Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lights out

I woke up early on Sunday morning. Partly this was due to the time change with daylight saving ending, but it was also due to an insistent “chirp” from the hallway – the warning sound from a smoke detector battery that needs to be replaced.

I grumbled a little bit to myself, but then remembered that at least it was Sunday rather than a weekday and my husband Rick would probably have time to change the battery before too far into the day. I know this is something I should be comfortable doing, but our ceilings are so high and our ladders so heavy; I’m much happier to leave it to him.

But when I opened my eyes to see what time it was, I saw that the digital clockface was black. The smoke detector was chirping not due to battery malfunction but because the electricity was out.

When I was a kid, I loved blackouts. I thought they were exciting beyond description, especially when they accompanied a big snowstorm. I was eleven during the Blizzard of ’78, when we had five days of snow and the same amount of time without power. It’s hard for me to fathom now, but I loved every minute of those five electricity-free days. I loved the coziness of sitting by the fire and the novelty of playing board games with my sisters all day instead of being in school. I thought it was fantastic that we drove to my grandparents’ house, 45 minutes away, to take showers.

This is yet another example of how impervious kids are to adults’ feelings. My parents must have been miserable, being without power for five days, and yet I couldn’t have been happier.

Now I’m on the other side of the equation. I’m one of the adults who gets anxious and grumpy when the power goes out. Since we have a well rather than public sewer, no electricity means no running water, and anything romantic about it is quickly dissipated in the reality of no hot showers and no flush toilets.

And yet on Sunday morning I felt differently. I couldn’t use my computer because it has no battery, so I didn’t even have to struggle to resist the temptation to check email. Sunday is the one day of the week that I never exercise in the morning – it gets too rushed to try to fit in a workout before church, so I always wait ‘til afternoon – so I wasn’t too concerned about the lack of shower.

“The kids are going to be cross about the breakfast options,” I acknowledged to myself. They eat cereal during the week; hot cooked food like bacon and French toast are typically a weekend treat.

But I could already feel a sneaky grin spread across my face: Sorry, kids, no bacon, no French toast. You know I’d cook you a big complicated breakfast if only I could, but gosh, no electricity today! How about some cereal? The milk is still cold.

As anticipated, the kids were irritated indeed when they awoke. Days full of board games and reading are great, in their estimation, but by choice, not by imperative. All they could think about as they faced this long, quiet Sunday was the absence of any possibility of computer fun, video games, televised football, and of course bacon and French toast. Tim dispiritedly went out to pee off the edge of the kitchen porch. I mentally apologized to the neighbors.

After they’d had some cereal, I convinced them to come out to the barnyard with me to feed the animals. As we were putting our boots on, the hum of appliances and the warm yellow bath of synthetic lighting filled the house once again, and the smoke detector was silent.

I’d like to think the kids’ exuberance as we headed out to feed the cows was the result of fresh air and exercise. They chased each other, played with the dog, raced up the ladder to the hayloft, flung bales of hay down to the animals, chased each other some more on the walk back home, the very embodiment of youthful vitality. But, of course, I know better. What was fueling their delight wasn’t fresh air; it was the realization that awaiting them at home was a working furnace and a hot shower. Breakfast was long over, but they managed to get me to promise I’d make bacon for lunch.

I couldn’t blame them much, though. I never fail to marvel at the sense of exhilaration I get whenever a power outage ends. Even after just two hours without electricity, it seems like the greatest luxury imaginable to be able to use the oven, the computer, the bathroom.

The rest of the day seemed to go better due to this inauspicious start. Everything seems easy once the electricity goes back on. And, rather surprisingly, the kids are continuing this week to help me in the barnyard every morning. Apparently it doesn’t matter so much why they had so much fun; they just remember the fun itself, with tag and haybale-tossing.

And that, to me, is a fair tradeoff for their expectation that Sunday mornings should rightfully begin with Mom making bacon.

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