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Last week we were in the midst of a so-dark-of-a-brown-it-may-as-well-be-black out from Monday night to Thursday afternoon, with a little reprise this Sunday and Monday. That means our fridge was barely hanging in there – the light comes on so dimly you think it must be nighttime in Refrigeratorland – but we had no microwave, no toaster oven, no computer or internet access (note the paucity of postings as I went through blogging withdrawal), no air conditioning, no air conditioning, no air conditioning.

Did I mention no air conditioning? 

The power came back to about 70% strength Thursday afternoon and we were immediately spending kilowatts like they were going out of style. Look! Television! Look! Air conditioning! Look! Microwave!

Air conditioning!

There’s nothing like having extremely limited power to make you realize how much you depend on it as a parent. I’d plan my forays into the fridge carefully, to save up the cold air. We found “fun” things to do that required less exertion (translation: sweat). We had no music time since the stereo was “sleeping”.

It actually became cooler outside than in the house, which in New York City poses quite a dilemma. As a family living on the ground floor, do you leave your windows open at night and hope to catch a breeze? Or do you close them to keep from catching a crazy person?

A couple days weren’t even that hot; it was only mid-eighties as a high. But with the humidity and boredom, it was stultifying. In the space of one day, we went to the park. We played in her water sprinkler in the back yard. We went to the gym pool. We went to the park again. Get the picture?

I think the worst part was the last night, as our power fluctuated at perilously low levels all evening. And that’s where we learned that so many of the things we take for granted as the “padding” in Madeleine’s life are really valuable.

Part of Madeleine’s bedtime routine is a CD of lullabies; it’s her sleepy music that helps her transition, but also covers household noise as she falls asleep. Her stereo was barely functioning so we held our breath and set it to go. Ten minutes later, the power dipped and the stereo shut off.

What do you do? Go back in and turn the CD on, risking waking her up, or leave it off and hope she’s asleep enough to not notice she didn’t hear Billy Joel tonight?

And then there are her monitors. The parent and the child units both have batteries, but it’s a couple hours max. If the batteries on the child unit give out first, the signal’s lost and the parent unit lets out an ear-piercing continuous squawk: “WARNING! WARNING! SIGNAL LOST! YOUR CHILD MAY HAVE JUST VANISHED!” So at the slightest sign of battery failure, you have to leap up and shut the dang thing off before it wakes the kid it’s protecting.

And let’s not forget our beloved white noise. The air conditioner. Maddie’s poor window unit didn’t even bother trying to work, so we had a floor fan in her room throwing sullen sighs and wheezes her way. Set on the highest level, it was barely blowing, but I was afraid to leave it on high for fear (and hope) of the power being restored in the middle of the night and the fan suddenly surging to hurricane force, blowing itself over and waking the baby. So it sat just above a whisper, but at least it was moving the air in her room.

We didn’t get much sleep that night: between the heat in our own room, the constant jumping up to reset the monitor, and the intermittent beeping of her cordless phone as it found and lost its base signal, we were a wreck. Incredibly, Maddie slept through the whole thing, but I think that was from sheer force of desperate, sweaty will on our part.

The night was so far removed from our “normal” setup, from our comfort zone. Gone was the predictable lullaby, the climate control, the sound insulation, the monitor vigilance. And while we worried and perspired the whole night, baby girl was just fine, proving that yes, kids are indeed more resilient than we give them credit for.

Of course, if this had happened a few months ago, while Maddie was in the midst of her Waking Several Times A Night phase, it would’ve been a different story. So I count my blessings that it happened now. And I've got friends living two blocks away that are still in a complete blackout and sleeping on the floor of her in-laws, so believe me, I know it could be worse.

When the power came back, we were in awe with all the things we could do at once. Look! We’re making toast, defrosting a turkey, and staying cool, all at the same time! Look! I can play a CD and run the dishwasher simultaneously!

I don’t know if Maddie realized exactly what was missing from her life for a few days. I was exhausted, working my butt off to keep her life as unaffected as possible by the disruption, but also proud that I did what I needed to in order to protect my kid. I do know that the crankiness dialed down when the air conditioning came back on, and that when I was able to play one of her favorite albums for the first time in days, she stared at it like I’d invented rainbow-colored Cheerios. She actually ran towards the speaker, clapped, and bounced up and down.

A girl who’s got her priorities straight. Note to self: have jambox on hand with backup batteries for the next blackout.


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