Power and Control
Posted on August 6th, 2013
Marcel did not enjoy the power outage.
I wish I could tell you that it was at least fun and games when it all started—that at least when the sun was still high in the sky and the house went quiet at 3:30 in the afternoon, Marcel found our unexpected trip back in time to rediscover some of the rustic joys we once treasured as a society (because, well, there wasn’t a whole lot else going on) magical. Sadly, this was not the case.
From the moment our electronics and appliances collectively clicked off, Marcel began to dread nightfall. The weather was fine and there were hours before bedtime, I blithely told him; there was no way the lights would still be off then! He must have known something I didn’t—sensed an absence of current so profound or a silence that signified the true extent of our power’s retreat. After a two-hour excursion designed to distract the people living inside our house while giving those outside an opportunity to restore service, we returned to find all as we had left it, if a shade hotter.
We called the power company (twice). We lit candles. We developed concerns about the sufficiency of our candle supply and so went out to buy more. None of these preparations—despite being coupled with the kind of forced brightness and unflagging enthusiasm for the novelty of our situation that should have been enough to light up every room in the house without the help of an outside energy source—lifted Marcel’s spirits. Finally, even the weather turned against us, shifting to align itself with our son’s mood. It was stormy outside to complement the despondency inside, like a Bronte novel without any of the good parts.
How would we read at bedtime? Marcel wanted to know. Candles weren’t cozy they were just…strange. How would sleep ever come if the familiar routes by which it travelled were altered?
There was nothing we could do to make our changed circumstances more appealing to Marcel because it was really change itself that he found so objectionable. Unexpected turns catch us unawares. As a parent, I fall into the trap of trying to err on the side of routine. Keeping things managed even on a loose schedule keeps our children comfortable and, together, we enjoy the beautiful illusion of control and the perks that come along with it: less emotional upheaval, say, or a perfectly respectable bedtime.
But I am the woman behind that curtain and I will confess that too much orchestrating can develop about it the sulfurous smell of deception. Sometimes the store doesn’t have the bread you like best for your sandwich, the friend you waited all week to play with doesn’t show up because their parent is a flake or the power goes out before bedtime. These things—and so very many others—are simply beyond our control. And while this is something I may be loath to teach my children because it is inconvenient or uncomfortable for me, it does not mean that this is a lesson they do not dearly need to learn.∗