Minnesota power outage: A family learns four lessons to get by in a storm

Storms caused power outages in Minnesota this weekend that affected more than a half million people, including James Norton, his wife, and their 2-month-old.  

Richard Sennott, The Star Tribune/AP
Hundreds of thousands of Minnesota residents lost power in outages caused by storms over the weekend. Here, a resident looks over a house that was damaged during a storm on June 21in Minnetonka, Minn.

Minnesota is experiencing the worst power outage in its history — on June 21, an intense storm savaged the tree canopy throughout the Twin Cities, leaving more than a half million people without power and making an articulate argument in favor of buried power lines

My Minneapolis neighborhood, Longfellow, looks like it was attacked by a cheesed-off Paul Bunyan. My wife Becca and I work from home where we care for our 2-month-old son Josiah, and our power's been gone since 9 p.m. on Friday night. Excel Energy says the power will be back by Wednesday — but trying to restore a power grid is more horseshoes and hand grenades than a precise art.

The experience has been one of the most challenging things our young family has faced, right up there with the whole "giving birth" thing. But the process has been nothing if not educational.

Treasure That "Peak Moment"

As I write these words, Becca is happily snuggled in a comfortable hotel bed with our son. The room is cool and clean, and I'm able to use wireless Internet to work. A bit less than 24 hours earlier, the two of us were cooped up in an increasingly dark, muggy house. Our son was nearing peak volume (just this side of "jet engine" on the decibel scale), and we were both exhausted and frustrated — with each other, with the situation, with the electric company, with life in general. The ice cream sandwiches had melted. The bratwurst had gone bad. We'd arrived at a dire place.

Looking back, that moment was a precious gift. A horrible, unpleasant, madness-inducing precious gift, but a gift nonetheless. I wish I'd done more to listen rather than talk. I can see how heat, stress, and disrupted routine can stack up. But with a bit of teamwork, we survived.

And I can now view it from the other side of the mess with the knowledge that while things can get highly unpleasant, we can pull back together, rally, and recover.  

Change the Venue (If You Can)

Once a power outage (or the minor natural disaster of your choice) has severed your links to everyday life, consider taking a step further and embracing the experience. Travel, if you can. Move into different digs. Spring for a hotel, if it's doable. Is the cost of two nights at a decent hotel something we had budgeted for? Absolutely not. Would we rather spend this money on Josiah's college education, or a trip to Lake Superior's North Shore, or basically anything else? Naturally.

But was it money well spent? Absolutely. We are cool, our baby is happy, our phones are charged, we're back in touch with friends and family and one another. When you hit a hard wall, mix it up — bring in friends or family, take a trip, check into a hotel or otherwise change the game.

The Social Media Safety Net

The sunny flipside of Facebook's in-your-face interface is that when the going gets tough, your friends and family are there. Soon after losing power, Becca posted about it on Facebook; I jumped in to some other friends' threads about the storm and its aftermath. Friends have invited us over for meals, offered us air-conditioned respites, and even (after we'd arrived at the hotel) offered to put us up in their homes, baby and all. Reach out on an open forum, and you may be surprised at how many people offer you a hand.

Context is Golden

At some point — assuming that we aren't consumed by a solar flare or something — power is going to return. The air conditioning will function again, and we can once again do seemingly trivial but absolutely essential things like cooking a meal and storing things in the refrigerator. At that point, everything we do will seem that much easier and more natural. The everyday struggle of raising an infant while working from home will feel like an effortless ballet compared WITH the humid, stressful, messy experience of being without electric power for days during the summer.

And the next time this happens, we'll be ready to ride the storm, as a family.

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