Suzanne Tobias

Kids maintain Kansan's eye toward sky

I grew up in the South, where children's nightmares involve hurricanes, tidal waves and mornings without buttery grits.

Tornadoes were something I saw on TV, usually in that scene from "The Wizard of Oz." We'd occasionally hear of funnel clouds tearing up a building or neighborhood, but it was rare and we typically blamed the hurricane that spawned them.

My children, though, are Kansans. And about this time each year, I'm reminded how differently they view the skies.

Thankfully, they're the type who love a good storm. When she was 2, Hannah didn't flinch at sudden cracks of thunder or the tornado siren not far from her bedroom window that would blare its test every Monday at noon, right during naptime.

If a storm rolled in at an opportune time — after dinner, say, or over a lazy weekend — Hannah and my husband, also a native Kansan, would head out to our detached garage. He'd open the garage door and pop the tailgate on his SUV, and they'd sit there together, eating popsicles, watching the rain and high-fiving each spectacular flash of lightning.

So every year during Severe Weather Awareness Week, when meteorologists offer advice intended to "ease your children's fear of storms," I shrug and change the channel.

The one time my son, Jack, looked frantic and wild-eyed as we headed to the basement during a tornado warning wasn't because of the sirens or the blackening sky.

"Storms? Storms?!" he shouted, just 4 at the time. "Do we have SNACKS?!"

He made me wait as he gathered armfuls of animal crackers, cheese sticks and potato chips, sure that my stash of Wheat Thins and bottled water would never sustain us.

Most times, I'm the one who needs comforting. I moved to Kansas not long after the Hesston tornado in 1990. Among newspapers the Eagle's editors sent me to review was one showing that huge black funnel cloud crossing the highway, with the ominous headline: "Every Kansan's nightmare."

A fine welcome, I thought.

Since then I've helped cover the aftermath of several major tornadoes — Andover, Haysville, Hoisington, Greensburg — and have seen how destructive storms can be. I make sure my children respect the skies, but I don't tell them everything.

Because I love that bravado, so quintessentially Kansas, the temptation to stand on the porch and marvel at swirling clouds. I love the way they hold their arms out to feel the wind and dance barefoot in puddles after storms pass.

I love their faith that everything will be OK, even now that they're old enough to recognize the risks. They see power, spirit and magic in storms, and savor them as if bravery is their birthright.

This Southern girl can't argue with that. I just say a prayer and hope they're right.