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When Hurricane Sandy turned off the heat and power at our house here in Montclair, N.J., I had been watching coverage of the storm on TV and saw that a roller coaster my husband and 12-year-old son had ridden this past summer in Seaside Heights had landed in the ocean. As unbelievable as that was, in those first moments of darkness, I never imagined that 80 percent of our town would be without power for days and days. Or that our house would be dark for nine. We lit some candles and placed them in the fireplace. I turned on the transistor radio, and my husband, son, 9-year-old daughter, and I sat on the couch watching the flames.
The next few days moved slowly. We filled the time playing chess, Sorry, Go Fish! and a Rodney Dangerfield board game called No Respect (don’t ask). As the temperature of the house dropped down to 43 degrees, the kids developed colds and I got super cranky, lumbering around wearing four layers and a scowl. I knew others had it much worse from listening to NPR on the transistor, and reading our New York Times, which we still have delivered the old-fashioned way. I knew we were lucky. Our house had suffered no damage, and our loved ones were all safe. But I was cold. Bone-chillingly cold. And there was an awful smell emanating from our garbage disposal. We charged our devices at the public library, and I whined on Facebook about our predicament. What can I say? I am soft.
After four days in a freezing dark house (mental note: must install insulation), a wonderful friend came to our rescue. The power had just been restored to her house in Nutley, and she had seen my Facebook post about being cold. She and her family were leaving for vacation and she messaged me asking if we wanted to stay at their house. We absolutely did. The kids had been surprisingly resilient, actually complaining less than usual, but I was losing it.
At the cozy house of our saviors, five miles from our home, I watched Fred Armisen’s parody of Bloomberg on SNL. I laughed when he spoke to viewers in bad Spanish, asking Hispanics to be patient with white people because they would be irritable due to their lack of access to Internet and their favorite TV shows. “Not being able to watch Homeland is the worst thing that has ever happened to white people,” he said. I laughed at myself, but really, for our family, the devices were not the problem. Even before we moved in with our friends, our kids had charged their DS’s at the library, and we had waived our usual strict limits on screen time. Other parents were complaining that their kids couldn’t get their usual digital stimulation; our kids were getting way more than usual. Once installed in our temporary home, our kids had almost unfettered access to video games and watched a movie a day because we were in a different town, couldn’t go anywhere due to the scarcity of gas (and its resulting preciousness), and the time has to be filled somehow. You can only allow a 12-year-old to decimate you in chess so many times before you let him turn on the Xbox.
After a few days at our friends’ home, our daughter began to realize all that she’s been missing. The newest game system at our house is 12 years old. She informed us that she lives like a “caveman,” as she has no electronics except for her 3DS. Then we got all sanctimonious with her, telling her that we had it so good, while others had lost their homes, etc.
She still wants an iPod Touch for Christmas.
So are we the only ones who had to deal with a compensatory entertainment binging affect? How have you all handled it?