Little House in the Rainy Woods

When the power goes out, the real fun begins

by Liz Garrigan

All I could think last weekend as the rain came unceasingly down, trapping us in our house in the woods without power or a safe route to civilization, was, "Dear God, how did the frontier women do it?" While their men were out hunting or doing whatever it was frontier men did, the women were inside their austere cabins taking care of babies. There were no baby wipes or Tylenol, no animal crackers or Huggies, no tricycles or board books, no hot water with the turn of a handle. It was all hunger, filth, misery, and poop. I pray those women and children are in heaven now, and that they are awash in spas, pedicures, hot dogs, juice boxes, and Popsicles.

Contemplating my ill-starred forebears helped keep my own weekend trial in perspective. We had food, water, and candles. We were dry and not in danger of losing our home. So what if I had to explain roughly four dozen times that it wasn't possible to watch Cars? (Toddlers, it seems, don't understand the concept of electricity.) When they had reached their saturation point with storybooks, my boys gazed longingly out the window, clearly wishing they were outdoors throwing rocks, looking at lizards, poking frogs.

"Outside, Mommy!" the three-year-old said.

"Honey, it's storming. We can't go outside."

"Mommy!" he insisted. "Outside!"

My husband was off helping to coordinate city relief efforts. I was on my own, and it was too early to cope by uncorking a bottle, even by the permissive standards of our household. The sky was dark except for frequent flashes of lightning, but we had to get the hell out of the house.

So we did. They splashed, the one-year-old ate a little dirt, they threw rocks into the woods, we ran up and down the gravel drive, took a wagon ride. It wasn't long before there wasn't a dry patch on any of us. After the boys had had their fill, we trudged back home, dripping puddles and pulling off soggy clothes. When they were down to their diapers—and me my underwear—we went upstairs to towel off.

With late afternoon setting in, I dressed us all in clean duds, got the camp lantern from the closet, and threw pillows all over the floor. I let the cell-phone battery die, instead of running out to the car to charge it, and we made a fort out of sheets and pretended we were camping. We rolled around and roughhoused, and gave each other hugs and kisses. It was the first day off I'd had in weeks and the most fun I can ever remember having with my children.

There was no way to know, then, how many others were suffering.

Published Friday, 7 May 2010