An earthquake is one of those rare natural events that make you feel so very small and absolutely temporary. We are completely at the whim of our planet.
The Nov. 30 earthquake near Anchorage, Alaska, caused little damage compared to other 7.0 or higher earthquakes around the world. Although many homes, roads and businesses were damaged, larger buildings held up, structure fires were few and quickly doused, and no deaths were reported. However, the earth violently shaking for 20 to 30 seconds inspired awe and caused much fright and worry. The immediate aftershocks caused a panic worse than the main tremors.
Are we outside the tsunami range? How many aftershocks does it take to shake my house down? Should we stay inside at all? Did the gas line rupture?
You can imagine how children reacted. Some didn’t mind, thought it was fun. Some were scared. Some needed to talk about it.
My son is at the age where he’s aware of everything that’s happening but, at age 2, hasn’t yet reached the stage where he can articulate all his thoughts. Especially not after a completely new and traumatic event.
He experienced his home – the place where he sleeps, eats and plays — shake and shudder violently for almost half a minute. He didn’t know what to think, do or say.
Not once, but three times. After the initial 7.0 shaker, then came almost immediately two immediate 5+ aftershocks.
That’s when we packed a go-bag and headed into our truck to listen to the radio.
Silent but observant during panic
Our son didn’t know what was happening other than his mom and dad were nervous. Tension could be felt in the air. He stayed mostly silent but observant.
We drove around for an hour or so, looking for an open coffee shop since the power went before I had a chance to make the morning joe. We finally found one inside a grocery store.
The store was pandemonium. Aisle floors were filled with cans, boxes and burst soda cases. Fallen ceiling tiles were being trampled by the masses of people stockpiling water and food. Employees ran around cleaning and helping customers. All this impacted our toddler, I’m positive. The chaos and tension between my wife and I, then the panic and chaos in the grocery store. He just didn’t know what to make of it.
When we got home, my wife went in first to make sure the house was OK. I kept the kid entertained in the driveway.
He just stood there, hands in his pockets, looking down. I just stood there with him, hands in my pockets, looking down. I began tapping my foot; he began tapping his foot. There was a thoughtful silence between us.
Standing there with him, I began to recognize this moment as something …
Talk like a man
Over the years, in high school, in the Marines, college and adulthood, I had stood like this with many, many, many men. It was a work-up to discuss something major.
Guys really do talk about their thoughts and feelings all the time. Just because it’s not open and emotive doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It happens quietly with trusted friends all the time. There’s almost a silent reverence for the moment. You can tell the other guy has something on his mind and you just let him work it out. Body language and the use of silence is key.
I thought maybe this was one of those moments with my son. He’s a toddler and doesn’t know many words, but it felt right. So I kept myself in the moment.
Another silent minute went by, just tapping the foot, kicking the snow, hands in pockets. Then my son looked up with that same look in his eyes I’ve seen in other men when they bring up these weighty matters with other men. “House shake,” he said. His halted words and body language gave everything away. He was scared and was processing what happened.
“Yep, the house shook. It’s done now though,” I replied matter-of-factly.
I delivered my response as I would have to another grown man. Not crouched down, talking in smooth, reassuring tones. Nothing condescending or “kiddie talk.” All I did was reaffirm his thoughts and confirmed his feelings.
“House scary,” he continued. His words were simple, but his body language complex.
“Yep, it’s scary. The worst is over now, but we’ll get some aftershocks. They’re going to shake the house again, but it won’t be as bad. Your mama is in the house checking it right now. If she sees it’s safe, we’ll go in and be fine.”
Maybe another minute or two went by. We stood and fidgeted in silence.
He talked; I listened
My wife returned and said everything was fine. Our TV fell and broke, but that’s nothing compared to what could have happened. We were thankful for our house standing.
My son turned toward the house and walked up the stairs. Sure, it was slow and maybe a bit tenuous, but he did it.
Our first “man-to-man” talk happened when he was only 2.
He had stood up on his own, thought about his words, then spoke his mind to me.
He didn’t cry, or want to be held. I didn’t pick him up or drop to his eye level.
He didn’t expect much as far as advice. I just reassured him that his feelings were valid and gave him the next steps of what’s going to happen. No false promises.
He spoke; I listened.
When he was done, we were done.
Sometimes a guy just has to get something off his chest.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Jenks, a married stay-at-home father of one boy, is the organizer of our Anchorage Dads Group in Alaska.
Photo: Contributed by the Jenks family.