Top 10 Tips: Surviving a Blackout with Toddlers

Recently a ‘freak’ storm hit southern New England and blew 70+ mph wind gusts across my little plot of land. For the next few days and nights, including Halloween, we lived a simpler life. How did we keep the kiddies entertained and feeling safe? Let me share.

On Sunday night, with the kids and my wife tucked into bed, I was re-watching The West Wing (for like the 100th time). My first episode was cut short due to a quick 2-minute power “blip” around 9:00pm. H, my three-year-old son, wasn’t quite asleep yet and when his nightlight went out and the alarm on the refrigerator beeped, he came out to see what was going on.

I told him it was ok, that we had a quick blackout, which was to be expected, but it’s all ok and he went back to bed and I went back to The West Wing.

About 40 minutes later the power went out again, and stayed out.

[Before I continue, I feel it necessary to comment that, in no way, am I trying to compare a black out in New England to the tragedy that continues in Puerto Rico. I am so sorry for what they are struggling with down there and I will never be able to know what they are feeling or going through. This mild storm is nothing compared to what they continue to fight through – but this is what recently happened in my life, and as that’s the purpose of this blog, I’m sharing this story.]

I quickly checked on my wife to inform her what was going on with the power and she was cozy under the covers and not concerned. C, my one-year-old daughter was sound asleep. I crawled into bed with a frightened H and held him, in the pitch black, until he drifted off.

Tip #1: Nothing is more comforting in the dark than being able to feel safety next to you. Sure, his bed is small, and way too filled with stuffed animals for me to find a comfortable space, but he needed me there beside him to feel ok in the dark and fall asleep.

After H was snoring, I used my cell phone to navigate through the house and find the flashlights and battery powered lanterns. I put a small LED lantern in the kitchen, which is the central room of the house (open floor plan). That shined light on the floors and near both bedroom doorways.

Tip #2: Use LED camping lanterns. They can shine for DAYS and not go through batteries the way a standard flashlight can. Nothing worse for a kid than to wake up in pitch black. Have the LED somewhere that shines nightlight level light towards their room, so they can have safe passage if they wake up.

Power was going to come back soon, so I wasn’t too concerned. No news outlets were preparing us for any kind of prolonged outage, so I slipped under the covers and nodded off to sleep waiting to be awoken by the fridge alarm in a few hours.

I woke up to my wife’s phone ringing at 6am the next morning. She answered quick and left the room. I didn’t hear much of her conversation until I heard “I have to wake up Keith so he can get the generator started.” It’s then I knew that this wasn’t going to be easy.

I pulled Grandpa’s generator out of the garage and wheeled it over to our barn. We have freezers full of beef, chicken and pork. Fridges with cheese, eggs and milk for our CSA members (yeah, pick up was today). I hooked up the extension cords (heavy duty 12 gauge), filled the gasoline, crossed my fingers and pulled the rip cord. Baby started right up. Freezers and fridges came to life.

Tip #3: Remember that old Boy Scout oath: Be Prepared! Just because we weren’t expecting this particular storm, we are always ready for something to happen. So, we have the generator oiled up. Cans of gas and diesel always filled. I was awake for all of 15 minutes before I had the food staying cold – because we were prepared.

I did a quick walk of the property and moved some big branches that had fallen on our driveway.

Tip #4: Have clear access to your house. A blocked driveway makes it really hard for emergency vehicles to reach you. Or, FedEx!

We really lucked out and the years of work my wife has done clearing overhanging branches or trees too close to our buildings paid off. No serious damage to the property.

Back to the house to game plan the day. Checked in with the boss at work – they didn’t have power either. No reason to go in. I get to stay home on storm patrol. We talked with the kids about what happened and what this means for us. No internet. No iPad. No YouTube. But Dad’s home to play games and color and have fun.

Tip #5: Be honest with the kids. Tell them what’s really going on. Nothing is scarier than the unknown, so don’t leave your kids in the dark – so to speak.

Next up – bathroom. I don’t know about you guys, but my morning hasn’t really started until my morning ‘constitutional’, as my father used to call it. One problem – we can’t flush. Normally, if we’re expecting a big storm, we fill the bathtub with water, or at least several 5-gallon buckets. We didn’t do this. BUT – it rained like HELL last night. I looked out on our deck and the Rubbermaid tubs we use for the kids’ toys were there. Tops blown off and FILLED with rain water. As was the wheelbarrow by the barn. And a few vegetable tubs by the washing station. I got a bucket full and brought it in. Flush and fill the reservoir with the bucket. Crisis averted.

Tip #6: Flushing IS possible during a blackout. Use the method above. There are lots of places residential life can find water – pools, ponds, streams, etc. Also, many municipal buildings will have generators (firehouses, town hall, etc) and should be able to provide water. Have some re-fillable jugs on hand for such an occasion.

Breakfast time. We can’t cook. We can’t even open the fridge for fear of letting the cold out. So, bananas with peanut butter it is. Lunch was our one The Flash-style opening of the fridge. In a 5-second mad grab we got pumpkin pie, (wife was sure to grab the whipped cream), cheese and juice. Crackers from the pantry and lunch was great.

In the meantime I’ve refilled the generator gas tank and kept checking the local town forum on Facebook for what people were hearing. Stories of being on hold with the power company for hours to find out nothing. That Town Hall was open for charging and water and bathrooms. Where, nearby, had power for shopping, food and gas.

Tip #7: Stay informed. Our local Facebook groups is 90% of the time annoying town gossip or complaining, but for days like this, it was great. I knew I could get water and I knew what gas station was closest to go fill up my gas tank if this went longer, to keep the generators going. More importantly – finding out which gas stations were closed so I didn’t waste my time!

Through the day I was constantly changing the recipient of the generator. The barn items, the meat freezer in the garage and our house fridge.

During our CSA pickup, a member of the farm came and saw my wife sitting in the powerless barn and our loud old generator. She returned 20 minutes later with a newer portable generator of us to use. We now had TWO! With the two generators running, I was able to power 3 freezers and two fridges. Our food was safe!

Tip #8: If you have limited energy available, use it to protect your food. Sure, in the winter you can fill a cooler and leave it out in the snow. But it was 60+ degrees, that wasn’t going to work this time. Lights, TV, radio, – you don’t need these things. You need safe food. Here’s a good link I found about it: FDA’s Tips.

Dinner was on the grill.

Hotdogs from the farm freezer and potatoes never tasted so good. 5:00pm rolled around and I hadn’t started cooking yet … sunset was 30 minutes away – get in gear KP! As we were finishing dinner, we used a wedding gift hurricane lamp to set a fun vibe as the sun went away.

LED lanterns and flashlights were back. We have two LED “cheap” flashlights for the kids to use.

Tip #9: Kids LOVE flashlights. LOVE them. If you need them to see in the bathroom – tough. They need to play. SO – get a few cheaper ones in the house to give them while you use the maglights and lanterns to do what they’re supposed to. This way, everyone is happy.

Bed time was fine. I drove out to the nearby gas station and refilled my cans to do it all again the next day. Back home to do some reading in bed beneath the camping lantern.

I’m always re-reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods. SO GOOD!

This went on for Monday and Tuesday. We visited relatives with a whole-house generator to have a morning shower and hot breakfast before school. The day went as normal. We went home had nap time as usual. Got the kids dressed and drove to more relatives, with power, to safely trick or treat and back home. We dumped out the plastic pumpkins under headlamps (mini tip – have headlamps. They really helped when I was refueling generators in the middle of the night and leave your hands open for the tasks!). Then they were off to bed.

Headlamp on, I headed back outside and filled the generators, started them up again and lit a fire in the wood stove (was going to get down near 33 degrees that night). I forgot the stove tools and went back out to the garage when I felt a strange light behind me. I turned around to see our house a-glow in light! POWER WAS BACK! We kept informed and kept as much normalcy as possible for the kids. These three days didn’t break us.

So, what’s Tip #10? Happy wife – happy life. Blackouts are stressful. Owning a farm is stressful. Toddlers are stressful. Add it all together and you get stressed. BUT – it was HALLOWEEN time! We had bought a bag of goodies for me to bring to work on Tuesday, for my co-workers. Instead, I shared them with my wife during our bedtime reading sessions.

Reese’s makes everything better. (Side note: SHE took that picture and recommended Tip #10!)

-KP

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