• the day the lights went out

    There’s nothing like a power outage to make your job as a parent that much more difficult. But in my case, Hurricane Irene cut this mom such much-needed slack.

    It was a typical Sunday morning in our household: Sunday papers strewn across the table as we finished a leisurely breakfast, the hum of the TV in the background. From the sound of things, you wouldn’t have known that Irene had wrecked havoc the night before, knocking down tree limbs in our front and backyards and blowing a mighty wind that had howled as we slept fitfully. Other than those obvious signs, we had remained virtually unscathed…or so we thought.

    My 7- and 3-year-olds were just in the middle of watching “Yo Gabba Gabba” when Fofa suddenly disappeared from the screen. “What happened?,” yelled the little one. “Bring her back,” she demanded.

    Here we had just been talking about how lucky we were not to have lost electricity, when we were suddenly jinxed. We quickly made do by scrounging up some board games and unearthing my transistor radio from my beachbag. But in a matter of hours, the delights of old fashioned Family Fun Time quickly turned to boredom and endless bickering. My 7-year-old lamented why this had happened to her, as thought she were the only one affected. At a loss as to how I could right this wrong for my kids, I didn’t supply an answer.

    When my husband and I got the girls ready for bed that night, my own sense of frustration began to creep in. “C’mon, how long does it take to brush your teeth?,” I scowled at my 7-year-old. “You can’t see what you’re doing anyway.” We carried electric lanterns to their bedrooms and read stories just as hastily as we bid our good nights. As I shut their bedroom doors, the look on my face gave away my feelings of helplessness.

    “So they won’t have their TV shows for a little while,” offered my ever-calm husband before turning in that night. “They’ll survive.” But it wasn’t just that, I mused as I looked at my watch one last time before turning off my trusty lantern. After the last few weeks of both girls being home together and me feeling I had to entertain them during every wake second, my fuse was a bit shorter usual. I didn’t need Irene to come in and stomp out whatever patience I had left.

    The next day began with a new morning routine: finding a place that had both ice and milk so I could put them in a Styrofoam cooler. Easier said than done. 7-11 had ice, but no milk. Dairy Barn: milk, but no ice. “This is really starting to annoy me,” claimed the 7-year-old. “Why is this taking for-ever?” My attempts to answer were feeble at best, and still I fought every temptation to lose my cool.

    Once we encountered a small supermarket operating on a partial generator that had all of our necessities, I couldn’t contain my joy. “Look, ice!,” I squealed, heaping 2 large bags into the cart. I took one look at both girls’ faces and they too broke into wider smiles than I’d seen in days. “And let’s get grated cheese and I can put it on ice, and we’ll have a pasta party for dinner later,” I added. The 3-year-old clapped her hands in delight. I was a good mom yet again.

    While dinner proved to be a hit, this supposedly infectious enthusiasm I had witnessed only a short time ago quickly wore off. “I want to watch a show,” said the 3-year-old as we lingered over a candlelight dinner of noodles and corn. “I want the man to fix the lights now!”

    “Can’t I just use Papa’s iPad?,” said the older one, eyeing my husband’s leather case on the counter. “I know how to find a movie and he just downloaded stuff for me the other day…”

    “No!,” I screamed, my own anger over a helpless situation finally reaching the surface. “Do you think this is easy for any of us? We’re just going to have to stick it out and deal with it, ok?”

    I don’t think any of us went to bed that night with a clear conscience. As I opened my bedroom window to let the nighttime air in, the sound of a neighbor’s generator competed with a zillion crickets. I felt like the world was closing in on me, that my kids were wearing me down because they couldn’t do all the things they normally liked to do.

    But then again, neither could I. And frankly, if they meant they had to “suffer” without their Leapster and Nick Jr. for a little while longer, then so be it. I was not Supermom. When I realized that this was a title I had heaped upon myself, long before Irene landed on our doorstep, I also knew I had the power to knock those expectations down.

    The next day, after breakfast, I told my daughters of our new plan: no ice and milk right away, but instead to the library. “Yay, new books for me!,” yelped the 7-year-old. “I wanna a Yo Gabba Gabba DVD,” added the little one.

    “Actually, we’re going so I can charge my cellphone and check my e-mail,” I told them. “And maybe, if you guys are good, you can get some things AFTERWARDS.” Their expressions changed from ones of glee to bewilderment. Could Mommy actually be doing something for herself?

    At the library, the girls happily ran amuck as I read through dozens of e-mails. I casually glanced over at the little one playing with a seal puppet, as the older one typed away on the computer. And when I heard another mom tell her daughter not to tell mine how to play—“If her mom wants her to step on the puppets, those are her rules”—I suppressed the urge to tell her what she could do with her words of wisdom and instead waved to my little one. Upon seeing me, she skipped over and introduced me to her puppet.

    Later that night, our power was restored—and so was my faith in myself.

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