Little Problems in a Big Hurricane by Marina Petrova

Dec 1, 2012

This post is written by our guest writer Marina Petrova.

Shortly after Hurricane Sandy there was Squeezable Yogurt Crisis of 2012. My six-year-old son, four long days without school, sat down on the floor and cried when I told him we must first go to the grocery store then he can have his yogurt. Typically I would deal with this crisis by losing my temper or leaving him without the yogurt. But almost a week into the Mommy & Son boot camp, I mean bonding, I was losing touch with reality, I mean becoming alarmingly calm. I walked out of the apartment and he followed, judging by the tenacious whining. The whining subsided two blocks later.

“Mom,” he asked in a human voice, “why were you ignoring me?”

What I said next was not planned. “Few days ago many people lost their homes. Some kids lost all of their toys and their schools were flooded. Others have been without heat, light or water for days. Do you think it’s a big deal?” My son nodded. “Do you think waiting 30 minutes for a yogurt is a big deal?” He shook his head.

It did not feel like a win, nor should it have. I remember how I hated when adults got preachy with me, especially if they had a point. But I thought about the Yogurt Crisis the following Saturday on the way to Coney Island. There was a call for volunteers to go door-to-door to check on seniors who might be trapped in high rises with no power. It seemed wrong not to go and it seemed right to take my son.

“Is this going to be fun?” he asked. “This is not about you,” I grumbled.

On the corner of Mermaid Avenue in Brooklyn volunteers were sorting donated supplies. We packed some water, toiletries and non-perishable food items into our backpacks and climbed the stairs of a 20-something story building. My son wrinkled his nose. “It smells like a bathroom,” he said. It did. We were going up the rabbit hole and I had a nagging suspicion around us were not jars of orange marmalade. The staircase was pitch dark aside from the thin slither of light from our flashlight. I squeezed my son’s hand a little tighter and imagined masked guerrillas hiding in the shadows, holding machine guns and machetes in hands they haven’t washed for a week.

We began knocking on doors, asking if anyone needs help, yelling, “food, water, supplies.” My son was very eager. But he got slightly confused and screamed “food, water… surprise!” To my six-year old, surprise is still always a good thing.

Local residents, perhaps weary of surprises, were often hesitant to open their doors. But once they did, they smiled. They thanked us and pointed to apartments where elderly lived. They especially thanked the zealous six-year-old, who kept insisting they take an extra sandwich. The building had been without electricity for almost a week and the temperature was dropping into the 40s. No one complained. As we walked down the stairs, a woman in her 60s was walking up. She asked us if we needed help.

We visited two buildings without power and there were many more we could have gone to. We were all cold and hungry when we got back to the corner of Mermaid Avenue. My son waited patiently for his sandwich and ate whatever was given, no questions asked. We drove back through streets with windowless cars tossed in the middle and front yards filled with furniture, appliances and blankets as if a house vomited all of its insides. A large floppy-eared stuffed dog looked at us with homeless eyes from the top of a reclining chair on the sidewalk.

“Brooklyn looks sad,” my son said.

Don’t get me wrong. He is still a sheltered and spoiled kid. He lives in a micro-world where weekends are about fun and goes to a school where he feels comfortable talking about his feelings. Don’t get me wrong again – it’s a good thing. But I would like to go back to Brooklyn to volunteer with him. And I would like him to start grappling with the complex concept of perspective and maybe prevent Yogurt Crisis of 2013.


Marina Petrova lives in New York City with her son, husband and cocker spaniel. In her past life, she worked in Media Technology. She gave up her career to follow her passion for writing. Currently she is pursing an MFA at The New School.

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  1. Karen Jacobsen

    Thanks Marina for a glimpse of what people are dealing with. How lucky your son is to have you as a Mommy. Thanks Misha for having Marina be a guest blogger. xoxo

  2. glebski

    I was casting kids for the role of a boy in my short film, and I was struck by the fact that youngsters don’t know what it means to lose something or something is gone, broken or spoiled… i was asking to imagine something like “what is your favorite thing to do?” and they would say “play video game” and i would ask ‘well, what if your game got broken”, hoping that this would cause a reaction of sadness ( something i was looking for to capture ) but in result, i was getting a smile “well, my mom would get me a new one”, i would be persistent, well, there is no store, there is no video game in there, there is nothing in there, nothing, can you visualize that? smile again, and they would say – no, that cannot be… but what if you were in situation like this, i would ask again… smile.. impossible.. i was puzzled… and your story reminded me that.. it is very good to see something real to feel reality… i know it bites sometimes, but i think maybe a little bit of it for kids is a good lesson to feel more in life. nice catch, Marinkin!