Turn Off the Lights
By Stephanie Schaeffer Silverman
I swore I would never say it. I couldn’t even imagine what would cause me to say it. But I said it.
Given my three kids span a five-year age range, they have always been on different wake up and bus schedules. Earliest bus time was 7:25, and latest 9:03. While there is some overlap in bathroom and kitchen times, there is an approximate two-hour span of “getting ready”.
I never felt that I needed to be a big part of this process. Most days I stumbled downstairs about two-thirds of the way through. One such morning, by the time I got down the stairs, I had counted eight lights that were on—two bathrooms, hallway, foyer, walkway to kitchen, two kitchen lights, and the mudroom. What the heck?
“Do you need all of these lights on?” I mumbled to no one in particular. And no one in particular felt the need to answer. How convenient.
“He-llllo?” I cooed. (I heard it as cooing; they heard it as nagging.)
“I didn’t turn all of them on,” reported child number two, never wanting to be the one called out. No, he didn’t turn them all on, but he has the lion’s share of devices plugged into outlets. (Now, truth be told, our family of five has about 15 devices plugged into outlets throughout the house—the obvious culprit for escalating energy bills.)
“That’s fine, but you don’t need all of them on—you can turn some of the lights off, right?”
I walked around and turned the lights off, much to the disdain of child number three, as child number two headed toward the door. Child number one, the perpetrator, had already left the building.
I was so annoyed—what a waste of energy and money. And that’s when I said it. I felt the words form in my mouth, but there was no stopping them.
“Do you think that we own the electric company?” I shouted, as child number two walked out the door.
I almost heard the needle scratch the record. The phrase my mother said often in the ‘70s, the phrase she muttered under her breath, as she walked from room to room, punching each switch off. My penny-pinching mom really thought that our turning off the lights two minutes sooner was going to turn them into the Millionaires Next Door (well, that plus driving 10 miles to get the best gas price, and endless coupon cutting).
But that’s only half the story.
Child number three dragged her backpack to the table, and proceeded to pull out a math problem that she didn’t finish the previous night. She buried her nose into the textbook, trying to see the dimly lit words on the page.
“Seriously? You know, you are going to go blind if you don’t get some lights on. I don’t know how you can read that.” I grumbled and walked over to the light switch to shed some light on the matter.
“Isn’t that better?” I asked, all smug, and she looked perplexed.
That was my father’s signature move—always turning the lights on, desperately worried we would damage our eyes by reading in the dark. To this day, I don’t even know if that is possible, but if his annoyance was in any way correlated to truth, then it had to be true.
“I just don’t get why you would sit here and read in the dark,” he grumbled, turning on several lights at this point—completely negating the cost savings my mother had already calculated in her head.
So, truth be told, it was my mom turning off all the lights and my dad turning them back on. My siblings and I had very little to do with it, as it was becoming increasingly clear. Same in my house. Well, that, or revisionist history amongst all of the generations. Perfect.
Stephanie Schaeffer Silverman is publisher of Your Teen Magazine.