As I bathed my two small children in a bucket while holding a flashlight, I thought, This is not real life. This isn’t really happening. Soon, I will wake up and this will all be over.
Except it wasn’t a bad dream. I really did live in a remote cow camp way off the grid, and our solar panel and backup diesel generator were both temporarily out of commission. Our little house on a hill was in total darkness, so I had to use a flashlight to supervise bath time. Since the camp house only had a shower stall, we filled a large plastic bucket with water to wash the kids each night.
This is not how I pictured my life at age thirty. I had a Bachelor’s Degree and had worked full-time as a journalist for the last five years, picking up freelance gigs along the way. I had the education and experience to get a good job closer to civilization, where we could buy electricity from a power company and buy groceries without packing a suitcase for a two-day trip. It was 2016 and I lived in a First World country where smartphones were the norm and only our grandparents had clothes lines.
But, my husband was a cowboy. This extreme Way Out West lifestyle was his dream, and somehow me and the kids got roped into the adventure as well.
Jim went outside to work on the generator while I watched Grace and Milo splash around in the bubbles and squirt each other with toy rubber sea animals. The sudden darkness caused by the electricity’s going out had startled them, but their laughter and squeals had returned with the dim glow of the small flashlight. At ages one and four, they didn’t see the muck bucket bath tub as a setback in Mom’s Plan For Family Stability, Financial And Otherwise. For some childish reason, they absolutely loved bathing in the big red bucket.
They also loved packing their own flashlights around the dark house. Four-year-old Grace especially enjoyed shining the light directly into her parents’ eyes with no warning. Her parents did not share her enjoyment of this activity. One-year-old Milo really enjoyed playing with his flashlight until the rotating head pinched his fingers in its hinge. Then he cried and wanted his mommy to hold him, darkness or no.
The lights came back on shortly after the kids were dried off with their hoodie towels and the water was dumped out of the bucket. Guided by his own flashlight, Jim had managed to jerry-rig the generator so it would work for the duration of the evening. We turned on one light and gathered in the living room to watch an old DVD on the huge, boxy TV that came with the house. Hopefully the next day would be sunny so the solar panels could capture enough rays to power the house and charge up the batteries.
If not, I was definitely packing up the kids and driving to Prescott. I was accustomed to bright lights every time I flipped a switch, two full-length bath tubs per house, and satellite TV with seasonally appropriate commercials. I did not want to live like this.
But, the sun came up the next day, which made the lights come on that night. I took the kids outside to play in the mud and feed handfuls of hay to the horses. I decided the kids looked cute in their bath tub bucket. I even snapped a few pictures to show them in the future.
Because we won’t always live like this. One day we’ll have modern conveniences again, but we won’t always have Mahon.