It’s been a long time since I’ve tested the temperature of a bottle on my wrist. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to feed a precious newborn daughter. It was to wash that seven-year-old’s hair, which requires 18 bottles of precious water.
I’ll say this about water contamination: It’s taught me a lot about parenting in a crisis situation. The first lesson is not to become hysterical in front of young children. When the call came in from a friend — not the water company – announcing that we were to stop using tap water until further notice, I screamed at my daughter to stop eating the chicken noodle soup I had prepared with eight cups of the city’s finest H2O. She put her spoon down and began to cry. Moms, keep calm and panic in private.
Next, I learned that our family isn’t prepared for anything that lasts longer than a few hours. At the time of the water suspension, we had a near-empty gallon of 2% milk, three diet sodas, six bottles of water and lemon juice. I had ignored the baskets of laundry for a few days as I focused on writing deadlines, and the dishes were stacked in the sink waiting to make a full load after dinner. We were down to two rolls of paper towels, four rolls of toilet paper and no plastic cutlery. We had paper plates, but the art project kind — nothing that would hold the grease of a cardboard pizza, which we didn’t have anyway. Our pantry was filled with staple items to make more elaborate meals. Our freezer contained meats that would have to be baked or fried. There were low-cal meals that could be eaten if starvation set in, but not enough to last for, say, a week.
Doomsday preppers we are not.
After the initial fear subsided, I turned to social media to find out what was going on. Twitter was aflutter (since I don’t use Facebook anymore thanks to hackers and stalkers), blowing up the news feed with teasers as to a massive chemical spill in the river that’s less than a mile away from our house. Trusting that the city of Charleston could get the problem under control in a matter of hours, we began cracking jokes about the situation. Some people posted pictures of Bat Boy and zombies from The Walking Dead. I admit that I was part of the fun, too.
Can’t drink the water. Might as well drink the wine!
By the third day, I wasn’t laughing or poking fun at our family’s troubles. We were out of water, and that meant our pets were out of water, too. Luckily, supplies were well on the way into town, and we’d be able to restock rather quickly. But training ourselves to conserve; to behave more conservatively required real effort. I started to keep meticulous track of our family’s usage. Here are some rough statistics:
* Brushing teeth, twice a day: One bottle of water, shared between four people, using paper cups to swish and spit.
* Coffee: Two bottles of water for a strong pot of java.
* Sponge baths: Two to four bottles of water, per person.
* Full “showers” including hair washing: Two gallons for husband; four gallons for me. Four gallons for each child, with long hair that wouldn’t lather well, and then wouldn’t rinse clear enough.
* Dog bowls: Four bottles for each bowl; two bottles for cat’s bowl…each time they drained it.
* Hand washing: Two bottles of water to rinse clear. It’s cold and flu season.
* Cooking: We didn’t.
* Drinking: We chose sports drinks and bottled iced tea; Capri Sun pouches and fruit juices in boxes. And no adult was really in the festive mood for wine or beer.
Most often, we sponged off by the kitchen stove to have access to hot water. Friends suggested keeping crockpots full of warm water to use throughout the day. Full showers were a challenge in that we had to keep a pot of hot water on the stove for rinsing. That means someone had to run water up and down the stairs, sloshing half of it on the steps.
Our daughters stayed in pajamas for most of the week to preserve their clothes. If their mother had done laundry when she was supposed to, they wouldn’t have had to live in jammies. But, let’s move on.
No one exercised, because that would have caused unnecessary sweating. I didn’t wear makeup because I wasn’t going out, and I certainly didn’t want to have to wash all that paint off my face. I didn’t put products in my hair or the girls’ hair — not even conditioner — because it lessened the time between washings. Dry shampoos worked well enough, but after a couple of days, even that needed to be washed out.
We ate pizza for two nights, store-bought lasagna another night, and sandwiches for lunches. Breakfasts were cereal bars or dry Cheerios. Our trash bags are heaped up as high as the piles of laundry. Trash day for our part of Charleston is Thursday. We also worried about the recycling effort. So. much. waste.
The girls stayed busy looming bracelets and reading books. They watched TV, but even that became a bore. The girls never complained, and as I write this blog post, they’re sitting on the couch playing with old Beanie Babies. I couldn’t have asked for more patient kids. They deserve a trip to a water park for their understanding and stellar behavior.
In the time we’ve spent at home, not in school and not in restaurants, we’ve talked about not taking anything for granted, especially water. We won’t leave the tap running when we brush our teeth before bedtime, and we won’t linger in the shower on cold mornings. We won’t toss out the contents of our water bottles just because it got warm sitting on the counter, and we won’t let our shelves collect dust in the absence of household necessities.
While we’re frustrated with the lack of a timeline to restore our lives, and we’re angry at the so-called leadership at a local chemical company for an obvious lack of concern for public safety, we’re grateful beyond measure. We’re grateful for free water, given to us even though we have the ability to pay, and we’re grateful for friends and neighbors who picked up an extra this or that to share with us. We’re grateful for heat and electricity and warmer temperatures, and we’re grateful for healthy children who ate the soup, yet appear no worse for wear.
There are times when life is completely out of our control. When this happens, the most critical part of crisis parenting is teaching our children – and reminding ourselves – how to go with the flow.