The record-breaking cold snap most of the country has been
experiencing is remarkable. Even here in normally temperate North Carolina, a
few friends have had pipes burst; which reminds me of one frightfully cold
winter we had when living in England just a few years ago (see photo above as evidence).
My husband Jeff woke me up abruptly one especially cold morning
saying, “You’d better get up. The pipes have frozen, we have no water—I’m
not sure what to do.”
This was something we had never encountered in our 15 years
of married life together. But I wasn’t worried; so what if we couldn’t get
water? We didn’t need to shower (schools were closed—we weren’t going
anywhere); we could just drink juice all day and boil snow to cook pasta. It
would be fun, like Little House on the Prairie!
It wasn’t until after Jeff had left for work and the girls and I
were finishing off a very hearty breakfast, washed down by two or three glasses
of orange juice, that I realized the full effect of not having water—five
people and not one flushing toilet.
Camille, my 10-year-old was very helpful. She was all about
getting the water back on. She mindfully turned the faucets on around the
house—seeing if any water was dribbling out.
Around lunchtime Sean the plumber showed up and got down to
the work of thawing our frozen pipes with a hairdryer. After an hour or so the
kitchen faucet began to sputter, then slowly but steadily the flow
increased from a trickle to a steady stream, to a gush. My daughters and I
hugged Sean the plumber and I made him a celebratory cup of tea (I learned while
living among them, that Brits really do drink a lot of tea). When our tea party was
finished, Sean left and I headed upstairs to grab a sweater.
That’s when I heard it—the powerful charge of running water. I
stopped in my tracks, turning my head in the direction of the sound— the
bathroom off the playroom. I ran in and saw that the bathtub, used to store the
girls’ stuffed animals, was overflowing with water. Brown bears, pink bunnies
and white lambs were bobbing and sinking as they soaked up the water like
giant, furry sponges.
“Holy crap!” I ran to the stairs and yelled down to Camille. “Camee, come up here, quick!” She
ran up and gasped in horror, as she crossed the threshold of the bathroom.
“Oh, mommy! I thought I turned this tap
off!” she whimpered.
I shut off the water and we got down to the task of attempting
to wring out the bloated animals.
“Mommy!!! The water—it’s making big puddles in the family room!”
My sweet daughter began to cry, but before I could even comfort her,
my other children began screaming from downstairs in the family room. I almost
slid down the old, wooden stairs. As I rounded the corner into the family room,
I took in the sight of water pouring from the ceiling onto the floor and all of
the furniture. “SHIT!” I instinctually screamed.
I ran back upstairs, past Camille (sobbing into a soggy
giraffe), and sprinted into my bathroom, which sits directly above the family
room. Camille had left the faucets to both the bathtub and the sink on. They
were overflowing. The carpeted floor was flooded. I shut off the water and
stood there, trying to catch my breath, having no idea what to do next. “Mommy!!! The water—it’s making big puddles in the family room!”
I heard my daughters’ muffled yelps from downstairs. I ran back down, swinging
by the kitchen on my way to the family room and grabbed as many mixing bowls
and buckets as I could carry.
Arranging them on the floor, my girls and I tried to dry off the
furniture, but there were only so many towels in the house.
I looked at Camille. Her eyes were as flooded as the bathtubs;
tears spilling down onto her flushed cheeks. “I was trying to help ... I thought
leaving the taps on would get the water to flow. I’m sorry, mommy!” She
I looked at her and paused. In my exasperation I didn’t want to
say anything unkind. “Camille, it was an accident,” I said
as I hugged her tight. “You know, you’ll never forget
this. You’re sort of an expert in frozen pipes now. When you grow up and live
in your own house, you’ll know what to do when the weather turns very cold.”
She looked up and smiled just a little. Unable to keep a straight face I
continued, “And you know, as your mother, I have the right to remind you of
this every winter, for the rest of your life.”