I was really disappointed when the power came back on at our house a few days ago. We had candles all over the living/dining room and were playing Bananagrams -- the kind of thing we just don't do that often. Okay, we don't do that kind of thing at all unless we have no access to electronics. It seems we're always in different parts of the house these days, going our own ways and doing our own things. We have dinner together most evenings, which I hear will help keep the kids from being serial killers. So that is a comfort. It wasn't even much of an outage: the power had gone out in the middle of the night -- we woke to a very cold house -- and came back on before 7 the next evening. It seemed that we had just settled in when family time was over. I could kick myself now, because I was the one who started it: my laptop was sitting on the table and I felt that I just had to check work email. After that, we all scattered and I was suddenly sitting there with the lights on and my family gone.
I keep thinking back to the outage of 2000. Our oldest child, then 4, was wildly and loudly frustrated because the magic had disappeared. We'd brought her home from China the previous March to a whole new world, to say the least, and one of her favorite parts of the new world was television. She and her 3 1/2 year old sister (who came home to us when she was six months old) especially loved the Teletubbies, who creeped me out almost as much as clowns do. And you know that one with the purse was a gay blade. She was okay with being miserably cold and having pretty crummy meals and not being able to play outside, but could not comprehend why we would not let her watch the telly -- it seemed to break her heart when it wasn't really pissing her off. She pretty much threw fits the entire time (about 2 /12 days) between endless games of cards and Shoots and Ladders and Go, Dogs Go and Brown Bear. Everything was covered not in beautiful snow but in ice so they couldn't even go out to play.
Our house then was low-lying and didn't get much sunshine in the best of circumstances - under gray skies, it was pretty depressing. We had a well then, and at least I had the foresight to run a bathtub full of water to use for flushing toilets, sponge baths, etc., and we had bottled water to drink. Sponge baths were a bit of an adventure: heating the water over the fireplace and quickly washing by candlelight in the bathroom before getting into warm jammies. Although we had a fireplace, we had very little firewood, and one of my most vivid memories is of John in the back yard hacking away at ice to get at a few skimpy branches. At the bitter end, most of our candles were burned out, and I had scrounged some old meat and veggies from the freezer and thrown them in our cast iron pot to cook over the dwindling fire. I was dying for pizza or a burger or anything but the slop in that Dutch oven.
What a difference a few years makes. We now live in a house full of light, and I didn't have to entertain the kids much -- I worked at home but also read, a total luxury on a weekday. We had real snow -- fat, lovely flakes -- and the girls spent most of their time outside. We had enough candles for a siege -- many of which I'd bought after the outage of 2000. And we had not just water, but hot water.
I'm writing this in the library; the girls are in a conference room learning Mandarin with our friend Penny. (As of Sunday, I will have two teenagers, but I'm keeping those thoughts at bay.) I keep thinking back to them as toddlers, watching those stinkin' Teletubbies. They only knew three words of Mandarin then: Hello, Goodbye and Bad. The show started with a baby's face within a sun, and the girls loved shouting "Bad Baby" in Mandarin, which sounded like "Boo How Baby." Like their mother, they have always loved sophisticated humor.