September 2, 2011

As we prepped for our annual trip east to visit relatives and take our older daughter to her dorms at NYU, we started tracking Hurricane Irene, and hoped she would stay far away from us in Philly and suburban New Jersey. But there was no escaping the wide swath of wind and rain. First our flight out of LAX on Thursday Aug. 25th was delayed almost 5 hours on the ground, and Danny, our 16-year-old with significant multiple disabilities was in no mood to wait. We kept throwing vanilla Frappucinos at him to keep him happy and stressed the need for him to stay “flexible”—something we are always talking about since Danny craves structure and sameness.

After we finally arrived at Philadelphia International Airport, the air was heavy with humidity and anxiety. We had planned to stay in Philly thru Shabbat and then drive to New Jersey on Sunday morning to get our daughter in her dorms in Manhattan on Monday. But our sister-in-law called, telling us to get to NJ as soon as possible, ahead of Irene.

We threw our luggage in the car and arrived well before Shabbat. Once there, we helped move lawn furniture inside an outside shed and located flashlights, and candles. Saturday morning was rainy but not too windy, and we stayed mostly inside, watching CNN and assorted movies. By nightfall, however, the rain intensified and my husband took the kids on a “hurricane walk”. We told Danny that “Irene was coming” and for awhile, he thought it meant another houseguest. Then we explained it was going to be very noisy with a lot of wind and rain during the night, and indeed Irene made quite a racket between 2-4 am with tree branches twisting and groaning in the wee hours. We woke on Sunday to very minimal damage—a downed screen and some bushes and plants askew but when we drove to the grocery store, there were huge downed trees blocking the road causing all manner of detours. Sunday was a quiet day with light rain and some wind and we thought we were done.

Then, at 10 pm Sunday night, the power clicked off. No electricity meant Danny couldn’t watch his beloved DVDs so we got creative and taught him to sing a new version of “Goodnight Irene…we have no electricity”. We went to a diner for lunch and tried to help our brother and sister in law salvage their two freezers worth of expensive kosher meat by taking it over to other relatives who still had power. Danny was starting to enjoy the evenings with candles and flashlights. Monday morning dawned and with it, every smoke alarm going off simultaneously, creating a shrill racket. Everyone else was holding their hands over their ears but Danny stayed in bed, rolling around in his blankets, completely calm and happy.

Finally at 3 am on Tuesday morning, the power was magically restored, and we all trooped into Manhattan on a beautiful sunny day. After our daughter was moved into her dorms, it was time to say good-bye, and that’s when Danny had his meltdown. Flexibility can only take you so far.

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