The One in Which We Can't Use the Water

It’s one of those weekends. It all started Friday afternoon when I went to flip some laundry from washer to dryer (my laundry has gotten less drier dependent; I think I do three loads for the line to one for the dryer) and found some suspicious water mysteriously on the cement floor. It wasn’t a terrible amount of water, but there was no obvious reason for it to be there, no clear source.

I walked upstairs just as my dear husband headed out the door for Maine (for a wonderful friend’s memorial service) and I said, “I am not cut out for home ownership. There’s water on the basement floor and I have no idea why or what to do.”

Just then our great friend (and carpenter) appeared. Like magic! (Actually, his shop is in our barn, so he appears quite often).

He looked. He snaked. He assessed the problem was bigger than regular plumber snake and called the sewer guys.

Friday afternoon is not the optimal moment for plumbing disasters (duh). However, they said they’d come at around seven that evening, maybe closer to eight. No washer or dishwasher until then.

No Fletcher. No call. The load of laundry sits poised on the stairwell and the dishwasher waits bellyful and idle.

Saturday morning the sewer guy shows up. He works a long time ($300) only to tell me he can’t reach the clog and his camera shows it’s under the street and so he thinks the city must fix it and flush if you really, really have to and put bowls in the sinks and try to use as absolutely little water as possible. “I know you have young kids,” he tells me, “so you can’t use no water.”

The city says they’re coming. No knock on the door. No call. Hours later, we discover they came and didn’t see the clog. If we could just hold off until Monday that would be great, the city’s sewer guy (I should learn the technical term, engineer, Master plumber, fix-it wizard?) tells me on Saturday early evening over the telephone.


Two kids are with their papa, back from the beautiful memorial service in Maine, at Grandma’s house (don’t just eat local or buy local, have a local Grandma, I swear, that’s a truly blessed thing and not just when you don’t have water). As I write this, two are sleeping.

By Saturday evening, maybe unsurprisingly, because I was pretty darn stressed about this no water thing and probably dehydrated as if I neglected to drink water because I’m paranoid (I would do that, trust me), I was nursing a headache. I hadn’t slept well at all the night before. I hadn’t slept much a couple of nights before that (work). So, once the eight year-old returned from extended play date/dinner at his friend’s house (also good—have local friends, who kindly take your children when you have no water) we turned the light off (the toddler was already asleep) and we conked out without saying “Boo.”

Not quite an aside: I have been trying to sleep more since Thanksgiving and I am moving from the sleep-doesn’t-matter camp (badge of honor after parenting four infants over twelve years) to the sleep-is-very-healthy camp (a friend and my kids’ former teacher, Beth Haxby, is even setting up a practice consulting with people about kids and sleep). Beth told me people are capable of making up their sleep debts. I notice that as I commit to sleeping more, I am more tired in the evenings—bedtime—and I am actually less tired during the day: true story, folks.

Eight hours later, no headache (hooray!) yet still cranky (the teenager got takeaway sushi and didn’t clean up; I will admit I tossed our ceramic soup spoon in the trash with his trash and had to dig it back out), I’m determined to use our mucky grey day—the dusting of snow came magically and went New England five-minutes-and-then-it-changes and now, rain—to hang out with friends and hubby and to clean up and mostly to work on my annual calendar.

The calendar, it’s a process. Although I received just about five great come sleep over offers I refused, mostly because I had previously decided this was my calendar weekend and gosh darn it I have no other time available; we’re having a craft show at our house next weekend. I sort through a huge stack of photos (almost done) and then make agonizing decisions and figure out the math (which I understood with three kids and twelve months but really is much more complicated with four…). Decisions made, I take the thirteen photos to those nice folks at Collective Copies. They take it from there. The calendar is one of those annual traditions for grandparents and others I haven’t let go of (holiday mailing, bye-bye years ago).

Getting over grumpiness—not just due to the water crisis, to be sure; in part, trying to untangle myself from being upset over other things, thus my sleepless night Friday—is I guess like the calendar and like this weekend with its unexpected pipe challenge, also a process. I have nothing pithier to offer.

Here’s a photograph of all four kids around the menorah, for no other reason than it’s lovely.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser's work has appeared on the New York Times, Salon, and the Manifest Station amongst other places. Find her on Twitter @standshadows

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