Empowered by powerlessness

Yesterday was supposed to be our back-to-school-and-work day after the Christmas holiday and Andrea’s birthday. But Archer was running a fever and it was my turn to stay home with him. Then Andrea talked me into letting Jonah stay home too to “take care of his brother.” No problem, I thought; I’ll let the kids watch a movie and get a little work done. After the long weekend I had a lot hanging over my head.

Then the power went out. And Andrea went to work.

Yesterday was memorably windy here in the Bay Area and we were among the many affected by downed power lines. After scurrying around to perform clean shutdowns of our computers before the UPS’s gave out, we settled in to wait for the power to come back. Power failures are not all that uncommon in our area but they seldom last for more than a few minutes.

Minutes became an hour. The wind outside continued to howl, and our drafty house began to cool. The kids needed some breakfast and I was loath to open the refrigerator, lest our food begin to spoil if the outage was to be a protracted one. But I got the kids fed with a minimum of precious refrigerator-air lost. Then we sat down and began reading books together. I promised the kids a movie as soon as the electricity came back on.

An hour became two, then three. Alex needed a walk, and we had the opposite of the refrigerator problem: I didn’t want to let any of our warm air out. With some deftness I got her outside, then back in, about as quickly as could be managed with a frail, elderly dog.

By lunchtime the power was still out and I called out for pizza. We played with new Christmas toys and read more books. I taught the kids how to play “20 Questions.” Archer, only two and a half, was unclear on the concept: each time it was his turn to think of something he would begin by saying, “Is it an elephant?”

As the hours continued going by and the house continued to cool, I texted with Andrea on my Hiptop. Should we spend the night in a hotel (rather than keep Archer with his fever in a fifty-degree house overnight)? No: we found out that the estimated repair time for our power lines was 5-7pm.

Night came. We lit some candles and carried a flashlight. We hung out under the covers in “the big bed.” 7pm came and went with no electricity. We read more books. I recited the plots of some favorite movies. Andrea came home. The kids ate snacks, then fell asleep. We learned that the repair estimate was for 5-7pm the next day, but chose to stay the night anyway. It was warm enough under the covers, and the house — indeed the whole neighborhood — was delightfully silent. I snuggled under a fleecy blanket in the living room with volume three of The Baroque Cycle and my LightWedge.

At 10:30pm the electricity came back on. Although we had switched off all lights, etc., I knew immediately when power was restored: the total quiet was replaced by faint buzzing and humming coming from every direction as nominally “silent” electronics came to life all at once.

I modestly consider yesterday to have been a parenting triumph. Although Jonah complained, “It’s boring without TV,” in fact that was just a passing sentiment; he was never actually bored. We effortlessly filled an entire day with talking, reading, and interactive play, to say nothing of smiling and laughing, even in the absence of many of our usual comforts — evidence to me of a well-laid foundation for a healthy, fun family.

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