Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Christmas Tornado

Celebrating Christmas is proving to be more and more tricky every year. That's how we ended up at Mom's on the evening of December 26th, to celebrate with my immediate family. When we made these plans, we had no idea how much that night would change all of our lives.

The previous days before had been abnormally warm, even by Texas standards. Weather people had been warning all week of the possibility of storms on Saturday due to a cold front finally arriving. Christiaan had to work his normal 7-3 shift that day, so the kids and I spent the day entertaining each other with new Christmas gifts, and they even rode bikes outside for awhile. It was oppressingly(is that a word??) muggy throughout the day, and at one point around mid day I remember thinking good Lord, can it just rain already so it won't be so dang muggy anymore?? 

When Christiaan got home from work, we loaded up the kids and headed to Mom's. We were the last to arrive, and Mom and Caleb had been working to cook a delicious meal for us. Mom was especially proud, since she doesn't generally(read: EVER) cook, and we crammed around the table to enjoy our dinner. Aly and I helped her clean up the dishes and load the dishwasher after we ate, a task that we later commented on being grateful we did then instead of waiting! The guys had football games on TV, and the kids nagging eventually dragged us into the living room to open presents. 

We took pictures, opened vast amounts of presents, watched the kids squeal with delight, and all the while I kept peeking my head into the den to see what trusty old Pete Delkus was busy reporting on the weather, since the station had switched from football to continuous weather coverage.  Micah stepped out on the front porch a few times to check out the skies himself. At one point, and rather strong storm was tracking towards my school in Mesquite, then headed in the direction of our house.  I joked Oh great, hit our house where my paranoid dog is alone, and while you're at it take out my school where naturally the first building to go would be my portable. 

As we were finishing up presents, our phones started buzzing with tornado warnings and Micah and I relocated to the TV to see where we stood on the radar. From the living room playing with the kids, Mom hollered for us to let her know if she needed to make a move. Thunder was closing in, and a pretty phenomenal lightning show with it. Pete focused in on a storm cell that was pretty nasty looking to my weather-nerd eyes, and said he was getting reports of a possible tornado on the ground in Sunnyvale, not too terribly far from Rowlett. When he zoomed in and applied the tracker to the radar, it put the storm directly over Mom's house. Micah and I made eye contact, and at that exact moment the tornado sirens began wailing. He said "hey Mom, lets move the kids to the hallway for a bit." The guys started gathering up all the working flashlights they could find, since the power was starting to flicker. The kids were pretty perturbed to be made to sit in the hall when they had been engrossed in new toys, so Aly grabbed a random book from the 30 or so that happened to be in arms reach in a magazine rack and said "hey guys lets read a book." She looked at the cover, tossed it aside and said "Um, yeah, let's choose a different book." The book....one I have never seen before at my mom's house....had a tornado on the front cover.

The power was flickering quite a bit, so I grabbed my purse and diaper bag and Jackson's diaper bag to put them in the hall with us in case it went off completely and we needed something in reach. Mom asked what I was doing, and I joked "Oh, just putting it here close by so they can identify the bodies." She didn't think that was very funny.  Micah stepped into the hall and told us that we should probably move the kids to the bathtub, since the storm was approaching and the radar still showed it headed our way and the sirens hadn't stopped sounding since they started several minutes prior. I grabbed some blankets and pillows to line the tub with, and we put the three older kids in. They were very confused, and Delaney kept asking if it was rest time, since they were surrounded with blankets and pillows. Less than a minute after we got them in, the power went out for good. 

At this point, Aly was sitting on the floor keeping Jackson entertained and from climbing out of the tub, I was sitting on the toilet holding Eli, Nicki was sitting on the floor next to me, and Mom and the guys were pacing the hallway. Mom said "Look how good the kids are being, someone take a picture of that!" Using a flashlight, I took a picture of the kids sitting in the tub. A second later, from the kitchen, I heard Micah yell some choice words and it sounded like he was running through the kitchen, knocking into stuff along the way. Mom stepped out in the hall and said "What??" and he yelled "Get in the bathroom and shut the door NOW!!" She and Christiaan stepped in the bathroom and shut the door, and I could hear Micah and Caleb getting into the tub in her bathroom on the other side of the wall. My ears began to pop. 

Up until that exact moment, I hadn't been worried. At all. I grew up in Texas. I have spent my share of time sitting in a bathtub or in the "go" position in the hallway at school. I am a self-proclaimed weather nerd, who gets a thrill out of storm season. But until that exact moment I never thought I would actually experience a tornado. 

As my ears popped, it was suddenly silent outside. No rain hitting the roof. No wind or thunder. Dead, eerily silent for about 5 seconds. Then, a loud roar, the walls began shaking, the floor rumbling as though an eighteen-wheeler was barreling down the street, Mom screaming, pleading with God to please spare our family. I leaned over the kids, waiting for the ceiling and walls to start collapsing, while my older two stared wide-eyed at me in confusion. At some point right after my ears started popping, I realized I still had my phone in my hand from taking the picture of the kids, and as an instinct I started trying to dial out to one of my aunts. In clear weather, cell reception at Mom's house sucks at best, so in the midst of a tornado it cut off immediately every time. Not sure what exactly I planned to say had it gone through, but I was terrified that our whole family was about to die and the rest of our family wouldn't be able to get to us. 

It seemed to last forever, but someone told us later that it lasted 17 seconds. As soon as it quieted, we were all shaking and trying to catch our breath, realizing that the house seemed to have withstood whatever had just gone past us. Christiaan opened the door, all three guys went out towards the front to check out what happened. I had Aly grab my purse and I passed out huge helpings of my Valor oil to Nicki, Aly, and me to help calm our nerves. I kept trying to get some internet connection on my phone to check the radar, but there was no service at all. Christiaan came down the hall and told us to come see the boards standing upright in the front yard, so I put the baby on the floor to play and followed him. 

Once outside, it was dark. So, so dark. It was just like a movie scene. From the street behind us a car horn was blaring, so I assume something had landed on it. Other than that it was so quiet, except for sirens in the distance. Being so close to 2 major roadways, there typically is a hum of moving traffic, but what we didn't know was that all traffic had come to a dead halt in the area.  We could see some of the neighbors making their way out of their front doors using flashlights. Mom and the guys were on the front sidewalk looking around with flashlights too. At first glance, with what little light we had, it didn't appear there was much damage beyond debris and the neighbor's tree limb being in Mom's front yard. 

Then, down towards the end of her street where you come in the neighborhood, I heard a truck and looked down to see its headlights behind what looked like a tree in the road. It revved up like it was taking off, and then I heard crunching like it had run into the tree or something, then a woman screaming at the top of her lungs. We all took off running down the street, and since I STILL somehow had ahold of my phone, I started trying to dial 911. It took a couple times before the emergency service of my phone finally called out(good to know that actually works!) and the closer I got to the truck, the more damage I could see. There was an RV and attached truck turned over. Trees down. All kinds of debris I was jumping over in the road. When the dispatcher connected, she asked what was going on and I told her I didn't know, other than a tornado had just hit us and people were screaming. I told her what street we were on, and she told me they were trying to get there, just hang tight until they can get through. I could hear in the background that it sounded like mass chaos with radios going off like crazy. I am sure they were inundated with calls at the moment. 

Neighbors that I had never before met were running past calling a boy's name. One told me that an 11 year old boy from the house 5 houses down from Mom had been home alone, and they couldn't find him. I turned behind me to look at the house he had been in, and the whole side wall was missing. People were scattered everywhere, checking on one another, trying to figure out how to get the tree out of the road. It pretty much stretched from the front door of one house, across the street almost to the front door of that house, making it almost impossible for people to get through, and definitely impossible for any emergency vehicle to get through. After a few minutes, the boy was found safe at a neighbor's house. Turns out it was his mother who had seen the house and screamed, not being able to find him. I had no idea where mom and the guys had gone after they took off running. Helping people clear debris, and checking on neighbor friends past the downed tree, I think. Finally a bit of cell service popped up and Bri was able to get through for a few seconds, long enough to find out we were ok. Then my aunt Shannon got through, and I asked her to let everyone else know that we were ok. 

At some point, it occurred to me that even though it wasn't raining, there were still storm cells popping up around the metroplex and I suddenly had a great need to find out if anything else was heading our way, while we were running around outside. After several tries, I finally got text messages to go out. I asked my friend and fellow weather nerd Meagan if she could tell me anything. Oddly enough, the day before her parents had given her a personal weather station for Christmas, so I knew she could tell me if we were clear. We heard the sirens in Rockwall going off at some point, which was disconcerting to say the least. But Emily was able to get through to me and also assure me that nothing was heading our way.  She also told me that our pediatrician's office, which was a couple blocks away, had apparently been destroyed. For some reason, hearing that made me realize the scope of how much the damage probably was going to be. We still had no idea at that point just how bad it was, since our cell service was very poor.

The rest of the night was a huge blur. It seemed to go on forever. We checked on long time neighbors and friends who had severe damage to their homes. I went down to the end of the street where my childhood friend Amanda's parents still lived. Half of their house was gone. She had been on the phone with her dad the moment before it hit while he was there alone. The guys attempted to clear out the tree that had fallen on Mom's mailbox, and straightened up the patio furniture out back. Which, coincidentally, had only been stopped from going through the glass on the back door by the tree stumps mom had sitting there that had been from Grandma's oak tree that collapsed during storms in the fall. We began hearing that the city was basically shut down in either direction on both major roadways, so we weren't really sure how we would get home, if and when we could even get out of the neighborhood. The kids began to get really tired and our phones began dying after using them for flashlights, so we traded off sitting in the cars with them. It was still pretty warm out, so we had to blast the AC on them. Eventually once things around the street began to calm down, we decided that Mom needed to go home with us. She packed a bag and the dog, and we tried to save as much of the refrigerated food as we could. We joked that the one time she cooked, all the leftovers were going to be ruined! As we were about to leave, the wind blew and it was cold. Out of nowhere, the stupid cold front that had caused this destruction finally showed up.

Using the few flashlights we had, we were able to see that the damage to her house was unbelievably minimal. Missing a bunch of shingles, a section of fence, torn up siding, lots of debris. But no broken windows, no missing pieces, and miraculously none of our four cars out front sustained significant damage. Aly's car had a decent sized dent and mine was pretty scratched up, but otherwise fine. It makes no sense, given the level of destruction just a few houses down. Its almost as though her house was surrounded by a bubble. Christiaan and Micah went back with her the next day and patched up anything that would leak. The pictures they took in the light of day were unreal. I didn't go back for two more days, on Tuesday after the storms, when the power was finally restored and Mom went back home. I cried as I drove in. At that point I knew that by some miracle, no one had died in these houses, although 8 people died when their cars were blown off I30 as it crossed the highway in Garland. We learned of friend after friend who suffered damage of some sort, and people were coming from everywhere to help. Our church was even set up as a Red Cross location. 

The second time I went back a few days later, it suddenly hit me what we had gone through. Although we were inexplicably blessed to not have the house collapse around us, we endured the tornado nonetheless. My kids have talked nonstop about it. They have never so much as paid attention to thunder, but I am sure that will change after this. I feel guilty since the house we were in survived the storm, yet I still cannot stop thinking about that night, seeing my kids huge eyes, hearing the roar of the storm, and the wail of the tornado sirens and all the emergency vehicles sirens. Christiaan and I talked about how we both were hearing sirens in our heads for a few days afterwards since it was just a continuous noise that night.  Rowlett and the area around where I grew up for the last 32 years is forever changed. Hundreds of homes were flattened, hundreds more will be demolished. But the community has pulled together like nothing I have ever witnessed. I hope that Mom's neighborhood comes back better than it was. We still are in awe of how God protected our family that evening. 

Cooped up in the hallway

I have NEVER seen this book at Mom's house before, and this is the first one Aly grabs to read?? That, my friends, is foreshadowing at its finest.

Tracking right for us. Surely it will collapse before it gets here though, right?

Note the looks of confusion. "Is it rest time?"

Large piece of wood jammed into the grass out front

Another piece. This one was very thin and brittle, yet jammed far into the mud

2x4's sent through the house down the street

Fire truck finally making their way in. That night I saw at least Wylie and Rockwall emergency vehicles. They came from everywhere.

Two story house on the corner where Mom's street crosses. It had no roof, and each level was leaning a different direction.

The overturned RV after the firefighters lowered the truck down to stabilize it. The truck had poles stuck through it that were from a trampoline from the street behind.

Trying to entertain and cool off the kids in the car. Yes, this one is wearing a Snow White dress.

The side of the house across the street that faces Mom's. This is the perfect outline of a 2x4 that was slammed into it, and then laid shattered on the ground below.

Mom standing behind the large piece of debris

Map of the city of Rowlett. The blue lines are the width of the path the tornado took across the city.

We got very lucky that this was the biggest damage our car took.

This is our pediatrician's office. It was pretty much destroyed when the tornado moved a couple blocks up from Mom's.

The dot where the arrow is pointing is basically Mom's house. 

Three streets from Mom

The entrance to the neighborhood will never look the same.

Family friends lost their entire living room and den furniture when it blew out that whole side of their house. It also killed 2 of their 3 dogs. 

When I finally went back 3 days later, this was still in the tub where we hid.

City of Mesquite helping in the first debris removal sweep.

When the tree fell, it made these holes in the concrete on either side of the street from being slammed down so hard.

The neighbor's tree fell on Mom's mailbox. For whatever reason, none of us had parked there that night.

A house 2 streets directly up from Mom. It was leveled with 5 people piled on top of each other in the middle. They were not injured.

The night it happened, Mom had just given Christiaan and Micah dollies for Christmas. We used them to block the back door to prevent looters from breaking in. Then a few days later, he used his to carry empty storage totes around to pass out to people in the neighborhood.

Ironically, this is the very stop sign where back in August I got a ticket for not coming to a complete stop.

The downed tree was huge

My childhood friend's home

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Eli's Birth Story

As per usual, the last week I was pregnant, I was DONE. Monday was Memorial Day, and that day I also finally found the tub of newborn boy clothes. Nothing like waiting til the last minute. By the time I left school for my appointment on Wednesday, I felt so awful and was so exhausted that I told my teaching partner I wasn't sure how much longer I could make it. I had been having contractions off and on, had lost my plug, not to mention the low blood pressure thing just before. The midwife I saw that day was Rachel, and she was surprised at how much progress I had made. She told me it looked like a couple more days. I decided to stay home the next day and rest, so that maybe I could make it until at least the weekend. By Thursday evening I actually felt really good, and planned on going in to work on Friday.

Around 2:30, I woke up due to the driving rain outside. It was an intense storm, as normally I wouldn't hear the rain over the big box fan we sleep with. But as I lay there trying to go back to sleep, I eventually realized I was having contractions. I timed a few of them, and then decided to get up and go sit in the den to see if the position change would stop them. But, they continued. And at this point, the news was covering the flooding all over the metroplex caused by the rain. The longer I sat there, I kept telling myself "One more, and I'll go wake up Christiaan." Jen and Jill noticed I was on social media in the wee hours of the morning, and both began texting me asking if I was in labor. With their encouragement, I decided I probably was. I called Mom and she agreed and said to call the midwife. I also texted Ruth Ann, who was on call to come be with the kids. Although I was a nervous wreck because of the flooding, trying to figure out how to get her to our house, and us and mom to Dallas. After talking to the midwife, who happened to be Rachel on call, she told me to head on in. Only then did I wake up Christiaan. He was like umm why haven't you woken me up before??

When we got to the birthing center, I was at a 5 already. What is up with that number and me? Rachel did some things that would help it move along, and we got settled in the birthing room. By the time Mom got there and the sun came up, the rain had stopped, so Rachel had us walk the park adjacent to the house. Then she broke my water, and of course things got pretty intense after that. I somehow managed to walk a little bit again, then tried some different positions. Rachel had me start pushing before I was completely dilated because his head was in an odd position and wasn't going to drop all the way on its own. Shocking, I know.  This was actually the most painful part of any of my labors, because not only was a having hard contractions every two minutes, I was pushing and Rachel was "helping" things out from her end.

Eventually I got very worn out and said I needed a nap. I rolled over on my side on the comfy four-poster bed and fell asleep, sort of. After awhile, she had me get up and use one of the poles to hang on to and let gravity help while I was pushing. This only took a couple of pushes before I could feel his head come down. Rachel told me to get back on the bed to finish delivering. I remember telling her "JUST FREAKING PULL HIM OUT RIGHT NOW!!" but they all helped me back up. I seriously couldn't move on my own. I can't imagine why! Only a few more pushes, and he was out. Christiaan got to catch him and put him on my chest. He was just perfect!

Labor was right at 12 hours, about half of that pretty intense, and a whole lot of pushing. Rachel says my cervix is at an odd angle, which explains why all 3 of my babies came out at weird angles. This delivery solidified that it will be my last pregnancy. It was by far the most painful delivery. But it was very nice to be back at our house by 6:00 that night. In fact, I tried to go to Carter's pre-k graduation that night, but I could barely walk. So everyone else went without me, and Christiaan got there at the beginning and Facetimed me. And of course, right after he left the baby pooped, and I couldn't even get out of the chair to change him. I am also so glad that both of our moms and my aunt got to be there for the whole labor and delivery.

Getting intense

Debra finally made it!

Carter was so proud of his new brother

His ankle was bruised and his foot was turned in for a day or so because it had been wedged under my rib. And I mean WEDGED.

7 lbs 4 oz, 19.5 lbs. At 37.5 weeks!

Having a midwife was amazing!

Delaney wasn't too sure about him at first. She just stared at him while sitting next to me, and didn't say anything. Finally she said "he needs her hat on!"

Then when she finally agreed to hold him, Carter screamed to the room "Hey guys!! Look she's holding it!"