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I Was Caught in a Tornado with My Toddler

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Image Source: Bailey Gaddis

Family trips rarely cause me to chew on issues heavier than inflated luggage costs, sunscreen, and whether my phone has enough space to digitally capture all the awesomeness. The safety of my child, and myself, has always been a “known,” never a concern. Vacation never forced me to face the notion of what it would mean to die, or really live — until I went on this trip.

Over Memorial Day weekend in Austin, Texas, we were caught camping in a tornado, a flash flood, and a deluge of lightning. “We,” being my 2-year-old son, my husband, our extended family members, and myself. We knew to bring our raincoats, but had not prepared for the apocalyptic green skies, blaring warnings to “Take cover now!” piercing through the silence of our phones, or the terror that accompanied the smack down from Mother Nature.

As I lay in our tent, sheltering the sleeping body of my child while the jet plane of spinning air raged toward us, I shook. I shook with bone deep dread that in that moment, I could do nothing to protect my child. I was wholly at the mercy of something I couldn’t be angry at. I yearned to scream at the sky for doing this to us, for being so flippant with our safety, for forcing me to surrender.

Because that’s just it: my only choice was to surrender. I allowed my body to shake, my pounding heart to constrict my ability to breathe, and my clammy hands to connect with my son and husband. I was emotionally raw, physically exposed, and spiritually tested.

Fortunately, the tornado passed without absorbing us.

As I waited for my trembling to subside, I lay listening to the rising water in the canyon below and thought about all the other mothers who had also been stuck in the impossible state of surrender. The mothers who had children with terminal illnesses. The mothers who lost their children’s lives before their own. The mothers who were trying to hold their children out of the rising water that very moment.

In the darkness of that night, the neighboring Blanco River rose 33 feet in three hours. Survivors reported a black tidal wave slamming into their homes, forcing them onto their roofs, praying for rescue.

One home was wrenched off its foundation and carried down the river. There was a family of four inside. The parents held their young children as they surrendered to the unthinkable. When the house hit a bridge, they were ripped away from one another and the father was sucked out a window.

The father survived — at least in body.

My heart aches for this family, who was forced to make the ultimate surrender.

It seemed unnatural to go about daily life after making it through that torrent with my family unscathed, while another was torn apart. But what else is there to do but live?

I vowed to honor those lives by making a new type of surrender: a surrender to life, to the moment, to love. I made unconditional eye contact when my son spoke to me, I held my husband’s embrace long past the customary time frame allotted for hugs, and I chose to ignore the jerk within that attempts to sour my moments. I lived.

I believe surrender is unnatural to the modern mother. Our conditioning to fix, to do, to heal, to protect, is threatened by situations that demand a forfeit of control. When faced with a problem, specifically concerning our children, we feel an unbearable desire to shelter them. “There must be something to do,” we think to ourselves, but many times there is no option but to be swayed by life.

When given the gift of surviving the painful surrenders, I believe it is our obligation to allow the resulting messages to guide us.

What was your moment of surrender? What shook you to the core and demanded you reexamine your life? What did you learn?

I learned to savor the rise and fall of my son’s chest as he slept, to close my eyes and smell his hair as he burrowed into my arms, to close my computer mid-sentence and join my little family for belly laughs on the floor. I learned to be there. Because I now know that they may not always be.

Let’s vow to surrender to life.

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