What My Kids Learned From Harvey

I feel like I’ve been fighting the electronics battle since my kids were old enough to pick up an iPhone, and I’m losing a million to nil. I hate the siren call that the iPhones and the PlayStations and the Xboxes have on kids, and I hate that despite my best efforts, my kids would still rather check out on Roblox or Destiny than actually participate in a real-world activity. Soccer and dance and reading books are simply the hurdles they have to leap in order to get to their devices.

I suppose I should never have allowed them into my home to begin with. But I figured that if they were exposed to electronics early they’d learn to self-regulate. That way when they left home they wouldn’t end up in a dorm room binge watching DanTDM or playing Call of Duty marathons entirely unchecked. Oh how wrong I was.

What actually happened was that both my kids ended up with an addiction that we simply can’t crack. They get home from school and want nothing more than to escape into those digital worlds for a while. And I completely understand their need to “check out” from the rest of the world, because I do it too. I NEED that time to recharge. But I do it with books. Somehow that seems a far more acceptable method of taking a brain vacation than mindless video games. But my personal prejudices aside. . .

So enter August 2017. I’m excited about the upcoming start of school, not because I want to get rid of my kids, but because I won’t have to fight them to stay off the $&!? electronic devices anymore! No longer will I have to change wi-fi passwords or make up long lists of things they must do to get the new ones! No more will I have to trawl Pinterest trying to find activities more interesting than a little screen! Gone will be the days of smuggling their devices into hiding like a Colombian drug lord! I was overjoyed someone besides ME would be forcing them to read!

And then came Hurricane Harvey. Now, many people watched as it devastated Rockport, Texas. Even more gazed in horror as it dumped feet of rain in Houston. But I don’t know how many people heard about areas like Hamshire or Bevil Oaks or Lumberton or Rose City or our own little town of Fannett. These are some of the areas over which Tropical Storm Harvey, after it had devastated Houston, decided to set up camp. It sat and rained on southeast Texas for about two days and dumped nearly 50 inches of rain. I’ve seen all of the colorful adjectives that the media have used in their attempts to canvass the scope of this storm but the one that hits closest is “epic.” Epic rainfall, epic damage, and an epic outpouring of “love thy neighbor.” In our little area alone, men and women, civilian and civil servant alike, took to boats to rescue people from homes and sometimes off of rooftops. Our little church became a shelter and supply hub. And as the storm passed, homes needed to be demo-ed before the mold and mildew took over. It was in this capacity that my husband and I decided to serve.

I wasn’t sure how my kids would react to the work. Pulling wet stuff out of a home that’s been sitting for a week or two in a humid climate is nasty, smelly work. But we drug them along with us, put them in work gloves and respirator masks, and told them to get to work. To say that there was whining would be an understatement. It was like we’d resurrected Medieval tortures. Or they were stuck in the ninth circle of Hell. Either way there was certainly weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. “Why does it SMELL like that??” (Followed by thoroughly dramatic gagging sounds). “It’s so HOT! Turn on the AC!” (Followed by, and I kid you not, lying on the ground, backs of hands to foreheads). “It’s so HEAVY! Why are you DOING this to us?!” “I want my IPAD! Can I have your phone??”

Mind you this is a 10 year old boy and an 8 year old girl, and despite their most ardent desires to be, they aren’t sedentary kids. I was patient and encouraging for all of about ten minutes and then I’m not going to lie. I flipped my shit. Like completely went psycho mom on my kids. In front of volunteers. In front of my pastor. In front of neighbors working outside. Completely. Flipped. My. Shit. Please read the following monologue with this picture in your mind’s eye: eyes bugging out, face fuchsia, spit spraying, gesticulating wildly from hands to shoulders, and larynx-shredding screaming.

“You spoiled, rotten little jerks!! How DARE you! You literally lost NOTHING in this storm! Have had to do NOTHING! And the first time you’re asked to help others you flip out! HOW DARE YOU!! These people have NOTHING! They have no insurance! They’re living in a shelter! They have to rely on other people for food and clothes!! THEY HAVE NOTHING!! You have everything and they have nothing!! You had better shut your mouths and move your ASS and HEEEEEELP!!”

Now please understand that I don’t normally scream at my kids. I raise my voice when I need to, but I don’t lose my ever-loving mind on them. And maybe the level of crazy I cut loose on them in that moment was enough to knock them out of their complacency. Maybe they didn’t realize how bad things were. Maybe they were just terrified. Whatever it was, my kids HELPED. They carried dripping loads of sheet rock and carpet to the road. They helped pull cabinets off the walls. They scraped linoleum flooring from 1975 off concrete. They drug loads of wet insulation out to trailers. They worked almost every day for two weeks with hardly a complaint. Or an iPad.

I have never, ever been so proud of my kids. They never made any profound comments about their experience. Nothing was ever said about my meltdown. We’ve just picked up where we left off with one major difference: no electronics addiction. They’ll get on it occasionally if there’s time, but no longer do they beg for screen time as if they’re heroine junkies craving their next hit. No longer do they enter the house after school and go straight to the PlayStation. They’re more helpful and more aware. I’m not sure what changed exactly, except that they’ve seen, really SEEN, something outside of their privileged little bubble. They’ve gotten a glimpse of things that are more important than personal happiness or pleasure. They were a part of the greater good.

Although I praise them lavishly for being helpful, I don’t want to say anything because I’m afraid I’ll jinx this. I hope it lasts. I hope they remember it forever. And I hope they always strive to help others before themselves. I hope that electronics are permanently a low priority. And maybe, just maybe, a good shit flip every now and then is a perfect vehicle for positive change!

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