After a week without electricity, Sara Waire felt little need to sugarcoat her answer when asked Friday afternoon how her family was holding up.
"Today," the Stoneleigh resident said grimly, "has been pretty awful."
Her 4-year-old daughter, Mady, bounced on and off of a couch as she watched cartoons on a small generator-powered DVD player. Her 2-year-old son, Liam, crouched underneath the dining room table, pecking away at a game on his mother's iPhone.
"It took them a couple of days to go crazy," Waire said as she warned Mady not to be rude. "Small kids are just completely thrown off when they don't have their routines."
It's a lesson Baltimore-area parents have learned all week as power outages have slowly declined from more than 600,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers to about 14,000 on Friday after the June 29 thunderstorms that stunned the area. Families still without power a week after the storm could only share war stories and vague theories about when central air might again cool their homes.
The normal release valves for children have not been available.
Waire's neighbors canceled play dates as they fled to hotels or beach houses. The family's basement play room was too dark to use, even at the height of day. The local pool didn't have electricity either. It was too hot to go to the park.
Only Barnes and Noble and the play area at Towson Town Center offered the appropriate mix of distraction and central air.
As worn out as Waire seemed, there were reasons for optimism. Thanks to a window-unit air conditioner, the temperature downstairs was only 76 degrees, about 20 degrees cooler than outside. That made the Waires luckier than some, who confronted the continuing heat wave without any mechanical aid.
Better still, a BGE crew was at work down the street, erecting a new utility pole and slowly raising the lines that might bring the Waire house back to life.
The Waires had no inkling that trouble was afoot when they sat to watch the 11 p.m. news a week earlier. As the lights on the news set flickered from the brewing storm, Sara told her husband, John, that he might want to take down a flagpole attached to the house. A gust of wind hit as he climbed, and he actually hung from the outside of the white-brick house by his fingers for a few perilous seconds.
Around midnight, fire broke out in back as a snapped power line came down on one of the street's many trees. Sara called 911, and it took her seven or eight minutes to get through — a bad sign. At 3:30 a.m., the electricity went off and stayed off.
The Waires were supposed to drive to New York on Saturday morning, but they canceled, worried about the unsettled state of the neighborhood. As the thermometer ticked up to 86 degrees on Sunday, they came across a godsend on Facebook: a friend from Havre de Grace willing to lend them a generator.
The device allowed them to power window air-conditioning units on the ground level and in their daughter's bedroom. They figured both kids could at least sleep in the cool. But Liam declared, "I need my bed," and stuck to his room, even though he would wake up drenched in sweat.
Despite the generator, life seemed askew in dozens of small ways. There were no waffles or eggs waiting for the kids when they came down for breakfast. Meals had to be grabbed at Wegmans, Starbucks or the Cheesecake Factory. The neighborhood felt eerie at night, with no lights and little sound. Liam tried to flick on a lamp Friday morning and said, "Mommy, there's no light."
"I was like, 'Where have you been all week?'" Sara said.
On Tuesday, BGE's automated outage reporting line said service was expected to return by 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. But the Waires saw no trucks roll onto the street, so they weren't surprised when the time came and went. The recorded voice went back to the dreaded promise of "as soon as possible."
The family tried to look at the bright side as the outage continued. At least they had paid to have an old sycamore removed a few weeks earlier. If they hadn't, the decaying tree could easily have collapsed onto the house.
Sara brought some cold water to a homeless woman she often sees on York Road. "I don't have it that bad," she said to herself.
John Waire works in scheduling operations at BGE's parent company, Exelon. And Sara used to work in human relations at Constellation Energy. Both of them have known utility crewmen and consider them "really decent people." So they tried to keep their disappointment in perspective.
When BGE trucks entered the neighborhood Thursday evening, Sara waved giddily "like they were Santa Claus."
The crews began trimming trees at 8 a.m. Friday, and just before 3 p.m., the big moment finally arrived. Liam ran to a light in the living room and flicked the switch over and over. "It works, Mommy," he said. "It works."