Modern Family Power Outages

I admit it, I’m a technology junkie. I’m just shy of a 12-step program for techno-geeks, but I haven’t hit bottom yet. This power outage due to our Halloween Eve snowstorm almost put me over the edge if it hadn’t been for a few bars left on my iphone. My computer is my sole  lifeline to the outside world 5 days a week at work plus the sporadic customers who wander into the showroom. One day last month I was so bored that I carried on a long-distant conversation with the Freight Quote guy who calls me periodically from somewhere in the mid-west!

Power went out on Saturday night at my house. I survived the night in the cold house, then proceeded to turn on (and then back off) the light switches in each room every time I entered, then cursed my forgetfulness that the electricity was out. I charged up my essential iphone using my 2 portable chargers, and ran out of my last drop of juice in the middle of the next night when my white noise app. abruptly shut off, startling me from my fitful sleep. It was a long, too-quiet rest-of-the-night for me! The lessons I learned from 2.5 days without electricity are: 1. I need to get a backup heat source in the house, 2. I need a gas-fired water heater, and 3. I have to buy several more battery backups for my electronics, not necessarily in that order.

Don’t get me wrong…I was able to deal with the primitive living. I took a cold shower, ate lukewarm leftover food heated on the gas stove, dressed in 10 layers of clothes, and played board games instead of watching TV. I was happy to see my kids enjoying themselves and not whining about the lack of TV and computers, and even heard a statement by my 12 year-old daughter who said “I like not having electricity,” and wished I’d gotten that on my iphone video, but I wouldn’t have had enough charge anyway.

I reminded her of that several times in the last 2 days since we’ve been back on the grid, but it seems like a distant memory to her. She’s back to her music, texting her friends on her phone, and has found her old friend The Sims3   computer game, much to her two mothers’ dismay! I don’t get it. I didn’t get it when my oldest daughter was hooked on the original Sims game and I’m in the dark now too. It never interested me to watch soap operas, and this just seems like the same thing except it’s electronic. Being on the outside peering in to virtual lives seems pointless to me, but maybe that’s because I have enough real drama in my life.

My wife and I debate the computer issue weekly, as I walk the fine line of defending some limited use while she teeters on the cliff, ready to throw the computers/TVs and phones to their gruesome death. As much as it bothers me to have my kids engaged in the computer to the point that they don’t hear me (my boy), or argue about getting off when time is up (again, same boy), or try to bargain for more usage or debate the fairness of time (youngest daughter who will be a lawyer someday), or my 12 year-old who is addicted to the Sims, I can justify their use with the many good things that one can get from technology. However, having to oversee that use every day usually falls to my wife, who can see no redeeming values in them when the frustration of negotiating said allotment of time slaps her in the face in loud and annoying ways.

My kids managed to live without power for 2 whole days. Now, with 3 days so far of no school, they can’t seem to live without it. It’s not like they don’t do other things…sports every season, instrument playing for everyone with daily practicing, homework, reading, church on Sundays, Boy Scouts for the son…but it’s now become such an integral part of their lives and mine, that they feel punished when they can’t partake of the activity. How to find balance…

Each generation of kids that are born have their crosses to bear. My parents grew up in the shadow of the depression, not remembering it vividly but seeing it daily in the habits of their parents. My grandparents saved their money well, made sure that their kids didn’t suffer as they had with food rations, power outages, fears of war or the lack of essentials including medicines and sometimes urgent surgeries. They knew what hardship was all about and carefully and deliberately imparted that to their kids. My generation, born in the 1960’s were very young and naive to most of what was happening around them as children. I neither suffered nor thought much about the ramifications of the Vietnam War, and was only mildly affected by the execution of 2 Kennedy’s and MLK, and I hardly remember that war except through stories and movies.

I grew up as a “normal” kid in a small town in MA in the 1960’s. I lived with my parents and 3 sisters in a middle-class home in a mostly middle-class town, with grandparents nearby and a few cousins not too far away. My two sets of grandparents visited often or we visited them in nearby Cranston, RI, where both of my parents grew up. It was an implied notion that family came first, hard work and volunteer work came next, then music and academic studies before “fun” began. I imagined that every kid lived their life as I did, or basically the same, with a few minor differences.

It wasn’t until I was around seven or eight that I realized that my mother’s parents were different. They were both deaf. My grandmother had gotten scarlet fever when she was 5 or so, and with hearing aids could hear dull sounds. She also had experienced sound before she became deaf, so she was able to speak much more clearly and appropriately for the setting, whatever it may be. My grandfather, who had contracted meningitis as a baby was profoundly deaf, and a sweet, loving gentle soul who I loved dearly. He spoke in a hoarse, loud, somewhat crude way, not as easily understood, nor accepted in most “polite” society. I witnessed the stares and giggling when I happened to be out in public with them although I think my grandparents were oblivious or didn’t care. For a child, and a sensitive one at that, it was embarrassing and made me feel like I was constantly looked at as one of the “different” ones.

A few years later, when I was around 10, I remember waiting for my parents for what felt like 4 hot hours with my sisters in the blue family station wagon at a hospital parking lot. I did not know that this day would be the beginning of a life that my family would now and forever after know as “living with M.S.” The sight of my father with a leg brace built into his big brown man-who-works-in-an-office shoe solidified that in stone.

From my 10 year-old self on, I began dreaming of another life for me and my family. I lay in my bed every night before I fell asleep and cried for the dad that I was losing. I prayed to the only “God” that I knew and asked him to help my dad and make him well. I day-dreamed about finding a magic ring and getting three wishes for anything I wanted. I never needed more than one wish- it was to have magic powers whenever I wore the ring. Subsequent wishes would remedy the loss or theft of the ring and render it powerless to do evil. I had it all worked out in my child mind…until I was forced to grow up quickly and take on roles that an adult should own, at 14 years old. I was no longer a sheltered child. I knew what was going on and nothing was hidden from me.

My dad had declined in 4 years from a leg brace to a cane, to 2 canes, then a walker, to a motorized cart and a strong assistant, to a wheelchair, an electric wheelchair, then primarily a bed. When I went off to college at 18, he had daily home health aids and required an assistant and a hydraulic lift to get in and out of his bed. My mother continued to work as a piano teacher out of our home and directed the choir at her church, but otherwise, she was his nurse full-time.

To adjust to the constant loss of physical function was a devastating transition for a once active, energetic man. He was forced to retire from his job as an electrical design engineer at Texas Instruments and was now isolated at home. Anger was an abundant emotion in all of our lives, and often observed and acted out, but rarely spoken of in honest terms. My dad was angry at his losses, and rightfully so, and my mother was angry at her loss of self and the tremendous gain/burden/death-do-you part sense of responsibility. For me-and I can’t speak for my sisters-I was angry most because my dad and I had a special bond that was now shattered. It revolved around the things that he loved most besides us, working on his Model A Ford, his Ben Franklin Clock business, and tinkering on inventions in our basement. He no longer was able to walk, and doing it on stairs was an impossible feat. Instead, I was his hands and eyes. I fixed things that he’d previously expertly fixed when they broke, I did all of the “man” chores in the yard and house, and I continued to fulfill the orders for his clock business until I had no parts left to make the clocks. All of our anger seeped out around the edges of just about every interaction we had with each other and was responsible for  shaping the person who I have become.

I feel very fortunate that my life has taken most of the twists and turns that it has. I’ve been able to meet the challenges that have been hurled at me and believe that I am a stronger and better person because of it. I would never wish a life of pain, emotional or physical on anyone, but I do believe that everything happens for a reason. My kids do not know real hardship or challenges. They will think that they have it rough at times, and that their parents are too tough on them when they obviously disagree with our decisions, but they have had a pretty easy life so far. Isn’t that what all parents hope for?

Last night while watching the hilarious Modern Family TV show, the almost college-bound Haley was trying to write a college essay, but was having trouble with the question “what’s the biggest obstacle that you’ve ever had to overcome?” She couldn’t think of anything and went on to blame her parents for making her life too easy. Her mom, in response, took her for a drive to “show her something” that she felt her daughter “now needed to know.” In a clever ruse, she got her daughter to get out of the car to go and “read what’s carved on that tree,” and then left her 17 yr.old stranded on a deserted road with no cell phone or money so that she’d have something to write about! The show is a sitcom, so there wasn’t any scary outcome to worry about, but it managed to highlight this feeling that I’ve been having about my kids and their simple, uncomplicated lives filled with ease.

I just hope that someday, somehow, they will appreciate all that they’ve gotten in life and that some lessons will be learned. If growing up in a 2-mom home is their biggest challenge, then I hope the positive role modeling that they receive from all of the people who are important in their lives will enable them to become wonderful adults! So far I have 2 who have made it, three more to go!

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