As Hurricane Irene approached, I became increasingly concerned. I normally scoff at the grim warnings of meteorologists because they are nearly always overblown, but I’d never weathered a storm like this so close to the water. On Friday, my Facebook wall started to ring the same note over and over: how many gallons of water should one have, where to get ice, who was evacuating and who was sticking it out.
So we took it seriously, making room in the garage for the car and filling the tub – just in case. Thank goodness we never lost water, but we did lose power. Who knows when it will ever come back on? I’m writing now on a battery-powered laptop that is creating the lone pool of light in this pitch-dark house. We’re well into Day Three without refrigeration, lights, land line, and internet access. No streaming, no satisfying the children’s wonderings about, for example, the distance from here to Papua New Guinea, no email, no blogging…! But tonight I realized I could write on a Word document and post this whenever I find somewhere to get online. Hence this gritty report from the frontlines of hurricane-induced deprivation.
As the storm built in intensity on Saturday, we set out on a crafting mission. There was still leftover cardboard from our Ikea ordeal, and the sharks seemed hungry. So I cut out a school of fish for them to chase, and the children painted and glittered them. Then we needed a crab. And an octopus. It was at this point that I started cutting up cereal boxes and whatever cardboard packaging I could find. Gabriel requested a sea spider, so I took a crack at it, and soon after that the recycling bin ran officially dry.
As the wind blew and the tree branches moved like waves outside, we kept painting and decorating in the kitchen. The rain pounded all day; it didn’t seem coincidental that we were drawn to underwater scenes.
The power went out in the afternoon and we ate dinner by candlelight, watching the sky. I was hit many times by a strong desire to go outside into all that violent motion, but I knew that wouldn't go over well with my family. It was all beautiful and sinister. The darkness, the howling, the bowed plants and trees, the pervasive feeling of being trapped together in our strangely still, warm house.
Branches littered the yard and street in the morning; one home in our neighborhood was destroyed by a large fallen tree. We took a rainy walk when the wind quieted, comparing notes with neighbors, then returned home to our fish, which were all dry. Gabriel and I decided to put the animals he’d decorated on his bedroom walls. (Frances is not sure of her fishes’ final destination).
We all had great fun arranging and rearranging them in the room. And when we were finished, the sun had come out.
Mike had to teach seminar, so I did bedtime tonight. Frances starts school tomorrow. I gave her a bath, rubbed her dry, and yanked a comb through her hair by flashlight, like so many other parents must have done all along the East coast. We are preparing for this leap into the first grade at a new school under unusual circumstances, but everything feels okay. As okay as it can in the dark, where all would be quiet if not for the pervasive rattling buzz of nearby generators.
Frances looked so small while I gave her our customary nine sprinkle dusties. I count them off as we go, “sprinkling” by giving her a tickly pitter-patter with my fingertips down her spine.
Tonight she turned her body back towards me in bed when I was finished, asking “What are sprinkle dusties, Mama?"
Five years into this routine and now she asks! I didn’t tell her how she was captivated when saw her older friend Julian receive them once from his mama, or how the two of them had played sprinkle dusty with a little bath toy on the sidewalk when she was not yet two years old. Instead I told her sprinkle dusties were a kind of magic fairy dust that protected her and kept her safe in the night.
“Could you do extra ones tonight? I need powerful sprinkle dusties.”
On the third night of fumbling through our evening routines by flashlight, and on the last night of summer vacation, was I surprised that she needed extra magic protection? I heard myself saying a kind of prayer as I ran my fingers down her spine over and over: this sprinkle dusty is for courage. This sprinkle dusty is for patience. This sprinkle dusty is for kindness. This sprinkle dusty is for peace.
With each sprinkle her eyes drooped and her lips parted further. Those dusties really are powerful stuff, and thank goodness, because she’s about to step off this storm-battered craft into a great unknown. I’d cover my small, strong daughter in magic talismans and good luck charms, ropes of garlic and an invisible force field if I could. Ah, wish me luck tomorrow! Deep down I know Frances doesn’t need it – but I might.