Ally pulled the van up to the house and let out a disgusted breath. “Every light in that house must be on.”
The craftsman style house was what she and her husband Jake had always dreamed about and worked for. They met in college. He was a business major and she was in design school. Neither of them came from money, so they spent time finding joy in things you don’t have to pay for.
She loved the house and neighbor hood they chose to raise their family in. These days though, they had little time to enjoy anything. They made a great living at their jobs and none of them wanted for anything, but she didn’t like how busy life had gotten.
She had just returned home from work and the grocery store. She was exhausted and just wanted a glass of wine and some reality TV to finish off her Friday night.
Ally bumped open the door with her hip. She dropped her purse on the floor and hiked the paper grocery bag up to the counter.
Her ten-year-old son, Adam, sat at the kitchen island with headphones and his Kindle. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. He was likely playing a game that involved some sort of fighting even though she had warned him against playing those.
She blew out another loud breath while waving her hand in front of his face.
“Adam, can you hear me?”
“Mom, I’m almost done with this match, can you wait?”
She turned in a huff and walked to the cupboard where she kept her pots and pans. She sat the large pasta kettle in the sink with a little more force than she should have and commanded, “Alexa fill water to 64 ounces.” She grabbed a box of pasta and jar of sauce from her grocery bag.
As she added salt and the green box of pasta to the water she thought about her day. She was stuck at her desk for most of it either in virtual meetings or answering email. That’s what an office catch-up day was like for her. She touched her head and felt a headache coming on.
Ally set the timer on the microwave for 15 minutes and then added the sauce and ground beef to her Insta Pot and pushed the buttons to cook in record time. This way was fast and left no fry smell left in her kitchen.
She opened her husband’s office door to find him on his cell as usual. He waived to her and gave a quick smile as he went back to his spreadsheet. “Great,” she muttered to herself, “he’s still working.”
She turned away from the door disappointed. She started to walk to the living room to find Sadie, but heard her cell phone’s ring tone belt out an 80’s ballad that she loved. Unfortunately, she loved it less when she was at home trying to relax from an exhausting day.
She grabbed her phone from her purse and said hello after swiping across the bottom.
“Hey Jenny, what’s up? Yes, please tell them I will meet them tomorrow at nine and can you update my calendar?” Ally ordered her assistant. “Oh crap, tomorrow is Saturday. Can you make it for Monday morning? Can you also tell them…Oh man what’s that? Hang on Jenny my power just went out. I have to call you back.”
“Mom! What is going on?” Sadie came rushing into the kitchen, “The TV shut off and the lights went out!” At age 12 Sadie was a tween. She was too big to be considered a kid, but she was too little to be considered a teenager. If you asked her TV was her lifeline to the real world. She didn’t quite understand that reality TV wasn’t really reality.
“I don’t know, Adam can you go get dad? Adam? A-D-A-M take those headphones off and go get dad.”
“What happened mom, the lights are off?” Adam asked as if he’d just woken up.
“Loser!” Sadie scoffed and rolled her eyes. “I’ll get dad. The zombie king has no clue what’s going on outside of that game.”
“Dad?” Sadie knocked and opened the door slowly.
“Shit! I lost my last 10 entries. What the hell. I have to call you back.” Jake swore into the phone.
“Dad!” Sadie exclaimed with her hands in the air.
“Oh sorry, honey. I didn’t see you there. What happened?”
“Mom sent me to get you, the whole house went out.”
“Oh great! Ok I’ll be there in a sec.”
“I think you should come now, dad. The whole house is dark and the TV is not working!”
The pair walked into the kitchen. Ally was lighting a few candles, not that is was totally necessary. It was till light outside, but the house seemed really dark with no electric lights. Jake walked to the basement door that was in the kitchen, “Hey can you grab me that flashlight from the drawer?”
“Dad you have your phone in your hand. There’s a flashlight on it.” Sadie said with sass.
“Oh yeah.” Jake looked down at the phone in his hand still lit up from his earlier conversation.
He found the flashlight app and turned it on. He walked to the bottom of the stairs where the fuse box was positioned on the wall.
“Nothing’s wrong with the fuses. I’ll call the electric company.”
“Dad, look. The Jensen’s house is dark to. I bet it’s the whole neighborhood.”
“Sadie come with me to the garage please. We have some old camping equipment in there. I’m sure we can find a lantern and some other stuff in the boxes. I won’t be able to make spaghetti, so maybe we can find our old marshmallow sticks and make some hot dogs in the back yard.” Ally motioned her daughter toward the door.
“We have camping equipment? Since when?”
Ally dug through totes and boxes while Sadie held her phone up for a light. They found the camping equipment that her and Jake had bought before the kids were born.
“We used to go camping all summer long.” Ally mentioned. “That was our entertainment before you and Adam came along.”
“Why did you quit?”
“We got busy. Both dad and I were working all the time and then you came along, and things became even more busy. We were in survival mode and there wasn’t much time for the fun lounging that we used to enjoy.”
Jake walked into the garage and told the girls, “The electric company says they are aware of the outage, but they don’t know how long it will be before it comes back on. You need any help?”
“No!” The girls said in unison.
“Well, let’s see what we have here.” Ally said.
“Hey mom look at this. You guys slept in a tent?”
“Yes,” Ally laughed. “Of course, what did you think we slept in.”
“I don’t know a cabin. I can’t imagine you or dad sleeping on the ground. Hey, can we set this up in the back yard. It would be so fun!”
“That’s a great idea. Let’s haul all of this out and see what’s here. I haven’t been through it in so many years!”
Jake and Adam came out the patio door to see what all the fuss was about.
“What are you two doing?” Jake asked.
“We found all our old camping stuff in the garage.”
“Yeah isn’t it cool?” Sadie said excitedly. “Mom said we could set it up and sleep outside.”
Jake gave Ally a sideways look and raised his eyebrows.
“What?” She asked. “Dinner is ruined, the electricity is out and it’s Friday. We can’t work anymore tonight, so let’s have a little fun.”
“I have entirely too much to do tonight to play outside. Really? I need this electricity to come back on and soon. And besides, I have a conference call early in the morning and I can’t miss it.”
“Moooom, my kindle is almost dead. Where can I plug it in?” Adam whined.
“Sorry kiddo! I guess you are going to have to join the land of the living for a while. Put the Kindle away and come help your sister. Jake, you can take a break. Come help us please?”
Jake lowered his shoulders in defeat. He knew there was no use in arguing. He came across the patio to help build a campsite.
“Ohhkay. I’m not sure what’s gotten into you, but whatever. Let’s get this tent up. Hey, Adam pull these corners out and make a square.
“Yes!” Sadie exclaimed. “This is gonna be so much fun.”
Adam was not convinced that this task in manual labor would be as fun as his older sister. Adam liked to play video games and use computers. His idea of a perfect Friday night was to “meet” his friends in an online game of anything! Ally looked at the disappointment on his face and smiled a little wider. This will be good for him, she thought to herself.
Thoughts of her childhood came to mind. She thought back to the letters she’d sent to her best friend Abby. She had to find an envelope, write the letter and then walk it to the mailbox. In those days you could leave change in the mailbox and the mailman would put a stamp on it for you. So, she would find a wooden clothes pin and attach her quarter to the addressed envelope.
Abby lived only a couple of hours away, but they rarely got to see each other in person during the school year and were never allowed to talk on the phone. So writing letters was how they kept in touch. Now Adam played a game and talked in a headset with Abby’s son over the X-box. They talked every weekend! What an unbelievable evolution.
“Jake, don’t you remember when we used to go camping every weekend just to get out of the apartment?”
“Yes, I do, but our apartment was horrible. And we had nothing else to do.”
Ally was a little disappointed in his reaction. She enjoyed that time in their life when things weren’t so crazy or complicated. They had no kids or activities to keep track of. They worked paycheck to paycheck for little money and they were always together. She loved it. Jakes reaction seemed like he didn’t and that made her sad.
“What’s wrong Ally?”
“Nothing, I was just thinking back to when we were first married. I was so happy!”
“And now?” Jake asked with raised brows and a catch in his breath.
“You kids see if you can figure this tent out. Dad and I are gonna talk a little bit.”
Ally walked over to the stone fire pit and slumped into her Adirondack chair. Jake walked behind her and sat on the edge of the chair next to hers.
“What’s going on? You’re making me a little nervous with this.”
“Jake I got home tonight with an arm full of groceries and no one was there to help me. I pulled into the driveway and the house was so bright it looked like Christmas. It’s July and 530pm. We take so much for granted.”
“Ok that’s a random complaint. How long have you been feeling this way. This seems a little bigger than lights and groceries.” Jake asked surprised at his wife’s reaction.
“I don’t know. I guess it just hit me today. I’ve probably just kept pushing it out of my mind because I’m so busy. But it really bugged me tonight when I had no help, and everyone was so attached to something electronic. If the lights didn’t go out, we would probably by in the same place as always. I’m no better, I know this. I love my cell and my TV. I just think we need to make a point to unplug once in a while. Maybe even once a week or weekend we need to be totally electronic free.”
“Oh boy, that will be a stretch. You know I have to work when I have work and I don’t know how the kids are going to react to this.”
“Jake, we need to spend more time together alone and with the kids. We all lead separate lives right now and it’s worrisome to me.”
“Ok, I can see this is really upsetting you. Let’s set up the camping gear, roast some hotdogs and marshmallows and veg out this weekend. I can move my meeting for the morning, and we can grill eggs and bacon in the morning. We’ll make a weekend out of it. Remember how good the campfire coffee tasted? Nothing like the instant brew from the Keurig, right?” Jake tried to lighten his wife’s mood.
“Yes I do. I wonder if we still have that little silver camp cooker?” Just then their moment was interrupted by yelling.
“Not that way dummy! The other way.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. This is so stupid. Why do we have to do this. I am not sleeping on the ground. There’s no TV out here. How will I fall asleep?” Adam was still complaining and making his sister very angry!
“Ok, ok.” Ally played referee. “Knock it off and work together. Let’s show them how to do this, ok?”
Ally started to feel better. She took a deep breath and helped Jake set up the tent. She found her silver camp coffee pot and the hotdog sticks.
“Tonight supper will be over an open fire. Why don’t you boys go get a fire started and Sadie and I will set up the sleeping bags.”
“I still don’t know about sleeping outside,” Adam said. “But I love hotdogs and marshmallows for supper!”
“Sleeping outside will be very fun and relaxing. You probably will have the best night of sleep you’ve ever had. I know that’s when I slept the best.” Jake tried to get his son to embrace the idea. “And then in the morning we will wake up and I’ll cook breakfast over the fire too.”
“Something very crazy is happening here. I don’t know who you are dad!”
“Adam, sometimes you need to slow down and uplug to recharge. Those are terms you should understand. What happens if you play your game all night long without charging the battery?”
“Right, well we don’t need to be quite so dramatic. People are similar. If we keep going and going and don’t slow down to recharge, we will burn out!”
“Wow, how thoughtful of you. Wherever did you hear something like that.” Ally teased. “I am really glad you agreed to this. We need this!”
“Ally, I know we are running ragged, I just don’t know what to do about it. But this seems like a great first step.”
They embraced and then went about their tasks to get their backyard campsite ready for a weekend staycation.
As the girls finished with the tent and beds the boys had the fire ready for roasting.
Adam’s eyes suddenly lit up and Ally looked behind her.
“Hmm…the lights came back on. Good thing we’re camping and don’t need electricity this weekend.”
Adam’s first expression was one of disappointment, but then his dad handed him a hotdog on a long metal skewer.
“Hold it like this and keep turning it so all the sides get cooked.”
“Ok dad. Thanks!”
Ally’s heart was completely full at that moment. She had her whole family together with no devices. She knew it wouldn’t be long and someone would need to call someone else or what have you, but for now she decided to relish in the peach that being unplugged gave her.