With beach towels as capes and goggles on their heads, the kids dance in their flip-flops all the way to the community pool gate. You are a few steps behind lugging an oversize beach bag filled with snacks, sunscreen, toys and other last-minute additions and all the while checking the pool population as you approach the gate. The nap crowd is absent, so today you have choices where to set up camp. Sunscreen-slathered kids leap around in the water. They squeal. They splash. You are by the ladder ready to stick in your big toe to test the water temperature.
What's that sound? It must be a train. You look at the lifeguard. At the second rumble, she stands and looks skyward. On the third rumble, she blows the whistle and gives the dreaded command: "Clear the pool. A storm is coming. The pool is closed."
Those lovely cottony clouds have turned dark, and the wind picks up, blowing towels and other objects. You know about now, back at the house, kitty is under the bed and the dog is a shaking, drooling mess. It's going to be a long afternoon.
Maybe you are blessed with children who are not afraid of thunderstorms. Some kids may just be wired to be fearful during storms.
Other kids watch and emulate adult reactions. Widespread adult panic departing the beach or pool equals a panicky child.
In the middle of the night when jags of lightning rip across the sky giving the night an eerie light, familiar objects are not so familiar. If the windows rattle and the door knocker knocks, it seems like the end of the world to a child.
Consolation is difficult - especially if the child has watched any television news coverage of storm-related damages.
My daughter, a fourth-grade teacher, often conducts informal research for me. Recently, she casually chatted about thunderstorms with her students. One student shared that she had experienced a huge thunderstorm on her Girl Scout camping trip during the past weekend. She thought she and her friends were grown up enough to sleep without an adult in their cabin and didn't like it that they had to have an adult with them. This is her storm story: "Well after about 10 minutes of the storm, I was glad for the adult rule because all the girls were crying hysterically. My mom had to calm them down. She had us make up silly songs to take our minds off the storm. It did get scary when the wind blew our cabin door open. It wouldn't stay shut so we had to pile up our luggage against it. We were glad when it was over."
During a middle-of-the-night storm, turning on a light brighter than a nightlight might help, unless of course the lights are blinking or the power goes out.
Then it is the time to break out the flashlights ... the personal size flashlights reserved for special occasions, like scaring away the things that surely lurk after the thunder booms. Sometimes snuggling is the best remedy.
It's easier to distract children during a day storm. To this day, my adult children and now my grandchildren measure the proximity of the approaching storm by counting - one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi - in the time between lightning and thunder. The higher the Mississippi number, the farther away the storm. They figured that each Mississippi equals about a mile away. When my kids were little, I filled a medium-size snap-top plastic tub with puzzles, games, books and craft materials available only during severe and stormy weather.
Some kids enjoy studying various cloud formations, understanding the anatomy of a storm and learning why thunder and lightning happen. A good book for younger kids is "Flash Crash Rumble and Roll" (Collins, 1997) by Branley M. Franklyn. This is an easy-to-understand scientific approach to thunderstorms. The author includes several simple weather-related experiments. Others enjoy hearing or telling tall tales about what is happening in the sky during a storm. This is a sneaky opportunity to introduce mythology by talking about the Greek gods who live on Mount Olympus having a bowling party. In literature as well as contemporary media there are myriad mythological references, so the reference is all the richer with knowledge of mythology.
Long ago, as I sat with my dad on the porch during summer storms, he introduced me to Thor, of Norse mythology. He said that Thor was bowling in the sky.
Whether it was intentional or not, he planted a seed of curiosity about earthly bowling. We visited the old Rose Bowl bowling lanes and sure enough the sound of rolling bowling balls and pins clattering in the lanes was like thunder, and I learned to bowl.
Many fun activities can be motivated by thunderstorms. No doubt every storybook reader has come across Patricia Polacco's delightful books. She spent summers with her grandmother; therefore many of her books feature a wise and understanding grandmother. "Thunder Cake" (Puffin Books, 1997) is such a book. All the preparations are complete for the approaching thunderstorm, so at last Grandmother gets out her special cake recipe that she and her granddaughter bake only during thunderstorms. Polacco includes the real recipe from her childhood at the end of the book. You might be amazed at the cake's secret ingredient.
"The Buffalo Storm" (Clarion Books, 2007) by Katherine Applegate is a take-me-away-to-times-past pioneer tale of the comfort from a special quilt on a wagon train trip along the Oregon Trail. Check with your local children's librarian, who may have a list of fiction and nonfiction weather-related books.
During the summer, in fair weather or foul, a weekly trip to the library for entertaining summer reading is free, and it is your secret tool to reinforce reading skills.
- Heidi Maness Hartwiger, a Wheeling native, is a writer, teacher and storyteller. She is the author of two books, "All Join Hands: The Forgotten Art of Playing With Children" and "A Gift of Herbs." She is a mother of four and a grandmother of five.