Earthquake Children


Last night, I lurched out of bed. The ceiling seemed to shake before my eyes. It took a few seconds before I realized what was happening – never having felt one that lasted more than a second or two at most. 

I ran to my youngest child’s room, still bleary eyed and confused. It wasn’t stopping. He snored soundly, grateful for the gentle rocking. Why wasn’t it stopping, I wondered? Was this the big one, the one that destroyed our town one hundred years ago?

The rocking slowed and then stopped. I returned to my bedroom to find my husband standing in the middle of the room, confused. 

“What was that?” he asked. 

“An earthquake,” I answered. 

“No!” he said. 

“Um, what else did you think it was?”

“I mean I’ve just never felt one that big.”

He was right. It registered as a 5.8 magnitude earthquake – enough to rock and roll a house, but not enough to cause significant damage or injuries. The condiment aisle at the local Walmart fared the worst damage: a picture soon circulated of bottles of ketchup and mustard splattered everywhere. 

We were fine. 

I crawled back in bed, ready to forget about what had just happened when the tremors started again. My oldest started whimpering in his sleep, and I ran to his room. I knelt by his bed as the ground beneath me shook. 

Earthquakes, at the risk of undermining my point by using the analogy which they inspired, are unsettling. The foundation which you take for granted, whose stability  you never notice in its certitude, asserts itself with the threat that your very assumptions about the world can be stripped away. I sat by my son’s bed for another minute as the vibrating continued. It wasn’t the strength of the movement, but rather the subtlety, that disturbed me. It was a quiet reminder that nothing was guaranteed. 

We returned to bed again, only to be awoken by aftershocks for the next hour. A wind storm was blowing through the town that night as well, adding to the creepy and slightly apocalyptic feeling of the night. Every time I heard a howl or a roar and felt the house shift, I wondered if it was the start of another – perhaps larger – quake. 

The next morning I surveyed the damage. A few bottles knocked off shelves, a picture frame fallen from the walls. Nothing broken, nothing cracked. We told our kids the story, which they only half believed. 

An hour later I looked through the living room again. Couch cushions were strewn across the living room. My knitting needles were scattered and yarn trailed down the hallway. Breakfast cereal littered the carpet. 

A second earthquake had struck. My children. They managed to wreck more havoc in the amount of time it took me to unload the dishwasher than a 5.8 earthquake could bring. 

Children are like earthquakes. No matter how prepared we believe we are in the face of a life-changing event, they rattle us to the core. They remind us we have no control, and our assumption of stability is a lie we tell ourselves to function day to day in an ever-shifting world. Children change everything we know to be true, rocking our basic assumptions and letting us down stronger but slightly changed. 

The world feels more delicate today. I walk gingerly across the floor of our home waiting to feel the next tremor. They haven’t stopped completely yet. I am humbled by the power the earth can bring, just as I was humbled by the magnitude of a tiny body laid on my chest. 

I suspect my children will jump off the couch several times today, rattling picture frames on the wall. They can break and be broken so easily, and I have less control than I wish to believe over which side of that equation they will land on. 

Although, the child currently climbing out of the first floor window I do have some control over. Must go bring him back inside, and pretend it’s safe. 

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