pack an annual kit for them? 🙂

  5. Having just watched a documentary on National Geo last night about 9/11, the thought of what to pack in a child’s emergency kit–or what to write as my comforting thoughts in the case of a disaster–is incomprehensible. Here in Texas, we’re without this task, thankfully. But it doesn’t mean that we’re immune from school shootings and tornadoes and fires and other calamities. That said, I think the nail polish was a great add-in. One should never be too far away from something that makes you feel good–especially in a disaster.

    • Ugh. Can you imagine, Pamela? It’s really just too terrifying to think about! You’re not the first person who has said that her child’s schools haven’t required emergency kit . . . in fact my son goes to a different school (same district) and they don’t require the kits. Maybe I’ll send one with him anyway. 😉

  6. Would it be too awful if I just left the kids a note with the location of our wills and a few hints about how much life insurance we’re carrying? “Bad news honey, I’m not much of a fighter and probably won’t make it. Good news, we’ve paid the premiums and you get the house AND a swack of cash. Don’t forget to save some for emergencies…”

  7. After spending 30min. trying to track down a child’s parents yesterday morning (kid wasn’t signed in, first time visitor, had a medical emergency and I now have many more gray hairs), I think kids should walk around with a letter taped to their person that says, “Open in case of Emergency”

    On an unrelated note: I had Sweetie in my small group yesterday and I said, “I know your mom” she eyed me very suspiciously and said, “HOW do you know my mom?” It was adorable.

    • Ha! Yes, that happened to me at UPC day camp one year. A parentless, unregistered kid was brought to the class. Your suggestion is brilliant!

      I love that Sweetie gave you The Look. Husbandio does it too . . . she inherited it. I bet you held your own, but others cower and wither in the presence of The Look. xo!

  8. Wonderful post! I’m of the age when there was no such thing as an emergency kit. We were told that in the case of the nuclear bomb going off, to get under our desks. Ummm, yeah. That’s really going to stop the radioactivity.

    Space blankets at REI or probably any sporting goods store, assuming you can stand to go into one that sells guns and ammo next to the coolers and sunhats.

    • Thanks, Linera . . . I know! I didn’t have kits when I was a kid either . . . and our school was practically on the San Andreas fault. A friend was just telling me that when her son was in preschool, their teachers sent home a note that explained, in an emergency, if a child didn’t survive, the body would be placed under a white sheet.

      There’s conscientious, and then there’s TMI.

  9. You are the best! This was exactly what I needed tonight- Will you please pack an emergency kit for me? Complete with a comfort item & a letter (mine can be full or loop holes and lies)!

  10. My proximity to the school lulls me into the belief that if something goes down, I’ll just bust the f* up in there. Still it’s hard to put those together. I still have to do mine. How about a distraction–I saw this and thought of you:

    • LOVE your note! And I LOVE that Lincoln t-shirt. I’m gonna save up and buy seven–one for each day of the week! Thanks for your very funny comment. 😉 sarah r. callender


  11. Sarah, it’s been twenty-one years since I’ve had a child in second grade, but that didn’t keep me from identifying with this for even a second. As a matter of fact, I’m all teary just writing this. They hadn’t thought of emergency kits back then, but I can just imagine. (It’s tornadoes here, and I will confess to taking my child out of school when it looked like one was even near.) Oh, the joy and heartache of being a mom. Wonderful writing.

    • Oh, thank you, Carmel! I can’t say I blame you . . . tornadoes are terrifying to a west coaster like me. Give me an earthquake any day (as long as it’s less than 5.5 on the Richter, please) rather than a swirly wind tunnel.

      Thank you so much for reading and for commenting!

  12. Oh, my gosh! Packing an emergency kit like that must be part disturbing (like writing a will) and part comforting (because you know she’ll have something to help before you get to her). Just thinking of doing that gives me the shivers. I’m impressed that you can have such a great sense of humor about it. Oh, and just reading that letter made me teary-eyed.

    I don’t think the schools here require emergency kits, but now I kind of wish they did for someday, when my daughter goes. Just in case.

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