When the snow started, it was beautiful. I was safe and warm in a conference hotel in the suburbs, and my children were playing happily and reading books with their grandparents at home, oblivious to the storm and thundersnow outdoors. My husband was away in Palm Springs with men and women who study Saturn, and he marveled at our snow as he sat nestled in a grove of orange trees, connected to me by cell phone and our wonder at the day.
But the snow continued, and the sheer weight of it dragged down the branches onto power lines throughout the Metro area. The power lines sagged, and broke, and the cable lines came down with them, and the entire area was blanketed with a mix of snow and ice and world-weary branches, and the lines that used to connect us to the outside world were broken.
My cell phone rang, and I heard my parents on other end, telling me that the children were cold, the house had lost power, and asking me what to do. We packed them off to a hotel, my husband and I, and there we all sat all afternoon and night on Thursday, a family divided among three hotel rooms, separated by miles and more than miles, and we worried.
So many families worried that night. Kim’s husband was many hours late getting home, having taken three Metro buses and walking much of the way from downtown. Others arrived in the wee hours of the morning – or even later, having taken refuge at the office, or having spent hour after hour in the car, caught on their way home from Costco or the office or the grocery store. One by one, The DC Moms checked in online, sharing their stories and worries, and then the floodgates opened and so many were there to keep Kim and the others company during the long wait for their loved ones to arrive home. Friends kept @delora company on twitter, as she tweeted to stave off boredom as she waited and waited for traffic to move as the snow continued and people downtown abandoned their cars.
Overnight, spouses arrived home and families were reunited, only to lose power as the snow came down and the branches sagged over the lines, dragging the mood with them. Amy and Jess and Andrea checked in, telling friends they were ok – safe, with their families – but without power, so updates would be sparse.
I don’t know that anyone blogged that night.
But something happened that day. As the morning went on and the power didn’t, one by one The DC Moms offered each other shelter. First a guest room and then a couch, the offers poured in from Virginia, from Maryland, and from the close-in burbs, and anyone without power could have her pick of places to stay, with friends, and wine, and playdates.
No one would be left in the cold. All one had to do was ask, or simply accept the help that was being offered, freely and with no expectation of return.
As my husband left California and I left my hotel to drive home to my children, the wind blew and there were icy patches underfoot, but I was confident that if I got stuck along the way, I had friends I could call on to pull me out of whatever jam befell me, and I smiled.
Our neighborhood was hard-hit, with power lines and cable lines strewn across the streets and branches fallen like so many soldiers by the wayside, and we ducked as we drove back to check the house on Saturday morning. Our way was blocked by fallen trees once, and the snowplow’s work was incomplete, so we made a tight turn to return the way we came, single-file. The lines concerned me most, however, and I worried — and then a branch above us caught fire, like so much kindling, resting against the open power line.
We were home only briefly, gathering clean clothes and snacks from the pantry, and then C. found me downstairs, staring at the aquarium. It was 51 degrees, nearly twenty degrees too low for my guppy brood, and they stared at me dully, not moving, just floating quietly as their water threatened to turn to ice.
We took the time to do a partial water change, suctioning cold water out and pouring hot water in, in hopes that we could perk up a few of the little ones, some the third generation of the guppies that we had first bought last August, when I knew that I would be confined to the house during the last weeks of chemo. We tried to help them — and then we hedged our bets, taking a dozen baby fish with us to the hotel in a bucket. It was simple to catch them, really — they didn’t move, there, floating at the top of the cold water.
All through the night and the next day we warmed up that bucket with water from the hotel’s tap, muted with the dechlorination chemical, and we kept an eye on them. It may have been futile, sure, but at least we tried — we tried — to save the pets in our care.
The power came back on, and we started the laundry, and life began to return to normal.
The fish survived, and we’re all back home, grateful for the little things, like light, and heat, and friendship.
The top story on CNN right now begins, “The start of a new year can be stressful. The parties… But never fear. Smartphone apps will hold your hand through the whole confetti-splashed ordeal, from midnight Friday through those 2011 resolutions.”
Yeah. Thanks but no thanks. My smartphone will be OFF this New Year’s Eve when we’re out with friends. (Well, I say “out with friends” like we’re partyhopping, but what I mean is “over at a friend’s house sipping cranberry ginger ales and helping all our kids build the lego sets they got for Christmas.”) We’re going to savor every moment with family and friends, and look them in the eye — not at the tops of their heads while we alternate texting.
And then, after the kiddos are tucked warm in their beds, I probably will take to twitter to wish my friends-inside-the-computer a wonderful time and a wonderful year, and then snuggle up with my sweetie to watch a DVD and talk about our plans for the year.
Without our iPhones.
Do I want smartphone apps to hold my hand through the whole confetti-splashed ordeal? Nope, not me. I want my sweetie to hold my hand. How about you?
Edit: If you’re out partying tonight and find yourself without a designated driver, the cab4me (free) app will help you call a cab quickly and easily. USE IT if you need it. Or use it now and write down the phone numbers, so you can easily call if you’re out late partying and everyone has been drinking. Please? Please. Life is too precious to take chances on whether you’re “good enough” to drive home.