One morning last month, like so very many other mornings, one of the first questions posed to me was, “Is the dishwasher clean?” Most mornings, this roughly translates to “Did you run the dishwasher last night?”, in which case the answer to both questions would be one and the same. This particular morning, however, was unlike most mornings because we’d been without electricity for three days and three nights, so there was no way anyone could have run the dishwasher without a surprise visit from the Generator Fairy. And since there is no Generator Fairy (as far as I know), no magical alternating current had delivered a source of electrical power into our possession. By this point in our experience of going without power for half of a frigid January week, I’d developed a system wherein a pot of water was always on the stovetop so I could light the gas with a candle flame and heat the water for whatever purpose necessary throughout the day: cooking oatmeal or Ramen, brewing tea or cocoa, or warming things like bags of frozen edamame we were keeping in the flowerpot full of snow on the porch (or, as we referred to it that week, “the outdoor freezer”). In the evenings, after the sink had collected the fallout of the day’s mealtime preparation and consumption, I’d heat the water in the saucepan to use while handwashing the load, thus making the experience far more enjoyable than on that first night when I’d only used the chill-you-to-the-bone-temperature water from the faucet. After washing, rather than waste time drying all of those clean dishes, I just loaded them into the dishwasher-turned-dish drainer for them to air-dry overnight so we’d have a dishwasher full of clean dishes in the morning, just like usual.
That morning, on the fourth day with no electricity, heat, or hot water, when my child asked, “Is the dishwasher clean?” the answer was, indeed, yes, but only because they’d been washed before going in there. I said as much, just in case these people hadn’t noticed the extra work and energy all of this powerlessness had required of me, and the response I received was this singular word: “Good.” Good. As in, you washed all of these dishes by hand in the dark by headlamp with water you’d boiled on the stove after thinking about what to prepare for us to eat, considering that the only method of heating food was on the gas range, and then purchasing the items necessary to that end, obtaining them, bringing them into this house, and putting them away (even if that meant burying them in a mound of snow in a flowerpot out back). Oh, and then you actually prepared the food and served it. Those were the steps leading up those aforementioned dirty dishes.
As parents, we frequently have thoughts like these. But it’s important to remember that for children, it’s hard to appreciate exactly what all of those machinations really mean in a practical sense. This is why, in that moment, while I watched my daughter take a clean bowl out of a dry dishwasher, I considered all of the steps–literal and figurative–leading to the eventuality of that clean cereal bowl in her hand. And I thought, you know, it really is good. Here we have a gas range I can light to heat water and food. Here we have a faux fireplace warming at least this part of the house using batteries that I bought on sale at Costco. Here we have a headlamp, a creature comfort our forebears could merely have imagined. Here we have a cell phone I can charge using a USB port in a flashlight lantern, from which I can access cellular data to order groceries which I can pick up without even leaving my car. Here we have a dishwasher, a modern amenity only affordable by a small sector of humankind, which works beautifully as a draining rack for all of these colorful melamine bowls from which we can eat food conveniently preserved in a natural freezer. And here we have the awareness that taking a bowl from a clean dishwasher to use rather than selecting one from the shelf is a kind of shortcut that essentially saves at least a few iotas of energy, even if this child’s motivation for the choice might have been that it’s easier to reach the bowls in the dishwasher than the ones higher up in the cabinet.
So, after that split second in which I’d bristled at what sounded like entitlement, in that one word I heard genuine gratitude. I felt it, too. And someday, baby, you’ll understand just how good that really is.