What do you get when you cross extended power outages with PMS and an adolescent?
Answer: Rock bottom in the family version of “Survivor.”
I bet the contestants on that show turn against each other too when the going gets rough. Which is why none of us should take our apocalyptic family meltdown too personally.
Even if I did scream, “Casey, Casey, CASEY!” when my husband ran up the stairs after our teenager.
After he told his father to “Shut up!”
After his father yelled at him to “Knock if off!”
After he punched the water cooler.
After I screamed “NOOOOOOOOO!” at the top of my lungs when he asked me for the zillionth time if he could go to a friend’s house.
What is it about a 13 year old’s brain that makes him persist around the absurd and obvious? Who the heck is supposed to drive him to a friend’s house on wire strewn roads when both his parents are bumping around the kitchen in the dark trying to find the matches to relight the stove to the heat the chili that was prepared in a crockpot and cooked at work where they had electricity?
And what about timing? Don’t kids have any? Is it a good time to ask about a friend’s house when your father just came up from the pond where he had to break through the ice for the fourth day in a row to get water to flush the toilet? Is it a good time to ask after he just announced that all our frozen food on the porch was beginning to defrost?
“WE ARE ON SURVIVOR!” I want to scream, “Get with the program!” (Aren’t we supposed to be able to kick people off this show?)
And what about the audacity of an adolescent in the face of crisis? How can he give us attitude about being asked to bring in some extra wood for the stove? Where does he get off offering his opinion? “There’s enough wood,” he counters, as he drops himself onto the couch to rest while his father and I attempt to wash dishes by candlelight.
Our neighbor Bob shows up at our home right after this family drama runs its course. The void of energy in the house is palpable, and I’m not talking about the electricity.
We are all drained- even our eight-year old who was only a witness, asking, “Mom is there anything I can do to help?” Aidan takes this opportunity to add, “I know it was hard to hear Lloyd ask you that same question over and over after you already said– No–but maybe you could not yell. It’s scary.”
Later gathered in my bed by candlelight, the boys and I decompress the evening while my husband makes another thirty- minute trip to town to pick up the ice that he forgot on his way home from work. The poor-timing of this forgetfulness was the initial tipping point of the whole tragic evening.
Our resident emotional intelligence expert, Aidan, at the tender age of 8, helps us all talk about the feelings we’ve stuffed. He responds to me with trademark compassion. “So you feel sad and angry that Dad chased Lloyd,” he acknowledges.
“Yes,” I say, and then turn toward him to ask,”How did it feel for you?”
“I was disappointed and a little scared,” he says.
“How about you, Lloyd? ” I ask my teenager, hoping he’ll join the conversation. His long body is stretched out opposite me at the foot of my bed while Aidan is in tucked beside me. “I felt surprised,” Lloyd says. “Dad was so fast and loud coming up the stairs.”
We talk a bit more and it’s clear by the tightness in Lloyd’s voice that these days without friends and media has taken its toll on his peer-oriented teen heart. “I can’t go to bed another night at 8:30,” he almost whimpers. We all exhale. It’s been a demanding week.
Aidan takes this lightening of the energy as a sign he can shift our attention. He wants to read a poem from his school collection and wants us to guess the student author. The first one is about war and to my surprise; it’s Lloyd’s.
In a flash I realize just how much is going on inside my thirteen year old son, and with a pang, I wonder just how much I miss.
The night winds down softly with several rounds of poetry guessing as the book is passed from Aidan to Lloyd to me and around again. Tonight’s meltdown on the heels of an ice storm has opened the way for poetry. And everyone is still on the show. Though my husband took so long in town that we began to worry.
After he refills the coolers with ice, he joins us in bed as we begin the next ritual of these long nights without power. Tonight’s game is PIT and there’s a nice release of energy with all that shouting. By the time Aidan is tucked in his own bed, we are all smiling.
Lloyd settles in between his father and me as I pick up where we left off the night before with the novel, Three Cups of Tea. On a typical evening, Lloyd would be in his own room with the door closed, plugged into his Ipod or connecting with friends on FaceBook. But now, he can’t enough of this time together and begs, “Just one more chapter” before his father tucks him into bed.
The wind and the sound of crashing trees makes it hard to sleep that night, and then Survivor begins again at sunrise as the boys get dressed for school by flashlight.
I rummage through the coolers on the porch to put together lunches and Casey heads back to the pond for water. Despite the sweet ending to the evening before, Lloyd displays such a flamboyant sluggishness in response to each request that I am quickly disgusted with him. The morning ends so badly between us that I don’t even ask for a hug goodbye. And I don’t even care.
Until a few moments later. From my kitchen sink where I wash the breakfast dishes in an inch of precious water, I can see my boys waiting for the bus at the bottom of the road and my anger melts.
I remember that today is the opening game of the basketball season for Lloyd. In fact, it’s the first thing he said to me when I woke him up this morning “I don’t think I can remember all the plays,” he told me. And I just rushed him along.
With soapy hands, I run to the door at the last minute to yell down, “Have a good game, Lloyd!” But the bus drowns out my voice.
For a moment, I stand there, holding the door ajar, heart wide open, while my boys pull away. This is a feeling that I know I will get to practice much more before my sons finally bump me– from their show.
Kelly Salasin, 2008
To read other posts on the dramatic 2008 Ice Storm, click below: