Raising kids in the dark

‘Muuuuuummy! I can’t do my homewoooork!” chimed my daughter Saffiyya (9) as I opened the front door at around 6.30pm last Friday evening. Eskom had cut off power to my neighbourhood about 30 minutes earlier.

My response was not fit to print in a family newspaper. It wasn’t just her homework that had me in a lather; I had one guest staying with us for the week and another arriving imminently for the weekend. And I had forgotten to buy candles (#middleclassproblems).

So off we raced to our local shopping centre, stumbling through itinerant neighbours and an out-of-tune brass band, which had overrun the car park for the centre’s carols by candlelight. We got to the grocery store only to find it shut before its 7pm closing time.

Mugging the carollers for their beacons of light was our only other option, so I begged the manager, through the gloom on the other side of the door, to find me some candles for which I would pay him handsomely and in cash – anything he asked.

I learnt when Bongani returned from the store’s dark depths with a variety of packets of ordinary candle sticks in pink, blue and red, that candle inflation is indeed a thing. The price of a pack of six had shot up to R22.

I bought the lot.

After feeding the visitors and children Woolies roast chicken by candlelight (what else in a blackout?), another child bellowed down the passage: “Moooommy! I can’t brush my teeth in the daaaaaark!” It was my son, Tolga (6), who tries to

avoid brushing his teeth at the best of times.

“How hard can this be?” I fumed, placing pink, blue and red candles all around the house – even in the brass candlesticks on the antique French-polished piano. People in informal settlements have been living without power for decades.

While there was no power for our people, my daughter did her maths worksheets by candlelight at the dining room table, and practised the piano with the same light a child in the 1800s would have had. My son showered in a flicker of light (“Muuuuuum! I can’t see my ears! My ears are staying dirty!”), and the adults Facebooked their frustration using cellphones with dying batteries.

The now formerly French-polished piano took a hit as the candles dripped blue wax on to the wood and the keys.

After our visitors left – having endured power outages for most of the weekend – more arrived on Monday. These were traffic refugees who work in the city and couldn’t face the two-hour drive home to the far north of Joburg with every traffic light out along the way. Could they hang with us instead?

The children were far happier: they had cottoned on to the fact that during blackouts, they receive undivided attention. “Yay Mum! No screens! And no TV news...” Saffiyya said, cackling at my frustration at being left out of the loop. “And we haven’t had pizza in AGES!”

On Tuesday night, the lights stayed on. Tolga and his dad hogged the PlayStation for hours, and we ate a hot, home-cooked meal. But Saffiyya did not do her homework.

“Muuuummy! I can’t do it unless it’s dark and the candles are on!”

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