Friday, February 15, 2013

When Things Get Dicey: Part I (The Wrath of Nemo)

With gargantuan-sized storms in the forecast more and more frequently these days, protecting one's children from harm is taking on a whole new meaning. Last weekend Nemo, the far-reaching blizzard with the same name as a loveable animated clownfish, arrived at this single mother's doorstep with a vengeance.

First came the preparations. The stocking up on food (especially canned goods) and batteries. On Thursday, I combined an appointment "downtown" (a more urban area, relatively speaking) with a visit to Market Basket. Not my MB of choice, though. Let me tell you: The place was PACKED, with not a single shopping cart available. I have never seen so many people in a supermarket in my life! The checkout lines were unreal. Bread lines in the Great Depression came to mind. I felt a sense of panic in the air as people poured in and filled up the aisles in search of provisions. I grabbed one of the few red plastic baskets I could find and dashed about scooping up exactly twelve items so I could go in the express lane. That seemed to be the way to go.

I stopped by again after my appointment. Under normal circumstances, I would have probably had enough time to gather and pay for everything I needed. But in these conditions I was at a loss as to what to do because I had to get back to pick up my boys at school at 3 p.m. So I dashed about collecting another dozen items yet this time found the express line just as long as the other lines. There was no way to bypass the crowd! Meanwhile, I've learned a handy tip at MY MB that I suspect is not well-known. If you load up then have to leave in a hurry -- as is so often the case with parents -- you can ask someone at Customer Service to put your cart or basket in their refrigerated room until you return. The MB I was at that day may also have one of these rooms, but it would have been inconvenient for me to return because I live twentyish minutes away as compared to twelve for my local MB. So I told an employee of my predicament. He courteously took my basket from me, saying he understood and would happily return my selections to the shelves.

I let the boys play after school for a few minutes before we hit the road for my THIRD visit to a grocery store in one day. The boys are rowdy when together, of course, so I avoid taking them shopping when at all possible. Now I had no choice. MB Gloucester was crowded but not excessively so. The lines were long but not excessively so. The customers were focused but not excessively so. I did not feel impending Armageddon as I had in Danvers. We did what we had to do and went home. Among my purchases: two multi-packs of AA batteries to keep our four small handheld flashlights sufficiently powered. (I also have two camping lanterns.) We didn't need water because I still have FIVE unopened gallon containers from the previous giant storm that didn't materialize. And my shovel supply -- three, one for each of us -- was also sufficient. I filled the gas tank of my car on the way home.

The next morning school was canceled, though a single snowflake had not yet fallen from the sky. With talk on the TV news about Nemo reaching fever pitch, I felt somehow unprepared, if you can believe that. So I dragged the boys
out AGAIN -- my fourth visit to a food store in two days -- to pick up orange juice, another gallon container of milk, and canned vegetables. (I hate canned vegetables.) Was I going CRAZY? It hadn't occurred to me that I needed two gallons of milk (actually more because wiry Charlie drinks 2 percent while Chris and I consume fat free) until I saw someone on the news with a ridiculous amount of milk in his cart. Then again it would be awful to run out if we were snowed in for days at a time. I could just hear my sons complaining about no milk for their cereal and, horror of horrors, don't get me started on how cranky I could get if I had to make hot chocolate with water instead of milk!

The storm started later that day. I was on the phone at 11 p.m. when I heard a loud BOOM behind my house. Immediately, my lights went out. Here we go! I thought. My bestie camping lantern was in the next room. I could find it in the dark. I was ready, if a bit nervous what the next few days would bring.

The power was still out come Saturday morning. Christopher, who has been camping with me for years, had the brilliant idea to pack refrigerator items with snow in our cooler. I thanked my pragmatic nine year old and went to work, though in actuality I was not too worried about food spoilage anytime soon since my downstairs was as good as outside cold. (With the radiant heat going kaput this winter, I have fancied myself the hardy caretaker of a quaint, weathered shingle summer home on Nantucket instead of the annoyed, corner-cutting owner of a lemon pre-fab willing to suffer New England in February brought indoors to save a few bucks. True, I can get away with it because the downstairs is my enclave; the boys sleep upstairs.) Almost as soon as I'd finished my cooler masterpiece and posted a photo of it on Facebook, the electricity came back on. Something like two minutes later, it was out again. Two more times during the day transformers blew like not-so-distant gunshots, followed closely behind by power outages. Let's just say: I wasn't holding my breath that I'd be able to use the microwave by dinnertime!

Feelin' like a yo-yo, Nemo!

Meanwhile, the snow was piling up, and the wind was howling. I could open the back door -- a relief, indeed, since I am old enough to remember snowstorms from my Connecticut childhood that rendered our front and back doors blocked and frozen shut. The man who plows our small, private cul-de-sac and its three driveways had already come twice. Ka-Ching! A $60 bill for me thus far. But that didn't mean my driveway was clear. Far from it! The plow driver has to work in fairly tight quarters, which can be a problem with something like two feet of snow on the ground already. I ventured out to have a look. Just as I suspected: a large snowbank behind my car, another on the side of the driveway (and too far into my path for the car to clear when I backed out), and too much snow on the pavement for me to ensure not getting stuck. I went inside and enlisted the boys' help.

We shoveled and shoveled and shoveled. They slid down the side snowbank on a plastic saucer. Charlie, age 6, got too much snow inside his boots and went inside. Christopher and I attempted a snowman in the back yard. We found our building material too light and fluffy for packing, and we sunk too deep to gain proper footing. Before dark, I cross-country skied around the yard and street on skis my parents bought me in 1978, the year of Boston's most infamous snowstorm.

The power had stayed on since mid-afternoon. That was the good news. The bad? The house was becoming increasingly cold. Remember I told you I had no heat downstairs BEFORE the storm? Well, the lower level was now warmer than the upper level. The antiquated thermostat had conked out but had not come back on with the resumption of power. I couldn't check the temperature upstairs. I tried to chalk up my chill to getting cold outside and/or the fact that it's just a cold house, period. Deep down I suspected we'd lost heat, but I was in denial. I didn't want to believe it; I wasn't ready to admit it. The boys were managing well snuggling together under fleece blankets watching movies and playing on Christopher's new iPod. Meantime, I coped by donning a cap and layer after layer of clothing before drinking mug after mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows.

Heading out again to fetch that second gallon of fat-free milk turned out to be a BRILLIANT idea!

Sunday was going to be busy. I had to prepare for my Monday memoir-writing class, and I wanted to get the boys to Bradford Mountain to enjoy the phenomenal new snow on skis. There was no time to be stuck in the house waiting for the heating guy to arrive! In case you're wondering: yes, I have my priorities straight. In a matchup of skiing vs. heat, I choose skiing.

By the time we left for the ski area, I could see my breath inside the house. My pen barely worked, and my handwriting looked like a second grader's. But come hell or high water -- or the Arctic or high snow, as it were -- we would make it to the slopes if it was the last thing we did!

We arrived mid-afternoon and ate lunch. Extremely late arrivals like us can ski for only $15 a person starting at 3 p.m., I learned. (Closing time is 4:30 on Sundays.) Fantastic. I rented Charlie some skis and Christopher a helmet and off we went to the faraway Learning Area. We didn't have enough time to explore more of the mountain. Plus, we needed a meltdown-free experience to make up for Charlie's ill-fated adventure the last time here when he wore his brother's too-long skis on an intermediate run. (My bad.)

Only problem: Charlie could not get INTO his skis! WTF? It reminded me of two years ago when he was just starting out and had trouble holding his foot still and straight long enough to fit the toe of his boot into the top of the binding AND pushing his foot down hard enough to snap the back section of binding around his boot. Yet this issue seemed different. His boot extended too far back across the binding. The mountain was beginning to clear out, but I saw a ski instructor in her ubiquitous red parka close by and called her over. Sure enough, the boot didn't fit the binding, she said. Argh. Charlie had first tried on size 2 boots. The bindings on a pair of skis were adjusted accordingly. In typical fashion, he then changed his mind, deciding the boots were too small. So we exchanged them for size 3s, but the rental staff forgot to refit the bindings.

I hustled back to the rental building with the skis and explained the situation. The bindings were readjusted, and I trudged back across the mountain to where the boys waited for me. About fifteen minutes had been lost all told. It was 3:40 p.m. by the time we took our first ride on the rope tow. Charlie was in a good mood and skied well. Toward the end of our fifty minutes, Christopher asked to go off on his own, which I allowed. The Learning Area is very small, so my nine year old would be skiing literally adjacent to our run. Though he wore dark clothing, he was fairly easy to pick out among the other skiers. At that late hour, there weren't too many anyway.

We went back to the lodge for a snack after the lifts closed. I was happy with our brief visit yet a tad annoyed about the bindings snafu that cost us valuable time. As I returned the equipment, I brought it up with the rental staff. They referred me to the ski area's manager. I found him back at the lodge. He acknowledged his employees' neglect in rechecking the bindings and, to make up for it, handed me a full-day ski pass worth $45! That seemed very fair, so I thanked him.

Bradford Mountain: two thumbs up.

Meanwhile, dreading reentering my igloo (I mean, house), I delayed the inevitable by taking the boys out to dinner. Still, I couldn't procrastinate forever. I had to deal with the very strong possibility I had no heat. I needed to contact my heating oil company and make an appointment for the next morning. However, I was also supposed to teach the next morning. I didn't expect that the community center where my class is held would be closed since it doesn't have to follow public-school closings. But if my town's schools were closed, I'd have a problem because I would have no child care. Though I knew he would not be pleased, it would be okay to take Christopher to class;  it would be another story altogether bringing rambunctious Charlie. I tried that once before in desperation, and it did not go well. (Enough said.) Final answer: Charlie was NOT coming with me.

Good ol' trusty Facebook. I put out a call for a playdate for my younger son. No one responded by bedtime. Waking up the next morning, I decided to postpone class. My students had previously been flexible. I hoped they would be again. Surely, they would understand my predicament. When I checked Facebook again, I found an offer of a playdate. Terrific. But I'd already made my decision.

The overworked heating guy arrived in the late morning and stayed two to three hours. He succeeded in getting the heat circulating upstairs (yes, it had shut down!) and downstairs (first time this winter!), and he replaced the nonfunctional thermostat. I was shocked to see the Aprilaire he installed reading 43 DEGREES! Indeed, we had been living indoors under outdoor February conditions, minus the wind!

Winter camping, anyone?!

The temperature rose gradually throughout the day. After lunch I whisked the boys off first to the library then second to the community center we belong to for some basketball and swimming, as I didn't care to stick around to watch the number increase one degree at a time. That would have been tantamount to watching grass grow. When we returned home at twilight, the thermostat read 56 degrees -- practically Florida weather! -- and not far off my set temp of 62.

The boys had school the following morning, and I could finally relax in a warm (relatively speaking) house with electricity. It had been a stressful four days, though it was punctuated by many joyful periods -- watching and listening to my boys play nicely together both in the house and snow and skiing and eating out with them. Since I had impressed upon them that we were in a tense situation, they did not give me the usual grief of fighting. I had my hands full dealing with the effects of Nemo and needed them to cooperate, and they most assuredly did. For that, I am most grateful.

Coping with an emergency -- even one with the silliest of names -- stretches a single mother but does not defeat her.

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