Happiness is a toilet that flushes...and other thoughts on post-hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene wasn’t so bad. Really.  We’re lucky that the previous owners installed a state of the art generator which powers pretty much the entire house (except for the dishwasher and washing machine). We’re on well water, so if the power went out and we didn’t have a backup source of electricity, we’d be screwed.

The first few days went smoothly. I heard the generator kick in at about 4:30 am Sunday morning, as the winds pelted our house and the rain flooded down. The cable went out at about 10 am, but we still had our cell phones and radios to connect us to the outside world, so we felt okay. Geoffrey came down with the mysterious bug Jo Jo had had for the past week, but his temperature didn’t spike up like I feared it might, so there were no panicked trips to the ER post hurricane. Even the fact that I came down with the same virus on Tuesday and developed a fever of 103 didn’t bother me so much.

On Wednesday, we started hearing rumblings of power returning to north Stamford. I hadn’t seen any utility crews in our neighborhood, so I figured it would take a few more days.

Then, Wednesday night, our generator ran out of propane.

I was in the living room reading the New York Times when I noticed the lights flicking on and off. The generator was making sounds like a dying cow. I shrieked so loudly Jamie came running out of our bedroom in his underwear. At first he was irritated I’d panicked, but then once he realized the gravity of the situation—no air conditioning in our room or ability to charge our cell phones or computers—he was outside banging on the generator and howling.

It was no good. The generator sputtered a few times and died, plunging our property into bleak blackness.

We stared at each other in horror. The faint chime of our neighbors’ generators in the background taunted us. Evidently they were smart enough to make sure their propane tanks were full before the hurricane. Finally Jamie stumbled into the house and got us flashlights, and the two of us climbed down the hill to our propane tank and called the emergency number for our propane company. A half hour later, a very nice technician named Eduardo called us back. It was rough going, since he didn’t seem to speak much English, and Jamie can’t speak Spanish, but the gist of it was  Eduardo was reassuring my husband that the propane company would be at our house sometime in the next few days. When, he couldn’t say exactly.

I started to shake when Jamie told me the news. “What are we going to do?” I asked. “We can’t live without power. How am I going to flush the toilet? Maybe we should go stay at my parents' house in Amherst.”

Jamie smirked and headed back towards the house. “Maybe it will help you develop better bladder control,” he said. One of my husband’s biggest complaints about me is my frequent use of the bathroom. I have a teeny tiny bladder and am always making Jamie pull over on road trips or whenever we’re out somewhere with the kids to make pit stops.

“Where are you going?” I yelled.

“To go take a shower,” he shot back.

 “Nyah, nyah,” I said in my best four year old voice, sticking my tongue out at him. “We don’t have any water! We’re on a well system, don’t you remember?”

 He stopped in his tracks. “Oh s—t,” he said, wiping his hand across his forehead.

Our blackout didn’t bother Teddy and Jo Jo, who slept blissfully on, and it didn’t bother Geoffrey, who kept up his routine of around the clock nursing. At one point, Geoffrey lost his glow in the dark pacifier, which apparently isn’t so glow in the dark because it took me about a half hour to find it. By that point, he was an inconsolable, shrieking mess, and it took another hour to wind him down. He drifted off into dreamland at 4 am and I lay awake trying not to think about how much I had to go to the bathroom. But it’s inevitable—the less you try to think about it, the more you feel you have to go, and finally I caved in.

 The next morning, I stumbled into the kitchen bleary eyed only to realize I couldn’t make any coffee. There’s nothing worse than constantly feeling the urge to pee than feeling the urge to pee when severely sleep deprived. “This is an unsustainable situation,” I said to Jamie. I went outside to try to call the propane company, but the line was constantly busy and when I finally got through on my cell phone (with its dying battery) the woman kept saying, ‘Hello! Hello! I can’t hear you!’ and hanging up.

Then the unthinkable happened. I realized I had to do a number two.

This really stumped me. I wracked my brain to think of a solution, but I couldn’t think of any. I supposed I could discretely go into our bathroom and close the door, but I worried that the heat would really make things stink and it could be days before power came back. Maybe I could take the kids and squat somewhere outside? But that seemed so gross and besides, I was trying to potty train both Teddy and Jo Jo and I didn’t want them to get confused. They already saw Ivry squatting in the bushes. I could just see Teddy pointing at me and going around telling everyone “Mama make poopy like Wee-Wee (Ivry) outside” and then I’d never live it down. The other possibility was letting Jamie watch the kids for a few minutes while I ran over to our neighbors, who had a generator. But what could I possibly say to them at 7:30 am? “Hi, I hope I didn’t wake you up but I really, really have to take a dump and I was hoping to use your bathroom?” I thought about confiding in Jamie, but it seemed one of those things that was even too mortifying to tell your husband.

Then the solution came to me, in a flash of insight. As soon as Jamie left the house to go to work, I would take the kids out to the deck, latch the safety gates to keep them in, play one of their Elmo DVDs on my computer to distract them, and duck into the underbrush underneath our deck to discretely take care of things. No one would see me and embarrassment would be spared. The only downside was the possibility of poison ivy in there, but I tried not to think about it. I just hoped Ivry didn’t follow me and try to do her business there too. That would be too much for me to handle.

 And then, a miracle happened. I heard the refrigerator humming and the air conditioning buzzing and I looked up and realized the power was back on.

“Watch the kids!” I screeched to Jamie, and raced into the bathroom. I checked the toilet. It flushed. I felt a rush of euphoria. I hadn’t been so happy since the day Geoffrey was born.

When I got out, there was more good news: the phones were lit up, and the cable box was flashing. There was TV and Internet. While Geoffrey napped, Jo Jo and Teddy played in the playroom while I turned on the Today show and checked my email. A few minutes later, Teddy raced into the kitchen crying about Jo Jo taking away one of his toys.

 I paused, momentarily frustrated at being sidetracked, then I realized something. “Teddy Bear,” I said with a broad smile, “would you and Jo Jo like to watch some Sesame Street?”

Sweeter words have never been said. There’s nothing like a good old fashioned hurricane to make you appreciate the small finer things in life. Like flushing toilets. And Elmo.