Seedlings: When the Bough Breaks – By Amy Wall Lerman

Now, if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I just need to get this off my chest:

Life since Super-Storm Sandy has been rough. I lost the back of my house thanks to a very large and very old oak tree. It took out the deck, the patio door, part of the roof and a few windows. That should be enough to make anyone spin in circles for awhile.

I was at work when the storm was brewing. My boss held a meeting complete with three different maps from different weather agencies predicting the location and intensity of the storm. I work for some very smart people. They really understand weather patterns and storm terminology. I usually just wait for a storm to hit and then gather up the video to send to everyone with a newscast. When my boss took us all aside and explained how bad Sandy was going to be, I took it very seriously. He’s not an alarmist and he knows what he’s talking about. We don’t usually prep for storms in this way. And when we do, we’re not usually talking about the storm hitting us…here…where we work and live.

I got my staff up to speed. Got them all booked into hotel rooms so that we could keep the newsroom going as we covered the storm. As daylight hours diminished and night set in, it seemed like it took forever for the storm to hit. When the weather agencies downgraded Sandy to a tropical storm, I thought we might be in the clear…but that’s when all hell broke loose. As I watched our TV monitors in the newsroom, I could see little explosions happening all over the New York City and lights going out building by building. I had our reporter on the phone trying to help her find her way out of waist deep water in very flooded Battery Park City. Memories of 9/11 rushed in…here we were again, in our own city which suddenly felt like a foreign and unfamiliar landscape. Lower Manhattan had become a no-man’s land once again.

When I finally got a breather, I called home to check on my husband, my mother-in-law and my son who were battened down in a heatless, powerless house.

“Hi, honey, is the power still down?”
“That’s not all that’s down.”
“What do you mean? What fell?”
“The tree.”
“Which tree?” I hesitated because I think I knew which tree.
“THE tree.”
Long pause…
“Holy [expletive]. Is everyone okay?”
“We were in the front of the house when it happened.”
“Thank God…damage?”
“It’s bad.”
“You’ll see when you get home.”

That’s how it began. That was October. It’s now January. We just got our insurance check and just last week, the roof was rebuilt and the siding replaced. I still have a boarded up house, broken deck, and broken windows.

But the worst part for me, surprisingly, was what Sandy did to Evan’s new tree house. I wrote about the building of that tree house in one of the issues of Baby Bloomer. It was an epic project taken on by my husband last summer – a true labor of love that we both took pride in. We talked about how every child dreams of such a tree house – place to play and create memories. Something magical and special.

When the tree house was finished, Evan climbed the ladder and explored every nook and cranny – pirate saber in hand. We saw his whole future before our eyes through the windows of that tree house. The tree we built it on felt rock solid and impenetrable. Of all the trees we have around our house, we never dreamed that one would come crashing down.

Evan didn’t play in it much until his friends came over. Then it was climbing, sliding, and swashbuckling galore. The windows opened into the leaves so that he could feel like a member of the Swiss Family Robinson. It was a dream house…a place we knew would be his for as long we lived in our house. My husband and I joked that now we could never move unless we could take that tree house with us.

Well, the house lasted just a few months before Sandy took it down. Evan was furious and to this day talks about fighting the evil “Sandy.” While we work on rebuilding our real house, we continue to mourn the loss of that tree house which lies in pieces at the side of our yard.

While there are many who lost everything to Sandy, it seems silly to obsess about something that was really a toy. No one was hurt in the storm – a blessing. My house is still livable – a blessing. Insurance will cover the damage – a blessing. I am grateful. But for some reason, the loss of the tree house still hurts. Like the houses we live in and care for, the places we make memories, live our lives, and feel hope or sadness. It is these places that become the focal point for family and friends – keeping us connected to the people we love.

This tree house was a symbol of the life we hope to build for our boy. It’s about the magic of childhood; the glorious freedom of imagination. It was about building him a space of his own where he can dream, play, and maybe even one day hide from his crazy parents. It was about hope and the future. It was about building something special for a boy we treasure beyond ourselves. This tree house was built with the same kind of love we put into the roof over our heads. The joy on Evan’s face when he first climbed the ladder to the tree house is marked in my memory forever but so is the anger in his eyes when he saw it twisted and broken the morning after the storm. And it wasn’t just us that seemed to mourn the loss. When the neighbors came by to see how we fared through the storm, all eyes went to the battered tree house. I could see it in their eyes too: a house can be fixed – windows are windows, and a deck is a deck, but dreams are not as easy to rebuild.

Okay, I said it. Now it’s time to get on with it.


Amy Wall Lerman, Editor of the Motherhood Later Than Sooner eZine, Baby Bloomer, is a television news producer and writer. She is the author of several books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Critical Reading and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Family Games. Her poetry has been published in an online literary journal and she maintains her own blog called Dodillydo. Amy lives in New Jersey with her husband and 4-year old son.