Harvey, My Mom, and Motherhood

Within the first couple of days following Harvey, I wrote this essay.  I attempted to submit this as an essay to a collaborative blog.  Unfortunately it was declined, so I am happy to share it with you all today.  

I have begun this essay many times, with a couple of recurring themes, but nothing was willing to stick to the paper. However, this past week, I witnessed my mother—and many other mothers—experience the effects of either Hurricane or Tropical Storm Harvey. I have learned so many things as I observed how those people I both know and love responded to this natural disaster, but mostly, I was reminded about what it means to be a mother.

I left my parents’ home located south of Houston the evening before everything was supposed to go down, expecting to return to life as normal. However, the following days found me glued to my phone. The first couple of days my mom and I exchanged texts about how to prepare, what to purchase, and what not to do. I researched for her when she was feeling overwhelmed, and prayed all the while. Once the rains hit, my anxiety went through the roof, as my sister and brother-in-law and parents waited, hoped, and prayed the rising floodwaters would not touch their homes. Neither family had evacuated because it was only after the storm was predicted to make landfall that it became worse and more devastating than anyone had forseen.

I will be honest, the only other time I have ever seen (or at least from what I can remember) my dear mother as anxious and as heavy of heart, but also emotional and unable to think properly, was when she was pregnant with my youngest sibling, her eighth child. At that time, there were many things contributing to the way she was acting and the way she was feeling. This time, it was all because of a storm named Harvey.

I first thought of Harvey Dent (from the DC comics) when I heard the name of the storm, and secondly I thought of his villain name: Two-Faced. Many people reacted to the storm in this manner, shifting from calm, cool, and rational to spastic and irrational, unable to maintain their cool. Some responded in the opposite manner, suddenly assuming responsibility for not only their loved ones but for neighbors and strangers. My mom was a juxtaposition of both.

As anxious as she was, she kept thinking of her family and of others, in other words, she remained selfless. I do not remember how many times she told me just how worried she was about my sister and her husband who live an hour north of my mother and family. My sister is due soon with my first nephew, and both she and her unborn son are high risk, so I completely understand the worry, especially as Houston’s medical district has been closed down. Mom told me how she hoped they would be safe, that their phone batteries would be preserved during power outages, and that they would have enough food to last them until they could make it to the grocery store. She prayed that my sister would not be induced into labor because of the stressful situation at hand, and most of all, her heart was so heavy because she wanted her child safe.

My mother’s giving heart has inspired so many of our friends and family members, and the storm did not quench that virtue within her. A neighbor of hers took an evacuee family in, and though everyone’s resources were limited, my mom promptly cut up some berries and melons, tossed them together to make a fruit salad, and grabbed a bag of potatoes and some butter, and sent those provisions to the neighbors without a second thought.  When a local shelter needed meals, she donated a crockpot full of chili, not asking for the pot to be returned.

A few of the roads near them remained clear the duration of the storm and rains, meaning they had access to the shelters. The community had sent out a list of items the shelters and evacuees were in need of, and my mom called my sisters and brothers together, and together they collected blankets and towels from around their home, she cooked a crockpot full of chili, and delivered all to the shelter. Hearing the stories from the shelters, as well as from our family and friends in Houston and the surrounding areas, my parents’ hearts broke and were heavier than I think they have ever experienced. Up in Oklahoma, my heart was breaking along with theirs.

My heart broke the most upon hearing of a mother and child floating along with the current. Once rescued, the mother failed to revive and was pronounced dead. But she died protecting her child who lay upon her chest. I cannot try to share anymore horrors of the flood as my heart will break and tears will fall all over again, but in short, other mothers tried their best to protect their babies, but could not save them no matter how hard they tried.

On the happier note, a group of apartment neighbors created a human chain so a woman in labor could go safely from door to rescue truck without being taken away from the current. In another apartment complex, various neighbors (who are health care providers) gathered around to assist her in a home birth if no rescue came soon enough. As much as other mothers were striving to protect their born children, others were working hard to protect those carrying their unborn children within.

The storm had let up for a bit during one night, and my mother’s reasons for being emotional the next morning were twofold. She was so grateful that they had not flooded and that the drains had a chance to do their job, but the plight of others who were not so fortunate cut her to the core. The tears were bittersweet, full of joy and sadness.

The last day of rain coincided with her birthday. What a miserable birthday it seemed to be, especially as the rain was supposed to continue for another thirty-six hours or so. Then, that evening, the rains stopped over Houston, and the sun made its first appearance in five days of almost nonstop rain. She was glowing that evening, still so very exhausted from nights of worry, prayer, and no sleep, but she rejoiced. Such a strange thing it was: the sun was out, and neither they nor my sister had flooded, but there were so many who needed rescuing, so many who had left this world, and so many left without anything. So many left jobless, so many things ruined and damaged, so much work to be done. But the rains had stopped a whole day earlier than we all had thought they would. Not only did everyone see the sun, many also saw a rainbow, God’s promise after the flood.

Now, she looks full of life again. They will house an evacuee family or two, and my parents will graciously welcome that family into their home and at their table. My siblings will do the same because that is just what they should do: imitate the good example of their parents. Eventually Houston will be restored, but there is still a long road ahead, and many other things to learn.

This storm presented before me many beautiful things about the role of a mother. A mother is selfless, even during the most trying times. She may even forget herself so that others can be cared for. A mother will spend all night praying for her children’s safety, for she knew them before anyone else did. She labored for them, either physically or mentally and emotionally, as she waited to hold her child in her arms. A mother gives better than any can, for she gives of her whole body and self to grow her children, either in the womb or by way of meals and maintaining a loving home. She shows her children how to love by loving and accepting her husband as he is, rolling her eyes when necessary and working with him to maintain order. A mother gives and feels because she knows that everyone else is some mother’s child. She loves without condition, and works alongside her children. She shows them that she is not there to bark orders as they act as if they live a life of indentured servitude, though an order might be barked if one child is particularly obstinate. A mother protects her child fiercely, knowing that no one else can in that moment, even if it means dying to make sure her child lives. She wants to ensure her child has that chance to live. She will lay awake praying all night, because she knows that the Lord listened to the pleas of His mother at the wedding feast in Cana. She has faith that her prayers will be answered in one way or another, but a mother knows He will hear nonetheless. A mother knows that God always promises to make things anew, even if it means breaking her heart so that it is made new and even more beautiful. A mother loves, even if it hurts, as a mother’s love is strong enough to move mountains and to convince the Lord otherwise. She will not complain, because she knows she was born to do this.

I have seen my mom be and do many things, but above all, I have seen love be her driving force behind all the good and beautiful things she has done and will continue to do. This storm showed that to me again, and I know many others have seen it too. Her unwavering faith, smile, and encouragement will keep inspiring others as long as she lives, and I only hope I am half as good a mother as she is. Thank you, Harvey, for reminding me how blessed I am to call her my mother.

I am sure that many others witnessed the same of other mothers during Irma and Maria that followed in the weeks later.  My heart continues to go out to all who are recovering from these natural disasters.

xoxo, Alex