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Faith in Vermont: Powerless

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Posted on December 16, 2014 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



Life changes with the phone's ring, with a single recorded sentence:

"Good morning, this is Peter Burrows, ACSU Superintendent."

That's the call we received at roughly 5:30 AM last Wednesday. These calls always seem to come when I'm already up, dressed, and halfway through washing my face. Which leads to the conundrum: Do I go back to bed fully clothed? Will this be the day when my children finally sleep late?

The call informed us that school would be closed for the day: the first snow day of the 2014-15 school year. What had started as an unimpressive slushy rain the day before had turned to thick, wet snow overnight. The snow would continue, on and off, for the next two days, ultimately dropping about 16 inches in our yard.

So, once again, I was forced to confront my ambivalence about snow days. This ambivalence started only when I became a parent; as a child -- and as a childless working adult -- snow days were welcome chances to relax and recreate. Now that I'm at home with young children, snow days don't affect my movements or my work as much as they once did. Instead, snow days bequeath me four children -- two of whom are usually in school all day and one of whom attends morning preschool -- all day long.

The children did not sleep late. One daughter stayed in her pajamas all day, but that was a symbolic gesture unrelated to actual sleep. I tried to look on the bright side: At least we'd skipped the usual morning nag session required to get everyone dressed, breakfasted, and out the door on time.

I posted the requisite snow day pictures on Facebook: my daughters coloring in their pajamas, playing in the snow, posing with their snowman, decorating sugar cookies.

Here's what I didn't show: the screaming/kicking/scratching sibling fights that erupted every five minutes over nothing at all, the cookie sprinkles carpeting the kitchen floor, one daughter stomping down the driveway and threatening to run away because I'd suggested that she was perhaps being a little bossy about proper snowman-making technique, our dog actually running away to feast from the neighbors' overturned garbage can.

The snow was some of the most beautiful I've ever seen: It was dense and sticky, clinging to the tree branches, outlining the world in white. It bent small trees to the ground; all day long we heard the pop and crash of huge branches falling in the woods. Power lines swooped dangerously low over the roads.

Our oldest daughter said a bedtime prayer for another snow day. Apparently God decided to show off for her.

On Thursday morning, we awoke to find that we had no power, phone, or internet. So it was hardly surprising when, halfway through washing my face, my husband knocked on the bathroom door to inform me that Peter Burrows's recorded voice had just called his cell phone.

No school. No power.

Well, not quite no power: In addition to a wood stove that's guaranteed to keep us warm, we have a small generator. It doesn't power the whole house, but it's enough to keep our water and refrigerator running, along with a few select lights. The generator will last as long as the propane tank that powers it is full -- about 24 hours, by my husband's estimate.

We knew why we didn't have power: just down the street, numerous power lines lay on the ground, victims of heavy snow and falling branches. Green Mountain Power informed us that 25,000 customers were without power, and we weren't expected to regain ours until at least 11 PM; a neighbor stopped by to report that our power could be out until the weekend. There was no guarantee that our generator would outlast our power loss.

"Don't use any unnecessary power," my husband instructed, heading out the door to his well-lit and -heated office in town. He later called from his office to warn me against leaving the house: a huge tree was blocking the road in one direction, and low-hanging branches and slushy roads made the other direction treacherous.

Our four daughters, who had not slept in (again), but had awoken with roars of delight (No school! And no power!), were asking to do crafts by 8:30 AM.

In an act of blind desperation, I got out the glitter.

I am not a glitter kind of mom. I believe in creativity. I can (and do) tolerate a moderate degree of mess. But glitter seems like unnecessary punishment. Our household glitter lives in an emergency box, tucked away in a crawlspace under the eaves of my bedroom.

This was clearly an emergency, so out came the glitter. I figured that, with no lights on, it'd make it harder to see the glitter (and cookie sprinkles from yesterday) all over the floor. We knocked out three sets of wands and tiaras before lunchtime.

As the sun began to set with no sign of our power returning, I went into prairie wife mode: I filled the tubs with water for flushing, put pots of water in the kitchen for drinking, and turned off the generator to conserve propane until dark.

We ate pizza (brought home by my non-prairie husband) by candlelight. And then: a thrill of hope! The flashing lights of Green Mountain Power trucks on our street! At 8:30 that evening, our power spluttered back on.

Even Peter Burrows's phone call the next morning, announcing a two-hour school delay, couldn't dampen our grateful spirits. After a leisurely breakfast, I sent my two oldest daughters off to school, and buckled my two youngest daughters into the minivan for an outing: the first time we'd left the house in over 48 hours.

As I backed out of the garage, the minivan skidded back into a snowbank. In my attempt to dig us out, I sliced open my finger on the snow shovel. Ultimately, the towing company had to make two trips in order to free the minivan. That's what I get for trying to leave the house.

All in all, it was a good early winter reminder that, when it comes to snow, I am not in charge. Powerless.

When my kindergartener stepped off the school bus that afternoon, she looked at me and asked: "Mommy, did I miss a day of school?"

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone labradoodle — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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