August 31, 2012

At my kids’ high school, I had the reputation of being the mother who would singlehandedly bring an end to beach week. Like many parents, I’m guilty of excessive hovering. It turns out those years of circling overhead were simply a prelude to my latest role:

Hurricane Parent.

This is much like being a Helicopter Parent — only with 80 mph winds and the threat of a storm surge to really get your mind turning.

On the first day of our daughter Halle’s freshman orientation last summer, Tulane University made it clear that every student should have a “personal hurricane evacuation plan.” (This was something our older child never needed; he goes to college in Minnesota.)

Apparently, however, the words “personal hurricane evacuation plan” are open to interpretation. By Monday, as Hurricane Isaac turned toward the Gulf Coast, Facebook was populated with photos of grinning students packed into cars headed for Austin. Road trip!


Hurricane Isaac over the Gulf of Mexico. (NASA/REUTERS)

When Halle enrolled at Tulane, we found comfort in knowing that we had close friends within walking distance of campus. The answer seemed simple: Their hurricane evacuation plan would be “our” hurricane evacuation plan.

Except by Monday they were thinking about going to Baton Rouge, while our daughter had decided to “shelter in place,” which was what all her friends were doing. (It took every effort not to say, “If they jumped off a bridge . . . ”) In the meantime, relatives and friends from around the country weighed in. All four grandparents called to see if Halle had evacuated, while my friend Gerry e-mailed, “Get out? . . . and deprive her of a New Orleans hurricane experience?”

Meteorologists spent Monday and Tuesday pointing to conflicting storm models, while the Tulane Web site provided its own mixed signals. On the one hand, the university planned to reopen the dining hall as early as Wednesday. On the other, students leaving New Orleans for higher ground were instructed to pack a week’s worth of clothing. I also learned from the Web site that the football team had relocated to Birmingham to prepare for its opening game. Go, Green Wave!

Should she stay or should she go? The Clash song was stuck in my head. On Monday afternoon, our daughter and her roommate checked into a hotel in the city. (Because, as luck would have it, their dorm room has a balcony. This turns out to be a good thing on a sunny day but leaves the room more exposed in a hurricane.) Moving into the hotel — Halle argued quite effectively and calmly — made sense because it would have a generator, while our friends, who by then had also decided to stay put, did not.

By 9 p.m. Tuesday, the hotel had lost power, while our friends were happily watching the U.S. Open tennis tournament on their large-screen TV. What do you do in a Best Western without power? (And do I want to know?) Did I mention that Halle was sharing the room with not only her roommate but also someone named Andrew?

Halle passed the time by responding to my texts telling her not to use her phone in order to save her battery for my phone calls. While my daughter sat in the dark with limited access to the outside world, I got my news by following Tulane President Scott Cowen on Twitter.

By Thursday, with stories to tell of their first (and hopefully last) New Orleans hurricane, Halle and her companions checked out of their hotel. This occurred as emergency workers were rescuing residents from flood waters in nearby parishes, a reminder of the inequities that exist in the Gulf Coast, not to mention around the world.

But as one adventure came to an end, another was beginning. Back home in Washington, my youngest daughter was packing for a college trip to St. Louis, which, according to the latest storm models, was directly in Isaac’s path.

A hurricane parent’s work is never done.