The “power” of family

Last week, the Northeast got knocked out by Tropical Storm Isaias and we were left without power for five days and internet for six. While we waited for restoration, I still had to work, so after a day of difficult working situations, we decided to head out to my grandmother’s house in PA for a little visit and to have the benefit of air conditioning and internet for a few days. The time reminded me of childhood stays there, waking up with coffee and breakfast together, and the boys having more time with family then they had in a while.

We, like perhaps the rest of NJ, drastically underestimated the strength and impact of the tropical storm. Heading into it, we really only expected some heavy rain and a bit of wind. In reality, we got heavy rain for almost two hours and then incredibly strong wind for around an hour. Neither seemed incredibly bad, but apparently the combination of both with a pretty dry summer so far and poor advanced preparation from utility companies who have do almost no tree trimming and power line maintenance this year resulted in tons of trees getting knocked over directly onto lines and substations. On a run in the State Forrest near us this weekend, I found a dozen or so fairly major trees down. Along with another thunderstorm over the weekend and COVID related restrictions on work crews, plus apparently some harassment of the utility workers in our town, restoration was delayed time and again, so we ended up without power for nearly a week, longer than Sandy or Irene.

For the first full day of power outage, we made due at home. The boys’ school closed as they also lost power, so we had all three kids at home with no form of electronic entertainment while I attempted to work. I couldn’t get to many of my real work tools because my laptop couldn’t get online, so I was limited primarily to email and messages on my iPad which thankfully I upgraded to an LTE version with Google FI data only earlier in the summer. Without this I would have had to just take days off. With an instable cellular connection, it seemed like the entire town was overloading the cell networks, I had to join meetings over the phone itself, meaning I couldn’t see team members or do screen sharing. It made me appreciate how much better video and sharing capabilities have made remote work in recent years. We survived the day and made it to night with an evening spent in candlelight on the deck playing Phase 10, harkening back to the old days when we would do the same during power outages.

The next morning, when school was canceled and expected to be so through the weekend, and our power company provided an update that it would be up to five more days for restoration, we decided to head to my grandmother’s house in Pennsylvania to get power, internet, and keep her company. She’s been on her own for most of COVID and we haven’t been able to see her as much as we would have liked during the lockdown. Heading out there took nearly an entire day of packing. We took just about every electronic device we have in the house to charge there as well as a ton of things for the boys to keep them entertained and comfortable in a new environment. While they have had plenty of experience sleeping in new places when we used to travel pre-COVID, it’s been a while now, so we knew sleeping in a different locale would be a challenge for them, and a little bit scary.

This did worry me a bit about our upcoming week at the shore. We nearly filled the car with stuff for a few days away, how would we deal with all the stuff we would need for a full week plus all the beach gear? In reality, we certainly overpacked, as half of the stuff never really made it out of bags. Still, it turned out to be a good thing to have some of their comfort items because the first night they had a rough time going to sleep in a new bedroom. At first they didn’t like the pictures that were up, but after 20 minutes explaining that they were all of various family members they love, they changed their tune to saying how much they liked each one. Then they didn’t like the light placement, so I had to do some rearranging, and it turned out to be a good thing we brought one of their night lights. Finally, they went to sleep and ended up saying that it was a great adventure.

The best part of the stay was the time with family, something we haven’t had as much of since COVId began, and even honestly since the boys were born. We have been busy with all the things life has thrown at us, and while we are lucky to be relatively close to our families, we don’t see them as often as we could. I have great memories from time spent at my grandmother’s house as a kid, chasing fireflies, playing in the yard, and running around with all the family dogs. I want our children to have the same fond connection to family and remember the good fun times together. So getting this extra time there with their great-grandmother, as well as my parents, was great to build up those happy connections.

Our visits to grandmother’s house typically involve a single day visit from the early afternoon to early evening as it takes about 1.5 hours to get there and home. This means we miss the morning and the evening there. One thing I really enjoyed during the lockdown was heading there one day when we didn’t have an urgent need to get home early before bedtime, and were able to let the boys stay up until it got dark to see the fireflies. I vividly recall this from my childhood there and loved sharing the same experience with them. During our stay, we got to experience this each night, plus something I haven’t had in years, a morning spent with grandma. I can’t recall the last time, if ever, I was able to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee in grandma’s sunny kitchen overlooking the birds. We even saw a hummingbird one morning.

As a kid, we used to spend a lot of weekends at my grandparents and quite a few overnight visits too. The boys were lucky to have all four great-parents on my side still with us when born, and got some formative time with my grandfather for their first couple of years. However, we lost him about three years ago now, and it pains me that they don’t recognize him in photos now without being reminded. I don’t want the same for any of the rest of my family, so every minute they can spend playing with and enjoying time with their great-grandmother is precious to me. I hope they remember every moment showing her their bridge contraptions and discussing the birds together.

In the end, our power came back on and our internet was restored before the end of the week, so we decided to get back home. I’m thankful for even the short visit we got to have together thanks to the power outage. The boys had a great adventure they are still talking about and we all got some bonus time with our family as a result. After this, I plan to spend far more time with our family together and ensure the boys get to maximize time with their relatives, even when the power isn’t out.

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