Be Prepared
Closing ThoughtsOpinion

Be Prepared

For better or worse, Chana’s upbringing has left her ready to take on just about anything.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

Chana Shapiro
Chana Shapiro

I come from a long line of prognosticators, a coterie of expert worriers who anticipated and planned for dire situations. These family members tended to ruminate about the “what ifs …” of the world and they were determined to avert the inevitable problems one encounters as one moves through life. As a result, my family, along with the Boy Scouts of America, identified fully with the “be prepared” slogan.

My siblings and I usually disregarded our mother’s presumptive warnings, but she was steadfast in her determination to protect us, whether we needed it or not. For example, let’s say I was about to go to the neighborhood drugstore. My mother always warned me to double check the veracity of my receipt and reminded me never to purchase an item in a box that looked like it had been opened before (duh). When I left for teen sleepovers, did Mom send me off with, “Have fun?” Not exactly. Her parting words were variations of “Have fun but be careful!” Mom’s idea of a sleepover must have been much more exciting than four girls watching TV, playing records, and gossiping about boys.

It’s one thing to expect and accept trepidation within one’s own family, but it’s really embarrassing when it involves outsiders. I brought my best friend to a family affair at an aunt’s house. My aunt offered her a glass of soda, but couldn’t help herself, as my friend lifted the glass to her lips: “Don’t drink too fast. You’ll get a stomachache,” she warned. Of course, my pal was nonplused because the people in her family were in the habit of drinking a glass of soda at a pace commensurate with their level of thirst. I was used to my family’s foibles, but my friend was flustered. She took a small, slow sip and reached over to lay the drink on an end table beside her. My aunt nimbly managed to slide a coaster under her glass just in time. Naturally, my aunt always kept a supply of coasters handy.

Abundant opportunities for possible disasters were laid out for me when I was still optimistic at the age of 20, and I joyfully announced to my assorted kin that my new husband and I were moving to New York. “How wonderful!” was not among the family responses I got.

Instead, I got, “You’re going to live in an apartment? They all have roaches!” and “New York is the most dangerous place on Earth.” (Most dangerous? Obviously, none of the aforementioned relatives had ever lived in Afghanistan.)

I was not surprised when a cousin gave me a super-sized first aid kit as a departing gift. My germaphobe mother tried to give me two bottles of Lysol. When I protested that they’d probably leak, in spite of being triple Saran-wrapped, she relented. Being a worrier, the possibility of the bottles leaking trumped carrying them. “Just watch your purse; New York’s full of thieves,” were the solemn words of an uncle. My grandfather, the progenitor of family worriers, slipped me a Hamilton and told me to keep it with me at all times, hidden in the innersole of my shoe. “You never know when you’ll need it,” he cautioned.

We lived in New York 12 years, and our children were born there. It turned out that my “what if…” family had prepared me. I used my cousin’s first aid kit all the time, I bought and depleted countless bottles of Lysol, I quickly learned that everybody in New York guarded their purses, and my grandfather’s 10-dollar bill (I wore it in a boot in bad weather) enabled me to take a cab home from the subway stop in a blinding snowstorm.

I tried to shake my “what if…” upbringing, but I’ve failed. When our older daughter went to the circus with a classmate and two chaperones in pre-cellphone days, I prepared her, in case she got lost. I felt much better knowing she had our home and work phone numbers written on a piece of paper tucked in her shoe (more useful than 10 dollars!), along with the numbers of two neighbors. I always pack a rainhat and emergency poncho when I leave town, whether rain’s predicted or not. I have drawers of cotton balls, Band-Aids, arnica, and anti-bacterial cream. I possess three thermometers. I own an at least 50-year supply of masks and hand sanitizer, and friends and family know whom to call if they suddenly run out of toilet paper. Everybody isn’t obsessed with being prepared, but, thanks to my forebearers — for better or worse — I am.

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