Practically the second that the Towson Town Center opened at 10 a.m. Monday, Theresa Hall burst through the doors with her two children and 4-year-old nephew, in search of hot food and toilets that flushed.
Entering her third day after losing power in her Edgewood home, Hall was tired of telling 6-year-old Faith and the 4-year-olds, Andrew and Brian, not to open the refrigerator so their food wouldn't spoil. She was tired of listening to her son and nephew complain that they were missing their favorite show, "SpongeBob SquarePants." She was tired of having to use bottled water to take baths.
When Faith was unable to attend the first day of first grade at Magnolia Elementary School, the only sanity-saving option left to Hall was to pack the kids into the car and flee.
"We left this morning," she says. "All our food is bad, and the kids are restless. I can't wait until our power is restored, the schools open and everything gets back to normal."
Unfortunately, Hall will have to wait at least one day longer.
As of sunset Monday, more than 400,000 people in Central Maryland remained without power, and school was canceled for Tuesday in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties.
The widespread outages and resulting school closings sent parents around the region scrambling to find high school-age baby sitters (who, luckily, were available because their schools had closed as well), swap shifts with co-workers and find creative ways to entertain their stir-crazy offspring.
Some took advantage of near-perfect weather to stroll along the Inner Harbor. Some parents used the opportunity to finish up the back-to-school shopping they were unable to complete over the weekend, while their children put the finishing touches on book reports that were supposed to be ready by, um … Monday.
But two Ellicott City boys may actually be looking forward to returning to school.
David Burnham, a software developer for Montgomery County Public Schools, had just one word for 9-year-old Connor and 6-year-old Aiden: "yardwork."
The gadget-deprived youngsters spent the morning picking up leaves, branches and debris that fell on the Burnhams' backyard over the weekend.
At least, that's what the boys were supposed to be doing. In reality, more than one sword fight ensued, albeit with downed tree branches instead of blades of steel.
"It's keeping them occupied," Burnham said. "Some of the leaves are even getting picked up."
For 54-year-old Lamar Clark, Hurricane Irene provided an unexpected boon — a day to hang out with his 10-year-old grandson.
What matter if young Antonio Alleyne's Windsor Mill home remained without electricity, after flickering on and off, tantalizingly, several times over the past three days?
It was the perfect opportunity for Clark, who is visiting from Atlanta, to head down to the Inner Harbor and take Antonio on his first water taxi ride. It was a marvelous day to treat the boy to a cookies-and-cream ice cream sandwich from Maggie Moo's decorated with Gummi Bears. It was an ideal time for listening to Antonio talk about his passions (martial arts and wrestling), and articulate an occasional concern.
"I don't really know," Antonio confessed, "what fifth grade is going to be like."
The Maryland State Fair, which began Friday, usually sees a drop in attendance the Monday after the first weekend, said fair president and general manager Howard Mosner Jr. That's been especially true in recent years when schools have gone back in session before Labor Day.
"We would normally get lots of young parents with toddlers," he said.
But by 1:30 p.m. Monday, the numbers were already far higher than they would have been otherwise, Mosner said.
"We're certainly seeing more kids as a result of them being out of school," he said. "We're seeing a pretty wide range of ages."
Anticipating that the power outages and school closures would send extra foot traffic, fair officials offered a two-for-one admission special Monday and a $15 ride wristband discount. Mosner said that if schools are canceled on Tuesday, the special discounts would continue.
But for most Maryland residents, the double whammy of a loss of power and school closures was a curse, not a blessing.
Ann Marie Barbour of Reisterstown was in a pickle after she discovered that school had been canceled for her three boys: Max, 12, Evan, 11 and Oliver, 6.
She was scheduled to teach ballet, barre and Pilates classes at a local gym, and her husband also had work commitments that couldn't be canceled.
Though their home was without electricity, and the family was showering at the gym, a gas-powered generator was providing emergency power.
"Max is going to be 13, I was going to be home by 12:30 p.m, and we decided it would be OK to leave them alone for a few hours," Barbour said.
"We told them all, 'Don't touch the generator.' I was nervous, but when I got home, everyone was fine. But I want them back in school."
As eager as Barbour is for the schools to reopen, she can't hold a battery-powered candle to Martha Crow of Towson.
"First there was the earthquake, then there was the hurricane," Crow said. "I have to admit that I'd rather be safe, but today was supposed to be the first day of school. I can't wait to go back.
"But then, I'm a teacher."