“This is the worstest night ever,” said Rowan as I tucked him into bed on Friday night. He had a point. We’d driven home from a potluck dinner in the rain, high winds whipping raindrops across the road. As we drove up the street, I halfway noted the Hydro truck parked across from the house. Really, it was difficult to miss, what with it being outlined in reflective tape and the message splayed across its back: “HIT THE BRAKES, NOT US.” But I was focused. Focused on getting two tired children to bed without the aid of their other mother, out of town at a conference; focused on the myriad of tiny details — shoes, snacks, teeth, blankie, pajamas, dishwasher — involved in achieving that goal. Focused on achieving said goal (get them to bed get them to bed to get them to bed get them to bed) while being a decent host to Elizabeth, our entirely accommodating houseguest, herself the mother of a small child and, thankfully, wise in the ways of small children’s bedtimes and general behaviours (a confession: I likely would not have extended the invitation to stay had she not been). Focused enough to be blinkered against the truck’s blinking lights, focused enough not to notice right away the note taped to our front door, focused enough to wonder why on earth my next-door neighbour was out in this weather, focused enough (get them to bed get them to bed to get them to bed get) to be momentarily confused by the fact that both he and the Hydro guy seemed to want to talk to me, about a tree, the tree, our tree, down in our backyard, the tree that had ripped out our power and telephone lines and something about live wires and… “We’re shutting you off in a few minutes. Then it might be safe to go inside.”
We all trooped back to the car for a minute while I tried to regroup. The kids listened, wide eyed, as I told them to under no circumstances go into the backyard because they could get very badly hurt.
“Or even die?” asked Isaac.
“Or even die,” I said, and his lower lip just started to tremble.
“I could drop you somewhere else for the night,” I told Elizabeth, panics, apologetic for the inconvenience, for at that point being the last possible thing I was sure she needed — “a hotel, or a friend’ s. You could get a good night’s sleep, not have to deal with this.”
“No.” She looked at me like I was insane. “No no. I’m sticking with you guys.”
I exhaled, got us indoors, got a flashlight, got some water into pitchers and candles in candlesticks and children, miraculously, into pajamas. Greg, our saintly next-door-neighbour, ran an extension cord over from his house and offered to hook up the fridge and freezer. The Hydro guy came to the front door to tell me to call an electrician (“I’m not supposed to do this,” he said, naming the name of someone good and available and preapproved) and then call them back when the line was securely fastened to the house. Elizabeth read Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing with Rowan by flashlight (he’d wandered into my room as I lay in the dark (of course in the dark) with an overstimulated Isaac and asked if he could read with us. “I just want… to be with… with people,” he said, softly, and she scooped him off to read in his bedroom, laughing at all the funny bits.)
The kids got to sleep — Rowan with a tea light twinkling on his bookshelf and the promise that I wouldn’t blow it out until he was “really, really okay.” The electrician came over and charged me approximately infinity dollars an hour to repair the lines (in my estimation, worth every penny as he worked from 7:30 until midnight outside in the howling wind), and then Hydro came by (at 8 the next morning, after I dozed on the couch all night assuming they’d show up any second and need to me to let them in) and charged approximately the same amount to hook up our power early the next morning. (It would have been free, they told me, if I wanted to wait until Monday, but the prospect of single parenting with two children on a chilly weekend while hosting a houseguest without electricity: well, what would you do? Exactly. Exactly my friend.) Elizabeth and I made tea via extension cord, and sat up until midnight wrapped in blankets, catching up on several years’ worth of experience (births, deaths, books, loves, houses).
The worstest night ever? “It’s been a wonderful night,” I told my six-year-old, naming off all the people looking out for us, helping us, fixing our house even as we spoke. I talked about his warm, dry bed; the candles twinkling in the darkness; our intact bodies; the food in our bellies and the love around us. And the fact that Elizabeth had a cell phone. “It’s been a great adventure, and a great, great night.”
And, you know, sure: I was talking parent-speak, making the scary manageable for a scared kid. But really, I meant every word.