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COLUMN: Packing peace of mind

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Daughter’s preschool emergency kit offers perspective on preparedness

By Jacquelyn Stoess Hack

Nestled inside a grocery sack filled with pint-sized cartons of shelf-stable chocolate milk, four containers of banana yogurt and other kid-friendly snacks is a book about being scared that I hope my daughter will never open without me.

I recently shopped for supplies to keep our daughter, Harper, happy and well-fed for at least 24 hours in the event of an emergency that prevents us from reaching her preschool.

Admittedly, this type of emergency preparedness hadn’t crossed my mind until we received a note from the preschool director with instructions about where to reunite with our child if an emergency forces students and staff to evacuate.

The director shared a list of emergency supplies that the staff has purchased for such an occasion, and also a list of supplies requested for each student.

At first glance, the supply list from her preschool seemed like it would be a quick shopping trip – snacks our child will eat and three fun items to keep her entertained.

But as I pushed a shopping cart through Kroger one Sunday night, I realized that with each item I crossed off the list, the lump in my throat grew.

It’s no surprise to my husband or me that Harper loves everything about preschool. She’s 2, and preschool has helped her flourish in an atmosphere of “big kids” outside of her cousins and neighbors.

One day last fall when she said, “Let me tell you about all my friends at school,” I smiled as she shared about Anna and her backpack, Graham and his soup that made a “big mess” and how much she and her friends love show and tell.

She’s happy. She’s safe. And she’s learning life lessons that a 2-year-old may only grasp from her peers rather than being the only child in our home.

Harper loves the word – and idea of – adventure. As I shopped, the idea of hearing Harper tell us post-emergency about her adventure and spending the night in the church basement with her buddies made me smile.

But then reality set in.

By the time I hoisted a gallon of water onto the counter at Kroger, a voice in my head told me we should never leave home again unless we’ve loaded all of our belongings into a truck headed for a self-sustaining farm with its own water source, storm shelter and solar panels in the middle of nowhere.

It’s uncomfortable to process the idea of an emergency that could separate our family of three.

As my husband and I discussed it throughout the week, he felt grateful that Harper’s preschool (moreover, the staff) is prepared for something we don’t want to consider.

That’s when I realized that the 30-piece Pinkalicious puzzle I crammed in Harper’s emergency kit – and all of the other supplies – serves a dual purpose.

From the start, Harper’s teachers have loved and cared for her like she’s their own, whether she’s being sweet and handing out hugs or being very much a rambunctious, independent 2-year-old who needs “a conversation,” as I call it.

In an emergency, I know her teachers will calmly and confidently lead Harper and her classmates out of harm’s way with such grace that Harper will likely go with the flow.

I imagine she’ll share excited stories afterward that unfold as an adventure, scattered with “and then” as she tells us about an unexpected long day (or night) at preschool, leading up to one shining moment: “And then Miss Karen said, ‘Harper, guess what? We have chocolate milk for you with a tiny straw!’ and I said, ‘OH MY GOODNESS!’”

The question is, how will Gregory and I react if we can’t reach our girl?

And that’s where the dual purpose of the preschool’s emergency preparedness comes in – knowing that Harper has all of the emergency supplies we packed for her will give us some peace of mind until we’re reunited.

Under normal circumstances, Gregory is less than two miles from Harper’s preschool every day.

As a volunteer firefighter, he trains for emergencies and worst-case scenarios, although his role as Harper’s Daddy and chief protector have him convinced that a train derailment is the only fathomable emergency that could delay – let alone, prevent – him from reaching her.

“I assure you she will not have time to eat those snacks or read a book,” he said.

But I’m normally 20 minutes away – or more – when preschool is in session. In an emergency, I know it could be a long time before we are reunited.

Rather than spending hours wondering, “Is she safe? Is she hungry? Is she scared?” I’ll have a few answers tucked away in my memory of packing the bag of essentials and marking her name in purple permanent marker.

I am reminded that there’s more to emergency preparedness than running to the basement when thunder rattles our windows. And peace of mind is essential in unfamiliar territory.

Jacquelyn Hack joined the staff of The Oldham Era in 2005 and will soon leave her post as editor. She can be reached at editor@oldhamera.com or (502) 694-2ERA.