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Family Matters: Weathering the Storm

WFTV newscaster Martha Sugalski on being away from her family while covering Hurricane Irma…

An Emmy-winning member of WFTV’s Eyewitness News Team, Martha Sugalski has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and she’s spent her entire career in Florida. She’s also a married mother of six children, including a set of triplets. You can catch her on weekdays at 5, 6, and 11 p.m. on WFTV, and at 10 p.m. on TV 27.

Living in this great state—there are a couple of sure things, things you can bet money on. Mosquitoes, humidity, bad hair days, bad traffic on I-4, long lines to get on Space Mountain, 90-degree temperatures at Halloween and of course hurricane season.

If you have been here a while you know the drill. If you are new to our fine state you probably have quickly found out that from June through November we are in the cone of uncertainty that is our hurricane season. You see the meteorologists pointing to maps with spaghetti spirals talking about the “eye” of the storm, the dirty side of a hurricane, a category 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, tropical storm warnings, etc. I get it—it can be overwhelming.

So when Irma started swirling out there and then those spaghetti lines had the storm heading our way it was time for me to start fretting. You see I don’t get to ride out a storm with my family, I am the person who you are (hopefully) watching to get you and your family through the storm, which means I am hunkered down at the station. I have to kiss my family goodbye and hope we have made the right preparations.

With Irma it meant me nagging the weather guys every few hours texting “OK, do you think it is coming here?” (Like they are only going to tell me that and no one else!) “So are you putting up your shutters?” “Is your family evacuating?” Once I knew what they were doing then I knew Irma was a real threat. As in get your family ready. With one son at FSU and another son at Embry-Riddle Aernautical and four other kids at home there were a lot of little people to worry about— yes I call my kids “my little people” and yes I still call my 23-year-old “my baby.”

I have a tendency to overreact just a little. With Irma about a week out I was at Publix every day buying bread (we really don’t eat that much bread), stocking up on water, buying batteries even though I didn’t know what I would be using them for, candles—you name it I was buying it.

Then I had to worry about where all these kids would be during the storm. Chase headed out of Tallahassee to a safer spot. Maxwell asked if he could have some college friends stay with us and then Spencer asked if her friend could come ride out the storm as well. I asked my hubby if he could handle 4-year-old triplets, a high schooler and then four college kids. All under one roof. All with a massive storm getting pretty close. I would be at work and he would be there with a generator if the power went out. My husband obliged and thus a plan was formed.

I then nagged him every other hour if I was forgetting something at the store. What about the pool furniture? What about the trees outside? What about keeping everyone occupied especially if cellular service went out and all those teenagers didn’t have their phones to Snapchat, Tweet, Facebook or even just text?! That means they would actually have to do something else. I bought Twister, Play-Doh, cards, coloring books and puzzles hoping that would be enough. I did all the mothering I could and then it was time for me to pack up my clothes and air mattress and head to work.

Once I was there we were locked in until the storm passed. As I sat on the set for hours and hours watching Irma make its way toward us I kept worrying about home. The triplets knew something was coming and were a bit unsettled. My one son was worried we didn’t have shutters and I think was more worried I didn’t have enough food for his buddies. (Of course I did, I am a mom!) I asked everyone to sleep on the first floor just to be safe in case of tornadoes. I was also responsible for other people’s kids. I texted their parents and made sure they knew their offspring were as safe as could be. Then I just thought, come on Irma let’s get this over with.

Irma came and went and caused a lot of damage and continues to cause a lot of problems for so many people. My family got lucky. We lost some shutters. Our streets flooded. Debris littered our lawn. We lost power. Nothing major. We got lucky.

When I could go home the next day I arrived to a hot house, but happy children and plenty of smiling faces. And because cell phone service was spotty, you could actually hear the rare sound of kids talking to one another. There is something glorious about the internet being down. Those gadgets we are addicted to went out the window for a beautiful 48 hours in our house. Dinner was eaten by candlelight. The doors were open, there was a nice breeze. I heard people connecting and just being together, enjoying one another without any distraction. I tried to find the positive. I savored our time before heading back to work.

Then just like that the power came back on. One by one the college kids went back to school and we got back into our routine. While I hope we have no more Irmas, I do know we are in the peak of hurricane season and while that cone of uncertainty can be daunting, what I am certain of is that weathering out the storm with family may just make you a little stronger and more appreciative of what you have—I am not talking about the material things.

This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s October 2017 issue.

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