You may have been wondering where I have been for the last two weeks. Well, I’ve been in the dark. Hurricane Sandy wiped out so many huge trees and utility poles that it has taken just shy of two weeks to have my power restored. And I have to say, it nearly broke me. I know others lost their entire homes, or even loved ones, in the storm so I really can’t complain – but I’m going to be a little self-indulgent for a moment.
We have a small generator but due to the electrical configuration of our house, we weren’t able to just hook it up to our electric box. So, we had to pick and choose small things to plug directly into it. We could only plug in one small space heater so we had to pick which room we were going to live out of. Our master bedroom is on the first floor so we chose that one. All five of us and a fish, one bedroom, wall-to-wall mattresses, for thirteen days. We slept in that room. We ate in that room. We played in that room. We did crafts in that room. We got ready for school in that room. The kids watched mommy slowly unravel in that room.
It wasn’t even so much the inconvenience of it all. It was more that one moment we were planning for Halloween and the next moment we’re about a week away from Thanksgiving. I feel like I was in a time warp. One that I couldn’t control. And the way our electric company handled things, there was no communication. No matter how many phone calls you made, it made no difference. And the hard part for me is I don’t like when I’m not in control and I have no plan. If at the outset, someone told me that I was going to be without power for two weeks and that the kids would be out of school for a week but back to school the second week, then I could have had a plan. Maybe we would have left the house and gone to stay with someone. But from the moment the power went out, each day we questioned what the next would bring. Maybe we’ll get power back tomorrow, maybe mid-week, maybe by the weekend, maybe by the following Wednesday at eleven o’clock at night like the automated ConEd service said, or maybe not until the end of the second weekend. There’s no way to plan for that or even to wrap your head around it.
Between the hours of midnight and six in the morning, we would turn the generator off in order to conserve gas. There really wasn’t much sleeping on my part. I had to worry about my eldest son who I usually don’t like him even having a blanket at night because he has trouble with sleep apnea anyway and then he finds a way of wrapping his head in the blanket and I’m terrified he’s not going to be able to breathe. So, I was on constant blanket patrol – making sure the kids didn’t kick the blankets off and freeze, while at the same time not have them burrow too far underneath them. And then if anyone woke up with a need to use the bathroom, I had to be ready with a flashlight, as well as to warm up the toilet seat with layers of paper because it was freezing in there and my eldest son has an aversion to things that feel too cold. A few nights into it, my son got sick and I had to wake up my husband to hurry and turn the generator back on because I couldn’t see anything and I needed to take care of him. So, to say the least, I was on edge, on edge for thirteen days.
There were two highlights for me though. One, was how, once again, my children showed me how resilient they are. As mommy was becoming a shivering mess, shaking my head, and mumbling to myself, my kids were having a great time with their camp-out/sleep over, where they didn’t have to take showers, and got to eat take-out everyday. The other highlight was a local community parent networking site on Facebook. It really was what saved me from going over the edge. Where no real information was forthcoming from our electrical company or our town officials, this network of parents was like being part of a stake-out. “Con-Ed crew spotted on Hardscrabble.” “Copy that. In pursuit of crew.” “Hey, Momma Smith, this is Papa Jones what’s the 10-20 on the crew up on 133?” “No sight of them. Think they saw the mess and cleared straight out. We’re keeping the area under surveillance, though.” “You have the donuts, just in case?” “Roger that, donuts and hot coffee. We’ll deliver the package as soon as we see them set up shop.” “Wait a second. Crew in site. I repeat, crew in site. All moms in vicinity please ready yourselves. We need a round-the-clock onslaught of food delivery. Coffee and donuts are covered, but we’ll need a delivery of pizza at noon, and cookies and hot cider to follow. We can not let this crew get away. This is go-time people. Keep that food coming.”
Somehow, what a town, whose residents include New York’s Governor Cuomo and former President of the United States Bill Clinton, couldn’t do for me, a band of rogue parents did. This group of moms and dads made me feel empowered. They were literally my lifeline. I knew which streets were still without power. I knew where the crews were working. I knew what gas stations still had gas. I knew what delis were open where I could find food for my kids to eat. I knew which laundromats to go to. I knew that I needed to tell my husband to add oil to the generator. I knew what roads were impassable. And most importantly, I knew I wasn’t in this myself and I knew I wasn’t the only one losing my mind and I knew I wasn’t powerless – I was part of a rabble-rousing group, who tried to break into meetings at the town hall, and made phone calls to the CEO of ConEdison and our State’s Representatives. There was even talk about taking the funds raised for the high school turf field, and suggesting to use it to bury our electric wires so that we didn’t go through this Armageddon again – yes, turf field funds – I know, kick-ass stuff.
And I would be remiss not to mention the out-of-state Pike electrical crews. The one that worked on our road was from Central Florida. They were sleeping in a semi-trailer, as the hotel ConEd wanted to put them up in was two hours away. They were also ill-prepared for our snowstorm and many didn’t have gloves or boots, so neighbors supplemented their supplies where they could. They had traveled many hours to get here to help out, missing out on Halloween with their own kids. And though it must have gotten old after awhile, they were always very appreciative when they received yet another box of donuts from residents.
So, now that my lights are finally back on, I still feel like I’m walking around in shock. What just happened? The town is still a mess with huge trees down all over people’s properties, including my own. My house is a wreck, which I’m still confused about since we only spent time in one room but with freezers to clean out and dishes in the sink and piles of batteries and random blankets and flashlights and the toy box that got dumped out, and then of course the boxes and closets that were strewn about in search of winter clothes I wasn’t prepared for because of the Nor’easter that came through, there’s still a lot of clean up to do. But with Thanksgiving on the horizon, for once I’ll have room in the refrigerator for all the food for the feast since we had to throw everything else out, and I will certainly be ready with my list of what I’m thankful for: for lights, for heat, for hot water, for a sound roof over my head, for the safety and love of my family, for every neighbor that offered me a hot shower (did my hair look that bad?), and for a community, which I’m still relatively new to, that helped me in more ways than they can imagine. And as I drove around the town today doing my usual errands, I saw one lonely orange utility safety cone by the side of the road, with “Pike” written on the side in black marker. It must have been left behind. Those out-of-state workers may be gone but they will never be forgotten. I had half a mind to pick it up and use it as the center piece for my Thanksgiving table this year with a candle stuck in it – it would be very fitting, and it doesn’t hurt that it would go with the color scheme of my holiday decor.