I’m home. Twelve days, four cities, and four shelters with Children’s Disaster Services.
The thought that keeps weighing heavily on me as I quickly return to my normal life and routines is how many of the children and families I have spent time with over the past two weeks will not be experiencing this return to normalcy for a very long time. Many are starting over entirely in a new city. They have spent days without the comfort of routine, and it can be scary, exhausting, and traumatic, to name a small handful of experiences and emotions they might be enduring.
But then there is play.
Play is the universal language of children. It can bring normalcy and routine to a life that has been uprooted and rerooted. Upon entering our play space at each shelter, many children appeared fearful, tearful, and quiet. Slowly, each one settled into their expertise: dress-up, imaginative play, painting, play dough, active play with balls, bubbles, or quiet time with books and blankets. At one shelter, we were told a little boy was non-verbal, but slowly over time in our play area, he began to express himself through words!
The kids taught me so many things. I learned that cardboard boxes can be transformed into castles, homes, airplanes, places to sleep or hide, or boats that can rescue from the floods. In one shelter, I was instructed by a particular child to row the boat while he huddled inside the cardboard box.
Me: “Where are we?”
Child: “The floods!”
Me: “Where are we going?”
Child: “To here” (pointing to the shelter we were staying in).
Me: “How long will it take us?”
Child: “55 hours, are you hungry? Do you like cheese-its?”
In the safety of our play area, this child was reenacting his experience with Hurricane Harvey. What a privilege for me to be a part of his process of healing through play!
But as I return to my own normalcy, I keep thinking about the long road ahead for many of these children. I am grateful to have been a small part of meeting the needs of children impacted by Hurricane Harvey during the initial days and weeks.