Pepco Blues

When the electricity goes out, sharing a common enemy with your toddler doesn’t bind you together

“Watch Backyardigans!” shouted my two-year-old as she pressed the TV power button, hoping to tune into the Nick, Jr. cartoon. But the TV didn’t turn on. So she shouted it again, and louder: “Watch Backyardigans!” and she pressed the “on” button harder.

I stood in the kitchen, watching this scene unfold, wondering what to do. A warm cup of coffee would have softened the misery of this fit, I thought. Meanwhile, over by the TV, my daughter must have wondered if I no longer spoke the same language as her because she screamed louder and slower the next time: “Watch Backyardigans!” she sneered and shouted.

In my non-caffeinated state, I considered explaining to a toddler the necessity of electricity to power the Backyardigans. In the end, I concluded those would be minutes wasted in my life that I’d never get back. The irony was that my daughter viewed me as the cruel and evil parent, arbitrarily keeping her from her beloved quiet time and thrilling Backyardigans episode that she’s seen 150 times and we could easily re-enact in my living room. If only she knew I’d never do such a thing, nor would I ever keep myself from that morning coffee. Little did she know, or care, we both had a common enemy: Pepco, and the electrical failures that have left us without power for ten days in the last six months.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t devise evil machinations to destroy our common enemy, laughing maniacally together while the melodious opening song of the Backyardigans hummed in the background and I nursed a warm cup of coffee. From her two-year view of the world, our common enemy was me because I was hearing her request and yet doing nothing about it. The details don’t matter when you’re two.

Our common enemy was destroying the normal happiness and flow of my house by sabotaging the one constant in our day—electricity. Without the warmth from heat, the entertainment of TV, the sound of music, and the hum of the refrigerator, sustained happiness and peace aren’t possible in my house. I suddenly realized that our common enemy was pitting my children against me and in turn, me against everyone else, including my husband.

Power outages also make me realize how addicted we are to electricity. In January we lost our power for four days courtesy of Pepco’s incompetence. Like an addict searching for her next fix, I pace the house like a raving lunatic the second the power goes out and start making irrational demands about immediately deploying crews during thunderstorms or ice storms. In darkness, I no longer care about anyone else until I have power. All those other hundreds of thousands of people and their difficult power-less plights? Don’t care. (When I have heat and TV and a working washing machine, my sympathy returns, I promise.) The eerie silence that fills the house when there’s no electricity grates on my nerves, worsening my mood.

My children also feel that their world has been turned inside out. They’re too young to understand that almost every part of their day relies on power. “Mommy, can you turn my nightlight on?” asks my five-year-old, after we’ve just discussed why I can’t turn on the light to read her a story. “Okay, well if you can’t turn on my night light and I’m really scared because it’s so dark, can you turn on some music?” It all ends with the two-year-old still standing at the TV screaming “Watch Backyardigans!

Turns out not having power also requires more patience from a parent because you have to repeat why something doesn’t work every few minutes. For my children, the enemy suddenly becomes me. How fast do you think Pepco would restore my power if I left its leadership team in my power-free house with my two-year-old for a few days?

Come to think of it, leaving Pepco’s leadership team alone without power and toddlers might be an effective way for them to experience the same feelings their customers feel when calling the Pepco customer-service line. Suddenly they’d become familiar with feelings of rage, frustration, and exasperation.

As I debated explaining, again, why no night lights, radios, TVs, or computers worked, I wondered what Pepco stands for. Part-time Electric Power Company? Probably Not an Electric Power Company? Piss Poor Electric Power Company? As I wondered how fast I could pack our bags and hit the road, like we’re on the lam, for the third time in six months, I wondered how many Pepco executives were stuck home for days on end with their young children and without the comforts of modern life.

I wonder how many repeated outages I’ll have to live through until my children understand Pepco is our common enemy, that I’m not the bad guy. Until then, my husband is likely to take the brunt of my addiction when I can’t get my fix.

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