The cracks started to show on Sunday. We’d already cancelled my parents’ trip down to Austin, in advance of the winter storms. I’d gone out for a run and taken a fall. We wanted to check out a swelling on my arm before the roads got dangerous, so pulled into an urgent care clinic on the way home. It was closed. We called another, and it was about to close. The receptionist was flustered and seemed happy to talk to someone sympathetic. So, no urgent care. I ended up at St. David’s ER, totally fine it turned out, and we headed home. Ali and Doug had been aggressively winterizing their places; we belatedly wrapped our plants and turned on the faucets, but otherwise had a normal afternoon as it grew colder.
At 2am, the power went out. We had texts from Austin Energy telling us that rolling blackouts were starting, and should last 10-40 minutes, which gave us great peace of mind. We woke up at 6 to a still-dark house, and a beautiful snowscape across the neighborhood. Ten degrees outside. The kids were thrilled, and we had a brief romp through the virgin snow down to the park. The cold quickly penetrated their inadequate clothes, and we headed back to warm up, grateful for at least our good insulation. We searched for information with little luck. A city press conference at noon didn’t illuminate much. Weren’t these blackouts supposed to be rolling? Hadn’t we had our turn? We got our best info from a city countil member’s Twitter thread: the city had turned off all non-essential switches in order to meet the requirement from ERCOT, the state grid. There was no margin left to alternate power between neighborhoods.
Our cell service was getting worse, but our battery-powered radio gave us music and a much-needed connection to news and a sense of the outside world. Meanwhile, we texted with our parents. Power was also out at the ranch and intermittent in Kerrville. My parents were breaking ice on the tank so the cows could drink, and staying warm by a fire. Bryan ventured out to Congress to check out the scene. Cars were starting to drive on the roads, and drifts of snow and slush made it look like a ski town, without the road maintenance. We started stashing the perishable contents of our fridge on the front porch, nestled in a box of snow.
The kids had an awesome snowball fight with Bryan in the front yard, and I built them a tent-fort-megacrib by pushing their beds together and hanging a bedspread over it. We moved the freezer foods to open coolers outside. We cooked a hot dinner on our stovetop, and the kids retreated to their bed-fort with a tablet for an hour of Peppa Pig. We handed them toothbrushes; Dad read them a story through the side rails; and we left them cozy for the night with a couple of electric candles for light.
Cell service was degrading, and our hopes for the power to come back on were fading. The Crowders’ was also out, and Doug had rewired his solar panels to run their heater and refridgerator for the day. Some other acquaintances in South Austin were in similar situations, but most of our friends around town had power. Lisa offered us a rescue and lodging if things hadn’t improved the next day—a tempting offer. We slept warmly Monday night under extra blankets. It was 58 degrees inside when we went to bed, and about 50 when we woke up. I scrambled a bunch of eggs and griddled bread for breakfast. Nine degrees outside. We haphazardly packed some bags for our evacuation and watched cars struggle up our Monroe hill.
At 10:45, Eric arrived in his Jeep. Bryan installed carseats. We left faucets dripping, locked the doors, and loaded up. Eric drove slowly up eastside backroads, careful on the ice. We piled into Lisa’s house, thrilled to be warm and disoriented to be sharing airspace with other people after so many months of masks and distance.
I went for a run. Bryan went on a beer run. He and Eric found hundreds of people lined up at the HEB for their first limited hours since Sunday. I picked my way carefully through ice and snow and melt, like the parking lot at a ski mountain. The kids knocked around the house, and Eric cooked red beans and rice for dinner. Lisa gave us her bedroom, and we made up a cozy family camp for us. My parents finally bugged out to the Pous’ house, on a different power grid, and the Klingners, still with intermittent power, got a boil-water order in Kerrville. Rumors started going around about water shut-offs and imminent electric grid collapse. We drank beer and texted friends.
It sleeted through the night. Wednesday arrived with warmer temperatures—merely 32—but frozen tree limbs that crashed through power lines and brought more outages. A couple of water mains broke in our neighborhood, but we remained safely unaffected at Lisa’s. A quarter-inch of ice covered everything. I spent another day reading Twitter, checking on people via text, and watching unsatisfying press conferences from city and state officials. The kids watched TV and played with their cousins. As the day went on, power started flickering back in places, and water started shutting off. St. David’s South, where I had gotten x-rays days ago, was running out of water and heat. Other hospitals, too. We filled a bathtub as a precaution, feeling both safely prepared and guilty for hoarding. As we got in bed, a power loss to a water treatment plant resulted in a boil-water order for the entire City of Austin.
Thursday dawned cold again. My dad went to check on the ranch and found the power restored. They started trying to figure out how to melt water for the cows to drink, and get more to them despite the frozen pump and hoses. In Austin, it was snowing again. The kids were stir crazy, so we picked our way through the ice to the playground, where Paul had a blast knocking down icicles and navigating the trecherous equipment. While we were there, Bryan got a follow-up call from Sous’ vet visit the week before: it’s lung cancer.
Eric offered to take us by our house to check it out and grab fresh supplies, so we did. The roads were better, and we made the drive on the backroads in about 20 minutes. Our neighborhood seemed significantly more wintery: lots more snow remaining on the ground and trees, and no evidence of power. We arrived at our house to find that a medium-sized branch from our cedar tree had crashed to the ground, happily missing the power lines, and another looking likely to fall. Everything else was the same as we’d left it. The house felt desolate, dark and in the high 30s inside. We tested the water and found it running, then turned off all the dripping faucets to help conserve it. We packed up the coolers full of freezer goods we’d left on the porch, salvaged some other things from the refrigerator, and swapped out two days of dirty clothes for clean ones, feeling post-apocalyptic.
As we left, we met our next-door neighbor John returning from a friends house where he’d been staying. Five minutes into our drive back to Mueller, he texted to tell us the power had just come back on. Thursday at 1pm, 83 hours total. We turned around and returned so Bryan could reactivate the internet and our ability to check our cameras and remotely operate the thermostat. For the rest of the afternoon, we watched the temperature inside climb from 37 to 60. I made another dinner for us, and we watched a movie. Eric lost water at his apartment building and watched his neighbors there collect snow in cooking pots; he filled used milk jugs to take back with him for the night.
Now it’s Friday. I’m 40.
To Paul: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 and a half!
Today would have been your Friday Valentines party at school, but instead we are enjoying the headwinds of an arctic air mass. The streets are covered in ice, and school is closed. You appreciate this news, and, accustomed to proudly stating your age as “four and a quarter,” you are also keen to hear that today you are four and a half! We celebrate with cupcakes for breakfast. At your request, I make you and Annie ribbons of honor to announce your age to the world. Off to a strong start.
You and Annie jump into some play together: you set up camp in a tent, and she delivers presents to you. This breaks down after about half an hour, and you persuade me to feed you yogurt. With Annie, you embark on a cooking experiment involving water, a cherry, and lots of mashing. It ends messily.
To get out of the house despite the cold, cold weather, Dad to take you to the grocery store, where you happily procure fruit and tortillas and even more yogurt. Then it’s time for some screen time while both of us are in meetings: your pick is Super Hero Elementary.
A peanut butter and banana sandwich makes a late lunch, and you run back to watch Annie play the Playstation 5 tutorial game, the first video game either of you has shown sustained interest in playing rather than watching. It’s pretty cute. Dad supervises some rowdy play, and helps you both build an art center and a yoga center. Annie persuades you to explain how you do magic (“I poof it out of my hands.”) and your secret recipe for magical things (sugar, water, flour, and grow powder). You are dismayed to have revealed this secret. (“Annie made me say what I didn’t want to say!”)
It’s 4pm, and movie time. You settle in for Tinker Bell, and then we roll right into The Jungle Book for an encore. Dinner is mac and cheese. Dessert is, oh wait, we had dessert for breakfast. But popcorn, we eat that too. And a little bit of Snoopy. Ah, snow days.
We hustle up to bed, and you indulge in a little racing around on your way to bed. I read you I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, and say goodnight.
You and Annie are not quite done. When I peek in on you at 9, I find your campsite. I take a picture, and tiptoe out.
To Annie: this is how you spent the day you turned 5 years and 10 months old.
Paul bursts out of the door when your light turns green, but you stay snuggled in bed. I visit you there, and you toss the blanket over your head. I ask if I can come into your bed fortress, and you wiggle in assent. We play the game where you pretend to sleep while I brush your teeth and pull on your clothes. You roll out of bed and give me a little assist to pick you up (45 pounds now), and I carry your “sleeping” body downstairs for breakfast.
Two strawberry muffins later, you’re ready for what kindergarten looks like these days. Your teacher Mrs. Dunbar calls you at 7:45 for a solo chat. We’ve done it before, periodically, and restarted this week after you submitted a heartbreaking answer to a short assignment on Monday, asking you to describe how you feel. “I’m scared to do kindergarten work,” you dictated. So now, private lessons. You are thrilled. I like listening to you talk with your teacher and telling her what’s on your mind.
After some chitchat, she directs you to a video about Ruby Bridges, which you keep watching as she begins letting the other children into the virtual classroom. By 8:15, we’re helping you shimmy into some tights on top of the stretch pants you’re already wearing—it’s a cold day, and getting colder—and loading up in the car.
Dad drops you off, without major incident. The cold keeps you inside all day, which makes you happy about pick-up. Dad mesmerizes you on the way home with a video of…a dad…building something. At home, you sit down to reject a dinner of tomatoes, yogurt, farro (plain), goat cheese, and a mandarin orange. Your mind is on dessert, because it is a dessert day, and you have already decided on a cherry ice cup. Because we have poor boundaries about when exactly dessert starts, you take one bite of everything and then head to the freezer. On the upside, these particular desserts keep you seated at the table, carving away at the ice, for about 20 minutes. We enjoy the time with you.
When you’re finally finished, you and Paul work together to help Dad load the next item for his new toy, a 3-D printer. You two are the primary beneficiaries of this hobby: to add to your collection of tiny trucks that nest in eggs, spinning helicopters, unicorns, robots, and rocketships, he is now making you glow-in-the-dark butterflies.
It’s bath time. You hop right in and sing to yourself. Black History Month continues at school, clearly: you have watched another video about Martin Luther King Jr. and are desparately curious about the person who killed him. You want to know his name, and see his picture, and want to know HOW he killed him, and how old was Martin Luther King (39!!), and do people really go to jail for their whole lives? and what do you eat in jail? Paul tries desparately to change the subject. Bath ends.
We’ve promised you the Pinkalicious Valentines Day Special, which is what you are watching as I type this. It lacks the sneaky STEM lessons we count on PBS to provide, but it’s darn wholesome. At 7, we head bedward, and I close the night with a reread of Jack and Annie Book 1. Magic Treehouse time travel to the time of the dinosaurs sends you to sleep.
To Paul: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years and 5 months old.
At 7:05, you parade in cheerfully, and make an announcement: it’s snuggle time. You scooch right into bed between Dad and I and let us both cuddle you close. Annie is still in bed, and you are quite content to have us to yourself. You ask for my help getting dressed, and I bring you clothes and your toothbrush. We head downstairs.
You are determined to prepare breakfast yourself. You hunt for the dried mango in the pantry, stack up mini-pancakes into two towers of four, and carefully punch the microwave buttons to cook them. Triumphant, you tuck in.
Annie joins us and you have seconds. You bop around the house while she listens to her kindergarten teacher on the tablet. When it’s time to load up, you climb the counter to retrieve your daily vitamins and head out to the car with me, declining a jacket. It’s 30 degrees outside. You joke around in the car while I hover at the door, trying to playfully persuade you to sit down so I can I buckle you in. Frost is melting on the roof of the car and dripping onto the back of my neck. We accomplish our mission. Dad drives you to school.
You tell us nothing about your day. Dad picks you up at the end of it, and you and Annie watch 10 minutes of Blippi (Google him) while I finish cooking. Dinner is tortelli, tomatoes, and cheese, and you put it away fast.
Excused from the table, you launch into solo play, riding your firetruck around the house and talking to yourself. About 10 minutes in, you have crash-landed back by the table. I jot down the following exchange:
Paul: It seems like I’m always sad. I always have a sad face.
Paul: But I don’t know WHY I’m sad.
Paul: (flipping over and examining the firetruck ladder in your hand) But at least I have this boat!
And the ladder becomes a boat and you are off and running again.
You help me order groceries online from Costco—“of course blackberries”—and then agree to play upstairs. You and Annie start with running camp, doing tight laps around the inside of your room, and then evolve through a few other sports into ballet. Dad arrives. Swan Lake plays.
Annie assigns you roles as a co-dancer and team doctor, and when our attention wanders from the performance, abruptly announces a game change to garbage trucks + throwing balls at each other. Okay, sure.
Given that progression, it’s unsurprising that bedtime is a little wild. You sit in my lap for a book despite seditious Annie whispering in your ear that you should come run around with her. Dad has to threaten no story at all to get you in your beds, and after a chapter and a goodnight, you and Annie appear out of bed another time or two with additional demands. One is to hold you and sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, which I’m not unhappy to do, rocking you ineptly while your long legs dangle past my knees.
To Paul: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years and 4 months old.
At 6:45, you are crying, loudly. I enter. You are in your sleeping bag on the floor, in a circle with Annie, Eleanor, and Riley, on the morning side of a sleepover. “Eleanor HIT ME,” you confide/accuse, tears in your eyes. “She hit me in the cheek. And she called me STUPID.”
Yikes, brother. I issue the verdict that Eleanor has made a bad choice, and ask you all to use your words and bodies to help each other feel good, not bad, then leave you again to your own devices. You all keep talking and playing. You start crying again, in a more performative tone, and we hear you say, “I’m going to KEEP CRYING until MOM COMES.” I decline to be summoned in this manner. We hear Eleanor apologize to you for unknown infractions. You calm down. The playing continues.
At 7:05 you all burst screaming into our room. The light, it turns out, has turned green. You all work through your short list, then assemble around the dining room table for pancakes and grapes and dried mango. Calories ingested, you get right back to playing, chasing each other around the house, pulling toys off the shelf, loudly denying Riley the right to play with your firetruck—the usual.
After about an hour of this, we decide the walls can’t take much more bouncing off and launch a walk. You lead the pack down the hill, determined to go all the way to the trail. Fortunately, the empty playground proves a suitable distraction. There’s a man sleeping under a tarp at the entrance to the big slide, but otherwise many possibilities available to you. We head home in time to meet Doug and Kalia with a mess of breakfast biscuit sandwiches, and you fit in one last round of imaginative play, building a dinosaur world with Eleanor and Annie before they depart.
You are interested in a breakfast taco, so we make one together. You carefully tap the eggs to crack them, then squeeze them with your fingers until they explode over the bowl—aside from the mess on your hands, a suprisingly effectively technique. You eat your taco proudly and declare yourself ready for our Saturday morning walk. “FARTHER than Colibri,” and also “to the trail.” With those requirements in mind, we decide on our usual loop in reverse. You are riding your bike, and Annie’s on her scooter. All goes well until the downhill on Bouldin, during which you seem to be having a little too much fun at the expense of safety, cruising across streets without requisite adult accompaniment. At the bottom of the hill, consequences come due, and I basically pry your bike out of your hands. This does not land well. Some time is spent in reconcilliation activities. With assurances of safer practices and listening ears, we agree to another chance. We cross Barton Springs, and you tear off into the park, quickly out of range again. Oy.
You continue to test the proverbial fence line until we’re nearing the final leg, then surrender your vehicle and ride the rest of the way home in the stroller. Phew. It’s 1:30. We’re beat, and give you over to the embrace of your tablet for an hour or so.
At 3:30, we continue our wildly social day with a masked, backyard playdate with Shae, a new friend of yours from school. Your initial reluctance gives way to great fun swinging and shoveling gravel and chasing each other in circles around the deck. (We enjoy chatting with his parents; his dad is a physical therapist at UT’s medical school, and in line to get the Pfizer vaccine in the coming week.) When you accidentally clobber Shae and retreat under the dining table for a shame spiral, I manage to redirect you with gift-making possibilities, and you reconcile over a handful of balloons.
We say goodbye to them just before six, and head inside for dinner. While Dad and I dine on a delicious pot roast, you inhale half a cup of refried beans and eat a mango popsicle for dessert.
You sit in my lap for a few pages about road-building in Cars and Trucks and head to bed pretty willingly for the last chapter of Stuart Little. Stuart is driving in his mouse-sized roadster, heading north with a song in his heart. I say goodnight, close the door, and you wink out like a light.
To Anne: this is how you spent the day you turned 5 years and 8 months old.
A good day. You bustle in first thing with news that the ladybug who had been crawling on the ceiling above you last night (and causing some consternation) was STILL THERE. You now seem quite fond of her. Buoyed by the arrival of your new shiny purple cowboy boots, purchased in part with toothfairy funds from your first two lost teeth, you select an outfit, dress quickly, and head downstairs.
Kindergarten today involves recording yourself reading the numbers in Spanish as you connect 22 dots to trace the shape of a gingerbread person. Check, done. You and Paul are extremely excited that Dad has agreed to a long-time request: today you will ride your bike and scooter to school. Oh, the anticipation. We load up the stroller with your large volume of supplies and take off down the street.
It is extremely important to you that you be in front. Paul allows it. We make it all the way there, with only a few minutes of terror as the cars whiz past us on South 1st street. You glow with pride, and Ms. Patricia is full of praise for your accomplishment on arrival. After the usual safety drill, you disappear into the school and your day. Eleanor is there to play with, and the 2-year-old you have taken under your wing presents you with, as you will tell me later, “The most AMAZING THING EVER.” It’s a Lisa Frank trapper keeper. I have no words.
After dinner, you invite me upstairs to see if your ladybug friend is still there, and are thrilled to discover she is still roaming your ceiling! You move a plant closer to her in case it provides her some aphids to snack on. Her comfort attended to, you set me to work coloring one of the most beautiful pages in your new coloring pad. “You do it however you want, Mom. It will be better than mine.” Yeah, we’re still working on practice and persistence. You go to take a bath, but I am not reprieved until the picture is finished.
Afterward, we work on a puzzle with puppies and penguins and polar bear cubs. It’s nice working with you. We talk about getting a gift for Olivia in return, and you decide to pass down your very most precious light-up Elsa shoes. Wow.
Dad reads a chapter of Stuart Little, which you are quite enjoying, and says goodnight. Twenty minutes later, we see you a final time. It’s important. “Mom, I changed my mind. I want to give her my NOT light-up Frozen shoes.” Well, okay then. That’s just fine.
To Paul: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years and 3 months old.
For the first time since the time change 10 days ago, you sleep until 7. Accustomed now to half an hour of playtime before you emerge, you and Annie launch into some extended imaginings in your Pinky Store / Turtle Store playscape. You burst in around 7:20 to let us know the light has turned green, and Dad steps in to help with your preparations.
Downstairs, you eat buttered toast, dried mangoes, and pear slices for breakfast, then request some sausage rolls that we happen to have left over. Sure. We grab Annie’s kindergarten tablet, and you help her add different numbers up to ten to turn in for her daily attendance; then I read you both a picture book at her request, Salty Dogs.
The pirate story, I speculate, inspires your subsequent rowdy behavior. Uncharacteristically, you declare your refusal to go to school and run around the house, squeezing into various hiding places. Under the kitchen desk, you pull the chairs together and tell me your door is locked.
Somehow we lure you out to the car. Dad takes you to school, and you tromp in. Here’s what you tell me about your day: “Shay played with me for the WHOLE day and NEVER stopped.” This is a good thing. “And even wanted to come HOME with me, but, the teachers made him not.” What did you play? “Me and Shay were the flies, and we got caught in a spider web, and the spider wrapped them up, and it ate them.”
You also make a pretty cool orca out of paper plates.
At 5:15, you throw open the front door. Paul is HOME! Dinner is apple, cheese, and some noodles that are flippin delicious. You eat the apple + four tangerines. Sigh.
We’re just finishing up dinner when, surprise! Aunt Camei walks in! You and Annie are thrilled, and immediately incorporate her into your plans to make carpet angels in the TV room, and then show her the deck and the slide and the swings, and then it’s a mandatory tour of The Pinky and Turtle Store(s). You head back downstairs wrapped in blankets: you are, I believe, Baby Prince Snoopy.
You and Annie have a little art time. You write your name on a chalkboard. Names, actually. “My first name was NO,” you tell me. Then, it was “O. M.” Then it was “P Y T,” and now, of course, it’s “P A U L.” Right on, kiddo.
Bathtime. You’re happy to hop in the tub and show Aunt Camei how you can mix exotic coffee drinks with the colored bath drops. We cap off the night with a little Ruff Ruffman Show, and a few pages from What Do People Do All Day, one of the many fine Richard Scary books beloved by you and gifted to us by Aunt Peanut and Uncle Dan. Into bed, you listen to a chapter of Charlotte’s Web courtesy of Dad, wherein Charlotte weaves the word “Terrific” into her web.
Another terrific day. Goodnight, Paul!
To Annie: this is what happened the day you turned 5 years and 7 months old.
You wake me out of a dead sleep at 6:23, standing at the bedside to tell me, “My tummy hurts and I think I have to throw up and there’s a hair in my throat.” Paul is on your heels with a, “Me TOO!” I look at you, clearly in the prime of youth and health. I send you back to your room with the suggestion to have a drink of water, and you and Paul start building train tracks.
Ten minutes later you’re back. “Paul made me hit my face on his bed!” you say, and point to your forehead. I retrieve an ice pack for you. Back in your room, it is clear the source of the drama is a conflict between the expansion of the railroad and your elaborate “Pinky Store” industrial complex that covers 100% of the floor space with a meticulous and continually evolving arrangement of pillows, blankets, stools, pathways, nurseries for animal babies, books, and suppplies of various sorts. New train tracks have disrupted your horse’s stable and grazing territory. Story of America. I leave you to broker a peace deal with the offer to come divide the room in half if necessary.
Ten minutes later, it’s Paul. You have broken his train track, and it’s pretty clear your relationship is over forever. After a great deal of silent contemplation, you agree to relocate several Pinky Store components to make way for the railroad, and Paul returns to the scene with the stipulation that I help him with construction. It is 6:55.
Dad returns from his run and tags in. Plenty of playtime already under your belts, you get dressed and brush teeth quickly, and head downstairs for cereal and to watch me pack your school snacks with great interest. You decline your kindergarten work, and since you’ve been reliably joining your teacher for a lunchtime call and work session, we don’t push it. I help you into some tights, and we load up in the car. Dad drives you to Colibri, and you head through the health checkpoint for a day of enriching activity.
At school, you tell me, you play in the sandbox, log into Kindergarten at nap to learn about farm animals with Mrs. Dunbar in Spanish and English (gavra, burro), and then join virtual art class with Ms. Isolene. Did you do any art? I ask. No. But, “I learned that art is beautiful, even if you mess up.” Excellent.
Dad picks you up and you trot up to the house at 5 or so, finding me sitting on the front porch. You crawl into my lap for a quick cuddle, then ask why I didn’t take your picture—because now you know about the 10th of the month. You give me a quick download of info from school, then pursue your interests inside. “Can I have some apple chips as an appetite?” Appetizer, I help you say, and yes, you may have three. While dinner finishes cooking, you watch an episode of Let’s Go, Luna, learning about pasta and Rome. It’s a good lead-in to our lasagna dinner, which you relish. Paul is having none of it, though, so you do your best to coax him back to the table, telling him it’s made with Snoopy’s secret ingredient. Magic poop.
“I don’t LIKE magic poop.”
“Well, what DO you like?”
You lost two teeth in the last month.
We straggle through the end of dinner, and play a game together that involves sending pings through a coordinate plane. Muy educational. It’s 7pm. We head upstairs, and you change clothes, brush your teeth, and bustle around Pinky Shop for a spell. You decline to read a picture book, but we review what happened last night in our chapter of Charlotte’s Web. (Fern and Avery eat blueberry pie, we remember together, and Avery has a frog in his pocket, and they swing on the swing for an hour, and then Fern goes to visit Wilbur, and Avery tries to knock Charlotte out of her web, but he accidentally breaks the rotten goose egg, and it smells so bad that they run away, and then that night Charlotte tears out a big part of her web and starts WORKING ON SOMETHING. And we don’t find out what it is until Dad reads us the chapter tonight, so, Bodies in Bed!)
Dad reads the next chapter. You hang on his words. Some Pig.