Seventeen Bottles of Water, Seventeen Shelf-Stable Cookies

I don’t raise my hand. I can’t do it. I am not the person for this job. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

Someone else volunteers for the emergency preparedness subcommittee. It’s a meeting of the board of directors at my children’s preschool. The topic is earthquakes.

“Don’t go there” is a tired phrase. But, as the director of the school gently, gently implies, for all the steps we follow and plans we map out on posterboard, this 1957 building is not earthquake-proof.

Who do the children call out for first when they’re trapped under a pile of rubble? Do they remember they’re at school and call for Teacher Mary? What if Teacher Mary has a head wound? Or are they so scared they instinctively call the name they’ve shouted so many times before, after nightmares, bee stings, or when they can’t find the playdough pizza cutter. The one who fixes. I have to believe with all my heart that I would hear them.

I love my children’s teachers. I respect them and remember constantly that they know more about child development than I ever will. But if someone needs to dig through a pile of bricks, I will do it better. I will do it faster. If an alienated teen is coming down the halls with a machine gun, I will get to my children and hide them in a heating duct and pluck out the teen’s eyeballs with my thumbs. Maybe it’s massive denial, too much G.I. Jane, but there has to be some trade-off for mothers. For all this fear and worry: the ability to lift a station wagon.

There are many reasons I would be terrible on the emergency preparedness subcommittee. On a bad day, I would cry through the entire meeting. On another day I would be suggesting trainings in walking through fire. When I dropped my children off for school, I would bring two backpacks per child. One would go in their cubbies as usual. Sweatshirt. Extra underwear. The other backpack I would duct tape to their bodies: “Okay, hon, remember how to put the oxygen mask on? Just like we practiced.”

Portland is filled with schools just like this one, built generations ago. On the ballots, we people of Portland have asked ourselves: Do we need schools that won’t fall down? With our ballots, we have told ourselves: no. We’re good. Pass the organic tangerines.

I don’t know how everyone else feels as they drive home from the meeting. Standing around after we adjourned, there was a lot of dark humor. “Funny joke” as my daughter would say. They were funny jokes. I laughed. And it seemed like after each joke there was a tiny collective shake of the head, like, what are ya gonna do?

This is where your anxiety is your friend. Anxiety is there for a real and helpful reason. Embrace it. Roll in it. Cozy up. Get a battery-powered radio and some water purification tablets. And, if your stomach is stronger than mine, join an emergency preparedness subcommittee.