When Arthur Came to Visit
We had a very unwelcome visitor that arrived on Saturday, July 5 and his wrath and turmoil was felt for a full week after he left. Tropical Storm Arthur paid a visit to New Brunswick and along with the power lines and trees that came crashing down, he also crashed MJ’s birthday party – or lack thereof. If you haven’t read about Arthur’s impact on New Brunswick – here’s the link.
MJ turned 5 on July 5th, but what was supposed to be a rain event turned into category 1 hurricane force winds that lasted 24 hours and unexpectedly required the cancellation of her (Disney Frozen-themed) birthday party at the very last minute. He toppled 5 trees (how symbolic of him) in our back yard and more than 4,000 in the city of Fredericton alone. It looked like a war zone, trees down everywhere, every which way, roots and all, not just limbs.
As I was finishing the preparations on her requested ice-cream cake, our power started flickering and after it dropping five or six times for 30 seconds or more at a time, it finally went out. This was a big deal for several reasons: one, a home-made rice-milk ice cream cake needs a freezer and two, MJ is very affected by weather.
When I say affected, I mean if it’s not sunny and clear, she has a really hard time dealing with anything challenging that comes along during the day. With it being summer and thunderstorms (instead of snow), we get a lot of anxiety around any signs of darkening skies. To the point that I have to often whip out my phone and show her on the radar that there is no storm coming. I’ve been teaching her about the types of clouds but it hasn’t helped. Imagine a supposed rain storm turned into a wind storm on the day of your party when you are already anxious about the party itself (despite you having carefully planned every single detail of it – from the people, to the food, to the crafts.) We’ve been letting MJ plan her parties now for the last couple years; it’s her day, so why not let her choose how she wants it to go and what she wants to eat?
We live just outside the city, so we are on a well, which means no power = no tap water and no flushing toilets. After I realized it wasn’t coming back on again quickly (next hour or two) and the weather wasn’t changing, I managed to talk to her about the cancellation of her party, which she took well and then I made all the calls. We tried to make the day fun for her, but the longer the power stayed off, the more we needed to be concerned about the house. We’ve experienced a flood before and have a sump pump, but it does not have a battery back up. The rain and winds were so hard that the extenders we added to the eavestroughing were not working well enough, and we were hearing about the number of trees down and that power could be out for days. My husband sourced a generator on loan from a family member and I tried to tackle the outside repairs as we were just starting to get water in some of the basement areas.
This of course meant my poor angel was forced to occupy herself on her birthday, while scared, without the advantage of electronics for company. Playing by herself is not her strong suit, independent play for longer than five minutes is a challenge. Really not the way she planned to spend her birthday and as the tears flowed, all I could do was let her stim and rock and understand, but at the same time, I could not be there for her the way I wanted since I had to take care of the house.
Our power outage lasted 7 days. That’s 7 full days without running water or electricity. Essentially, we camped in our house. With the generator we were able to charge phones and other devices, keep the deep freeze going and get some coffee, although the last two couldn’t be done at the same time… This was a big change of routine smack in the middle of summer routine changes (the previous week our Autism team was on vacation, as was our daycare provider.) Like most kids on the spectrum, MJ does not cope well with change – even the smallest thing, like not being able to wash her hands. Count three days of meltdowns.
We also had to cancel our planned vacation to Cape Cod with my in-laws which we had been spent time prepping for as MJ loves her grandparents dearly. And then of course we got the power back and while we could go back to life as normal, this too was a change in routine, so bring on the meltdowns some more.
Here are a few ways we coped:
1. Wind up night light.
A few months ago, I had the fortune to spot this puppy at Walmart on sale – it actually allows you to choose regular light or red light, so we used this at night to replace her red night light. And it can be charged quickly via USB. Worked like a charm!
2. Hand-washing station
I also pat myself on the back for this, just sad it took me nearly three days to come up with the idea. We are avid campers, so we happen to have a portable/collapsible water jug with a spout. We filled it with water and set it on its side on the counter next to some soap. It allowed MJ to not just wash her hands, but to also have some control and it was kind of like turning the tap on and off.
3. Ability to cook pasta
Thank goodness for barbecues with side burners and camp stoves. If you don’t have either, I highly recommend you invest in one. Since everyone and their dog was eating out at restaurants (and only a select few had power), we knew we wanted to stay away from that scene – you can read my post on why we avoid them at times and tips for navigating restaurants here. We managed to boil water to cook pasta and treated the bbq like an oven for other foods, which with MJ’s GI issues and allergies took away one big stress factor for all of us.
Between the car and limited generator use for charging devices, we were able to keep her iPad somewhat charged and allowed her a small period of screen time with the tv shows/movies we had on the iPad. We used it mainly at night however, running a classical music app which took almost no battery life because it would run with the screen off. MJ likes to listen to classical or jazz music when sleeping, so between the night light and the music, we were able to keep the bedtime routine normal, which I think helped significantly.
5. Several frozen freezer packs
While we managed to salvage the freezer, we lost most of our fridge contents by the time we got the generator up and running. I borrowed ice packs from friends I was storing food for to add to my own and then used my empty fridge as a very large cooler. I had 2-3 sets of several large and small ice packs that I would freeze and then put in the fridge. I froze my milk (and rice milk) each night and then allowed it to thaw and stay cool in the fridge most of the day with the freezer packs. They also kept my produce and juice (and grown up beverages) cold. Sabrina also plans to have a set of frozen ice packs at the ready because the Monkey was very concerned about their food, and something like this, would help calm his anxiety over the potential food spoilage.
Adverse weather events are unexpected. No matter how much you prep your child for things, this is not one of the events you can prepare for because there is so much uncertainty about what will happen, when and where. But you CAN do some things yourself to prepare in case things like this happen. I’m not talking about prepping for Doomsday or the end of the world, but take a few moments and think about what routines or objects are vital to your child’s daily life, require electricity (or also water in our case) and would trigger hours of meltdowns if they couldn’t occur. Once you have that list, spend some time working to come up with ideas or ways to be able to provide those same comforts in some capacity. When you find yourself in a situation like that, you can slide in the replacements and ward off some of the meltdowns, or perhaps lessen the severity of them.
All in all, MJ was an incredible trooper and made do with a party guest list on her actual birthday of only mommy, daddy and her favourite stuffies, as well as a half-frozen, half-iced ice-cream cake. In fact, my little environmentalist was more concerned about the downed trees and destruction to habitats and any potential harm to animals than about her missed birthday party.
Below are two pictures of my ‘Princess Anna’ (the dress was our birthday gift to her). The first is just minutes before we lost power for good, and you can see how she’s sitting with her hands folded (tell-tale nervous sign) and the unhappy look on her face as she’s trying to watch tv. The second is her at her ‘party’ with her guests.