We sat on the floor in Connor’s room for a while this afternoon. I sorted mounds of LEGO while Connor built things and Ethan chewed on the body of a T-Rex.
Earlier, we had gone down to a community devastated by floods to hand out food and bottles of water.
“What did you think about that?” I asked Connor as we sat in his clean, dry room. “All the mud? All the ruined houses and the people throwing out all their stuff?”
“It was pretty cool,” he said, in his five-year-old way.
Ok, I think. So he wasn’t scared by it.
“What did you think was cool about it?”
“I dunno. It was just cool. And it was sad.”
So there’s that, at least.
Today marks five days since the river banks broke and the floods destroyed so many parts of Calgary. 100,000 people—10% of the city’s population—were evacuated; some of them are home again, many are not. But it’s not like any of them can simply unlock their front doors and walk in as though they had been on vacation.
In the worst areas, there is mud everywhere – contaminated mud that drips from the couches and lamps and appliances that sit on front lawns. People have had to rip flooring and carpet and drywall from their homes. The streets are now full. There are huge trucks blocking streets as they pump water from basements. They are loud. The people doing the clearing are wearing rubber boots, gloves, and masks. They are covered in mud.
Having two small kids, one of whom is still breastfeeding, makes it difficult to help as much as I feel I should. As much as I want to. I feel as though I should don old jeans and put on my boots and take some gloves and a shovel and just start digging people out. And not stop until all the mud and guck and crap is gone.
But I can’t really do that, so I have done other things. I’ve dropped off supplies in three different parts of the city. I’ve tweeted out information trying to connect people who can help with people who need help. I’ve donated money.
But I needed to do more, and I wanted Connor to help. So this morning we went over to an affected community not far from where we live and walked the muddy streets where homeowners and neighbours and volunteers are trying to clean up.
We went with my friend Erin and her two kids, who had loaded up their wagon with fruit and water and granola bars. Connor and I baked muffins and took those along with apples, bottles of water, and protein bars. We stopped every person we saw to ask if they needed something.
It’s hard to help a five-year-old understand what has happened and what it means for the people affected. A big pile of soggy drywall is meaningless to Connor. We’ve told him people have had their houses ruined and have to throw out most of their things, including their toys. He knows that, even if he doesn’t entirely understand it. In one breath he’s talking about how wet things are and in the next he’s asking to go to the toy store to browse the LEGO aisle. To him, “going without” means not getting the new set he has his eye on.
I don’t expect (or even really want) him to understand the level of devastation we’ve seen here. But I did want him to be involved in helping. So we went.
He was entirely nonchalant, no matter what we saw. He insisted on being the one to give people the bottles of water and he wanted to hand out the muffins. But he was unfazed by the mud and the piles of rubble. Such is your perspective on natural disasters when you’re five, I guess.
At bedtime, after we brushed teeth and read stories and turned out the light, I looked over at the bins of sorted LEGO. They looked bright and clean and perfect, unlike the muddy dollhouse I saw this morning sitting atop of a pile of rubble. Clean LEGO, dirty dollhouse. What a world of difference a few kilometres makes.
“How was your day?” I asked Connor, beginning the nighttime ritual.
“Good!” he said. I could tell he was deeply satisfied, though I wasn’t sure whether it was from being a helper or because I (finally) sat with him to sort LEGO.
“What was your favourite part?”
He thought hard.
“That we got to stay home this afternoon.”
Ah, I thought. It was the LEGO.
“That was your favourite part?”
“Well, no. I just said that to make sure you knew. My favourite part was giving people water.”
He looked almost embarrassed. He likes praise, but often shies away from it.
“That was my favourite part too,” I told him. “I’m really glad you came with me. I was really proud of you today.”
He rolled over and then over again, burying his face between the bed and his wall. This is his way – hiding and playing rather than acknowledging.
“Were you proud of yourself today?” I prompted.
“Yes,” he admitted with a smile.
So there’s that.
The pride, the knowing – it’s there. He has taken it in, in his five-year-old way. The carefully sorted LEGO will be scattered again, but this—the feeling of being there and knowing he helped—will remain.