The Ground Beneath Your Feet

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36352_447040471456_651989_nWe live in earthquake country. I’ve felt small tremors and medium-sized ones, and live with a healthy dose of fear that the long-predicted “big one” will hit California any day now. And yet, if it did, we would be woefully unprepared. It’s really easy to forget you live in earthquake country, until, that is, one strikes, and then it’s hard to imagine you’ll ever forget again. But then you do. You vow to get that earthquake kit together. You swear you’ll replace that funky water stored under three inches of dust in your garage. Really, you will. Right after you tend to something else which seems way more important because it’s actually happening, not theoretically happening.

But the thing about earthquakes is that they are unpredictable. It’s almost crazy not to be always prepared for them to strike because we never have any warning that they will.

Which brings me to two separate but equal events today that led me to drink down that healthy dose of fear I mentioned earlier. One has to do with imagining an earthquake won’t happen; the other has to do with imaging one has.

We are in need of a new garage door, so I had forwarded my husband a couple of quotes I received on automatic doors. He replied, “I like these, but don’t you think we ought to do the retrofitting in the garage before we install a new garage door? Isn’t that a higher priority?” Well, of course it is. But it’s a little like paying $5K to have your sewer line replaced (which we have done, by the way) instead of renovating your bathroom. Only one of those is a fun way to add value to your home. No body’s going to say, “Wow, that sewer line is really solid! It really adds character to the house!”

Now, let me say I do understand the value of doing these unseen improvements. I know it’s about making sure the house is sound, safe, and will be around many years from now. Logically, I get that. But when faced with a decision to either replace the old wooden flip-up garage door (which you practically have to be a line-backer to get open or closed) or to shear-up the walls in the garage, I bend toward the desire to make the day-to-day a bit easier. As it is currently, it’s an inconvenient mess to get our stroller/bikes/anything out of the garage. There is nothing quick about it and the tedious nature of wrestling with a stroller through the narrow laundry room, squeezing past the garbage cans in the walkway, then through the gate provides a superior workout to the one you had hoped to get by taking the baby for a jog in the first place. How I long to be able to push a button and have the door magically glide overhead so that I can take out/put back the stroller/bikes/garden tools without working up a sweat. It’s a tough call. Except, it’s not really, when you think about it. If we don’t retrofit, we might not have a garage left at all. So, I made the call to a retrofit contractor. I’ll update on the process in a later post.

So here’s the other way earthquakes and their aftermath have come to the fore for us recently: Our daughter’s school sent home a note asking us to write a “comfort letter” for her in the event she is trapped at school for a period of time due to earthquake or other unforeseen circumstance. As a parent, it’s incredibly difficult to let your mind wander into the place where your child is in danger, physically separated from you, and the letter your child holds in her hands is the only help you can provide. How could any words be enough in that situation?

I struggled for a time about what to write. I didn’t want to make promises I couldn’t keep. I didn’t want to say that “everything will be okay” if I couldn’t make it true. So I wrote what I do know. I told my daughter that she’s a clever girl. That she’s brave and great at solving problems. If she just trusts her instincts she’ll know what to do to stay safe. I told her that I was sorry for whatever event that caused her to have to read my words. I wrote that her family loves her and hopes to see her again soon and that we wish we could be there with her.

It’s a letter I pray she never has to read, but having written it, I do feel some bit of comfort myself that—should the need arise—she will have something to cling to. Something to keep her spirits up in a difficult situation. Something to remind her that she has the smarts to survive.

4/18/13 Update: Well, we’ve had one contractor come out to give us an estimate. Ready? Somewhere between $15-$20K. Yowza. I’m still getting some other estimates, but it seems, so far, that it’s about what we can expect for a civil engineer, and a contractor licensed to do this work.

6/13/14 Update: While I’m embarrassed to report we still haven’t had the retrofitting done. I’m happy to report that the tedious nature of extracting items from our garage is all in the past. We recently survived what I can only describe is a battle to the death with rodents. After a few thousand dollars, a new garage door, many, many trips to our home from a licensed rodent expert. I can say that, for now, we’ve won. Our old flip-up door was a highway into our house and so while I didn’t like having to go through the experience of having rodents roaming free, it did give me the leverage I needed to lobby for a new door. So…thanks, I guess.

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