2018… again with the surprises!

by Mrs. Smith on January 15, 2018

Oh, 2018, you’re such an awesome, interesting year and we’re not even half-way through the first month! I just love you and your sassy little self. Look at you, being all exciting!

We’ve even got shirts to commemorate you. shirt

Now everyone on Oahu can play the “where were you” game. How cool is THAT, right? We all have awesome epic stories of adventure… without actually having to live through a catastrophe. Whew!

Yeah, yeah, there’s that whole “yet?” thing hanging over our heads now. The adding of the “ballistic missile siren” to the monthly “tsunami siren” drills whispered that the world is a unstable and crazy things could happen. That was just a month ago, though. We haven’t had all that much time to wrap our heads around it.

Well, it feels a lot more real now than it did before January 13 threw up its hands and yelled PLOT TWIST on our cell phones.

This is how it went for me.

I was at choir practice with 5 of our 6 kids.

Tangent you can skip:
Yes, we have 5 in choir now. It was totally worth putting several of them through 20 minutes of crying about “why?????” They got over it at that very first practice of the semester when there were like 20 other kids there with the same sob story.

“My name is Soandso and I’m here… uh… because my mom is making me.”


I’m glad I’m not alone in the Mean Mom Club. SHEESH, children. Worldclass children’s choir director and you think I’mma let you stay home and goof off instead of coming to class for 2-3 hours weekly just because it’s work? Yeah, I’m a wimpy mom quite often but going to make up for it on this battlefield right here…. and you don’t *really* want to miss out on this.

It’s 8am. We’re about half-way through choir practice. 

Another choir assistant’s phone goes off with that urgent-buzzing-vibrating thing that goes off when there are flash floods and stuff. It’s distinctive.

What’s that, I wonder, and I cross the room to be next to her as she digs through her purse.

She checks her phone. In my periphery I can see the third assistant grabbing her purse, too.
Her face goes ghost-white and she turns to me saying those five magic words:

This is not a drill.

My face goes ghost-white, too. Probably. I wasn’t taking selfies at that point, or at any point that day. 

The 3 of us show the director.


Her eyes get big, and seem to be asking “What do we do?!” 
In a calm voice I didn’t expect to hear coming out of me, I tell her, 

We’re already in a safe place. This is perfect. We stay right here.

There’s something about 55 children depending on you not losing your head that really helps you not freak out, I tell you what!

It was fantastic in its own weird way.

Maybe it was denial, or maybe some part of me kinda knew it wasn’t real on some level (?), or maybe it’s just what happens when you’ve had one near-death experience and you’ve made friends with your mortality…

but during those 38 minutes I really wasn’t concerned about death. For whatever reason, I didn’t face the “oh my gosh, we’re gonna get hit by a bomb and explode into a million tiny pieces” issue, so the whole experience wasn’t quite as upsetting for me as it was for some other Oahu-ians.

(Yeah, probably denial.)

But it was a very surreal, time-slows-down, kinda-traumatic, bizarre thing. It was. And actually, it was a little bit…  Hm. How to explain it.

You know when something surprises you so much you stop thinking for a moment?

That’s how it was. Kind of on some interesting auto-pilot that required very little actual thinking. It was a refreshing break from the endless stream of babble that we always do in our heads unless we spend a lot of time learning to meditate and shut it off.

Maybe in the future I’ll be able to duplicate it by just remembering that “this is not a drill” moment.


I was mostly concerned about the crazy radiation fallout that would happen if they dropped something big on the other side. Definitely cause for concern…
But our choir was literally practicing in one of the designated disaster shelters already, so hey. Good place to be…
and those 55 young faces needed me to be reassuring, calm, grounded, and confident. They had parents who couldn’t be there right in that moment, and they needed me to be there for their kids.

It would be a big job to help that crew through a crisis if something hit, but I felt ready (even if I actually wasn’t, haha).

That was one of the most powerful/weird parts of the whole thing for me, actually. This cloak of responsibility that fell over my shoulders, and the accompanying clear-headed-ness that went with it. I was ready, but I don’t think I would have known beforehand that I actually would feel that way in that situation. Funny, how that works.

We had the kids march into the gymnasium farther inside the building.

When they asked why, I put on my cheeriest-fake-happy voice and told them we were going on a little field trip and we’d explain more in a minute.

We had them all sit on the floor in nice neat rows and the director explained what was going on. 

I’d forgotten about the giant glass doors to the outside, though, and they made me nervous. Concrete is way better than glass for radiation protection. I’d forgotten about that part when we decided to leave the choir room. It was easy to fixate on that. Thoughts finally punched through that strange, thoughtless state, and got stuck on repeat:

The choir room had no windows. Hm. Maybe we should have just stayed there…The choir room had no windows. Hm. Maybe we should have just stayed there… The choir room had no windows. Hm. Maybe we should have just stayed there…

I’d like to say we said a prayer together, but we didn’t.
I’d like to say we sang hymns to keep everyone calm, but we didn’t do that either.

But I did feel this on the inside, so hey. Not a total fail, truly.


The choir sat in silence, the director was 100% there with them, and the 3 helpers (myself included) were on our cell phones:
connecting with spouses,
helping choir kids who wanted to call their parents,
and in between all that, trying to find out any information about this “not a drill” emergency going on.

(Mr Smith & H were fine, they were staying home, I’d stay here with the kids, we were on the same wavelength & had the same plan, which was cool)

There was nothing online anywhere that I could find, which was weird. Nothing at all. With tsunamis, hurricanes, flash floods, there’s always stuff out there. Hm. So strange!

My one regret:

I wish I could say I was there comforting the kids who were the most afraid and really being fully present for them, but honestly, even with that cloak of clearheadedness and the bliss of no-thinking-ness, my head was spinning a little. I’m sure I didn’t look as “reassuring, calm, grounded, and confident” on the outside as I felt on the inside. I’m sure I had the same deer-in-headlights look that everyone else had going on.

…I was emotionally totally there for the kids in my heart, but my brain was in my phone trying to get more info. Lame! Bad form! Kids aren’t going to see a grownup staring at a screen and think, “Oh good. They’re so there for me.” GEEZE. Mom fail.


Note to self:
If there’s a next time (and of course I hope there isn’t!) I’ll let other people do that research.
Be with the kids, not the phone. Okay, got it.

Choir parents who lived close by started showing up to get kids & take them home. 

Families from the community and students from the university started showing up because this building is a designated shelter. It was awesome how comforting it was to see familiar faces. I love living in a small town.

Eventually, the director dismissed the 3 assistants, so I took my kids back to the windowless choir room so that when parents showed up I could let them know where the rest of the choir was. After only being in that room for like 3 minutes, tops, a parent came, so I walked him back to the gym, and POOF! No choir! They were ALL gone. What?!

That was weird. And awkward. And confusing. There were some very NOT-happy parents in that gym, let me tell you. 

We found them pretty quickly. They had gone back further into the building into a hallway where there weren’t any windows. It was probably, literally the safest place in our whole town to be protected from radiation stuff. —– Or so I told myself. 😉

And then the messages started coming through that it was a false alarm.

It took a while to believe it. I had to see it published on an official Hawaii government web page before I felt at all free to change our “bunker down” mode. 


The vast majority of the kids were all picked up shortly, the cloak of responsibility was gone, and the 4 Smith boys all took off for home. Another choir helper and I helped the director decompress a little, get all the music packed up, and turn the lights out.

And in the mean time, clever people put memes together like these.
God bless the clever people.



One of the other choir boys left his scooter in the choir room when he left with his parents when things were still in “not a drill” mode, so my daughter and I walked it home for him. Have I mentioned yet that I love living in a small town? Everything and everyone is within walking distance.

I felt a little uneasy walking outside, honestly.

It was an absolutely beautiful day. Bright blue sky, warm sunshine, birds singing, palm trees swaying just slightly in the tiny taste of a breeze that was keeping things cooled off… Nothing at all in the world around us indicating that a million people just went through a pretty crazy emotional rollercoaster.

Breathe it in. It’s okay. We all get to live another day. 

Tender mercy:

Turns out, the scooter-kid’s mom is my daughter’s Young Women’s teacher at church. You may recall that we just crossed geographical boundaries into a new congregation. — Let’s just say it was a really beautiful, serendipitous things for us to get to have a little one-on-one moment to connect with her. Her tearful mom-to-mom hug was another shining, golden moment from that whole experience.

Silver linings all over the place.

Smiles all around.

Other people walking back from the shelter, giggling with relief, telling each other to have an awesome day.

Folks talking about their experiences.

Lots of speculation.

Everyone learning lots about themselves, their families, their neighbors, their priorities and preparedness levels.

And life goes on, the same as before…

but not quite the same for some.

Lots of opportunities for positive change. I hope we take this intense experience and learn from it so that the next time our phones say, “This is not a drill,” we’ll be even more ready.


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