The Twenty-Degree Picnic

Cold is relative. I know this because for two years right after I graduated from college, Beth and I lived in Iowa City—we were attending grad school at the University of Iowa. We’d spent the past four (or in Beth’s case five) winters in northeastern Ohio, so we were halfway acclimatized when we got there, but winters in Iowa can get very, very cold. And the temperatures fluctuate wildly, dropping from forty above to forty below and back again sometimes in the space of a couple days.

One winter day after it had been below zero for a long stretch of time and was starting to warm up a bit, I was spending the day doing research in a library where no food was allowed. I’d packed a lunch, but I wasn’t sure where to eat it, as it would have been a longer walk to the student union than I cared to make. I wanted to eat as quickly as possible and get back to work, so I decided it wasn’t too cold to eat outside, on the banks of the Iowa River. There was snow on the ground, so I removed my coat and spread it out like a blanket for my picnic. It was twenty degrees outside that day. It only struck me later how strange that behavior might seem to someone to whom twenty degrees seemed very cold.

I am that person now. We’ve lived in the Washington metropolitan area for almost twenty-two years now.  We don’t routinely add “above” or “below” to temperatures in the winter any more.  It’s always above here.  And weather like we’ve been having the past few days with highs below freezing, some days in the twenties, and lows in the teens is noteworthy.  It looks as if we’ll have five or six days in a row with high temperatures below freezing, which is good news because it should mean fewer slugs in the garden this spring.

The cold snap started Tuesday, the last day of a four-day weekend for the kids.  They had Monday off for Martin Luther King Day and Tuesday was a grading day for teachers, because the second quarter just ended.  Beth had MLK Day off, but she was back to work, or rather off to New York on a one-day business trip.

I thought if we stayed cooped up in the house all day the kids might just kill each other, so the invitation for June to play at Megan’s house in the morning was welcome indeed. While she was gone I read three chapters of The Subtle Knife to Noah and he started practicing percussion.

On June’s return, I left Noah with a to-do list of homework and chores and I whisked her off to the library.  She was put out. She wanted to watch My Little Pony on Netflix—this is her new obsession. If she has media time left on any given day she’s uninterested in any activity that does not involve watching brightly colored and emotionally overwrought ponies solve their relationship dramas. She was even less enthusiastic when she learned I wanted to walk home from the library (I agreed to take the bus there). The temperature was probably in the low twenties, but it was sunny, and I wanted some fresh air, and to experience the weather, rather than hide from it all day. I put on a heavy sweater, leggings under my corduroys and two pairs of socks.  I dug out June’s mittens and snow pants and she said, “Snow pants? Really? It’s not snowing.” I told her they were for warmth.

The bus came more or less on time so we weren’t waiting long at the stop.  Once we were inside the library, June, who at home said she didn’t want any books, changed her mind and went to browse in the children’s room while I photocopied the last three poems in the poetry collection Noah’s been reading to us at bedtime so I could return the book.  While I picked a new poetry book (a Walt Whitman collection for kids) and found a bilingual storybook for June, she found a couple easy readers for herself.  Then it was back out into the cold. I enjoyed the walk, which was just long enough to be invigorating. June was less enthusiastic, but she knew better than to complain too much.  Walking in all weather is just part of having a mother who doesn’t drive, and who frequently declines to take the bus when her children think that’s clearly the only sensible thing to do.

Noah had a bit of outside time while we were gone too because one of the items on his list was to cut down some weed trees in the back yard that were growing in the path on the way to the compost pile. “But it’s cold out,” he’d protested. I know he likes this particular chore, though, so I wasn’t surprised when he agreed to do it when offered the choice of indoor cleaning instead.  He put his snow pants and coat on right over his pajamas so when we got back he was back inside, doing homework in his pjs, much as we’d left him.

I made hot chocolate for June and myself to warm up from our walk, and then a batch of peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies because it seemed like a cozy cold weather thing to do. When Beth got home from New York around 7:30, she seemed happy to have them waiting for her.

The next day the kids went back to school.  It was sixteen degrees when June and I went out to the bus stop.  When we got there she sat down on the pavement to read one of her new library books and then almost immediately stood back up.  She wasn’t wearing her snow pants because I didn’t want to risk her leaving them at school so her legs were clad only in a pair of cotton leggings.

Shortly after June got on the bus, I walked to Starbucks, where I enjoyed a green tea latte and read a chapter of the Dorothy Sayers mystery I got for Christmas. I noticed patches of ice here and there on the streets and parking lots. We’ve had such a mild winter this was an unaccustomed sight.

Back at home, I worked until 3:35, a little longer than usual because June had after-school karate.  As I walked along the wooded path to pick her up, I noticed the creek was partially frozen, rimmed with ice at the edges, and covered with the thinnest skin of ice all the way across in places.  The temperature hadn’t been above the mid-twenties for two days. I wondered what it would take to freeze the little creek solid.  Iowa weather, probably.  I scanned the banks for crocuses because they grow in profusion near the creek, but I didn’t see any yet.

And why would I even look for crocuses in January? Because it’s been so warm, bulb flowers are emerging from the ground earlier than usual.  I’ve seen crocuses in bloom on the college campus near our house and Sasha’s mom recently mentioned her neighbor’s snowdrops are blooming. In our own yard, forty-some daffodils have poked through the soil. It started two weeks ago and I keep willing them to stop, not to get any taller, not to open, partly because I fear the blooms wouldn’t survive a cold snap like this one, and partly because it’s hard to take pleasure in the heralds of spring when winter’s only a month old.

Anyway, I mentioned seeing crocuses to June a couple days ago and she said at once that when they bloom down by the creek she wants to have a picnic down there like we did last year one day on our way home from after-school yoga.  I promised her we would.

Megan’s in karate with June, so Kerry was there to pick her up, and she offered us a ride home.  I hesitated just a moment before saying yes because I do enjoy the walk through the woods with June, but even though I had her snow pants and mittens in my bag, I decided I’d had enough of the cold for now, and I think June had too. Her chin was red and raw with the rash she gets in the cold and which she makes worse by continually licking it.

Wednesday night it snowed, just a half inch, but that was enough for our school district to call for a two-hour delay today. I didn’t really mind.  Noah had been up past his bedtime two nights in a row because of Honors Band practice and homework and I thought it would do him good to sleep.  He was up by 6:50 (an hour later than usual) and didn’t need to leave the house until 8:35 but it took him that long to eat breakfast, get dressed, and pack his backpack so he didn’t have any time to play in the snow, or even to help me shovel for more than a few minutes.

June surprised me by saying she didn’t want to go outside.  I reminded her a few times that this could be the only snow we got this year (unlikely but statistically possible—we’ve had a few completely snowless winters in our time here).  Finally she relented and we got her into snow pants and boots and mittens and a coat.

Once we were outside she was enchanted by the snow.  In just under an hour she sledded many times down the little hill in our back yard (in various positions—sitting up, lying down on her stomach and on her back), made a snowman (or rather a decorated snow pile, as the snow was too dry to form balls), made a snow angel, and took a walk with me down to the creek. It was more frozen than the day before, partly snow-covered ice, and partly snow-covered rocks with water flowing around them. June and I stood on a bridge than spans the creek and she knocked snow off the railing into the water. On the way home we walked by her favorite picnic spot, where we will go some time in the next few weeks and have our little feast at the wooden table surrounded by thousands of wild purple crocuses. I’m just hoping it’s not another twenty-degree picnic.

Better Than That

This morning, shortly before 9 a.m., I got a sheet of notebook paper and wrote “Noah’s Favorite Thing: a To-Do List!” across the top. This was a bit of teasing on my part.  He does not particularly like it when I make to-do lists for him, but it was the last day of a three-day weekend and I wanted to make sure he got all his homework and chores done so we didn’t have any unpleasant surprises at bedtime or tomorrow morning. The kids always get a day off between the quarters so teachers can prepare report cards. Between Martin Luther King Day always being on a Monday and New Year’s Day falling on a Monday this year, it’s as if our school system has just given up on Mondays this month.

I didn’t really mind an extra day home with the kids, though.  I’d worked several hours on Saturday and Sunday so I didn’t have anything urgent to do, and thanks to a well-timed play date with Riana (formerly known as the Ghost Crab), I was going to have the morning alone with Noah, which is a rare treat.  Accordingly, the first two items on his list read:

Read—Extra!
Go to Starbucks w/ Mommy (Shhh)

I didn’t want June to be jealous and I thought if we brought her home a treat she wouldn’t mind finding out that we’d gone without her after the fact.  We set out right after Riana’s mom picked up June.  It was a soggy sort of day.  We got an inch of ice and snow on Friday night and this was our first day since then with temperatures above 40 degrees, so everything was wet.  Water dripped from downspouts and little pieces of ice and snow fell from tree branches and rooftops as we walked.  The sidewalks were clear but we both wore boots for splashing in puddles.

As we walked Noah told me about his day with Sasha yesterday.  They’d had a marathon play date that started at 1:30 with two hours of sledding near the creek, progressed to Sasha’s house for a snack of banana, flatbread and chocolate tea, and then moved to our house where they spent hours playing B’loons Tower Defense V.  Sasha stayed for dinner (Beth made baked ziti) and then they played more B’loons until Beth drove Sasha home at 7:20. Mostly what Noah wanted to tell me about was the sledding, how they had pretended they were bobsledding in the Olympics, and how they’d invented some new Olympic sports, how the best sledding trail, the one that’s “really fast and dangerous” didn’t have enough snow for sledding so they had to content themselves with the other one, which was also pretty muddy, and how the more liquid mud splashed up when their sleds went over it and how when that happened they sometimes “caught some air.”  He was joyful recalling all this.

Once we got to Starbucks Noah asked hopefully if he could get a 16-ounce vanilla steamer instead of his normal 12-ounce one.  I was feeling indulgent, plus it was extra milk in addition to extra sugar, so I said yes.  He got a blueberry strudel muffin to go with it. I was restrained and had a latte with no sugar or syrup or pastry.  We sat at the bar and watched a man in a cherry picker try to repair a light in the shopping center parking lot. (It was such a dark morning they were still lit.)  Noah thought it looked like a mythical being with a long neck.  He still says things like that, and when he does it seems hard to believe he will be in middle school next year.  But he will– we find out in a couple weeks whether or not he got into either of the magnets where he applied.  I told him when he’s in middle and high school he will appreciate getting this day off more than ever because he will just have finished taking midterms. Then I explained midterms and he said after all that he might want more than a one-day break. I tried to imagine him taking midterms and glanced down at my coffee cup and then the days when I used to push him in the stroller to the Starbucks in Dupont Circle and feed him the foam off my lattes did not seem very far away, even if he does stand as taller than my chin now.

When we got home we read for over an hour from Forge, a historical novel about an escaped slave who fights with the American soldiers at Valley Forge.  It’s the sequel to Chains, which Noah read for school this year.  The protagonist is fifteen — many of the soldiers in the book are teenage boys and the drummer boys are even younger. I knew this about the American Revolution, of course, but it strikes you differently when you have a ten-year-old boy, a drummer no less.  I have to say I am happy he does his drumming in our study or at school, and no one shoots at him while he does it.

We quit reading just before June was due back home so he could vacuum the living and dining room floors I’d cleared of toys before June covered them up again.  June actually returned before he’d finished.  She’d already had lunch at Riana’s house, so I escorted her to her room for an early Quiet Time before her afternoon play date with Merichel.

When June came out of her room forty minutes later she had a stack of Dora books she wanted me to read to her and even though Dora is not my idea of quality children’s literature, the idea of cuddling up in bed and having some one-on-one time with my younger child in between her many social engagements seemed appealing.  Before I read to her I reminded Noah of the items left on his list (homework, percussion practice, typing practice) and I made him lunch. I fixed him some leftover ziti with butter and grated parmesan and a bowl of applesauce with cinnamon sprinkled on top.

“Ziti with parmesan and butter. What could be better than that?” Noah said with satisfaction as I placed his lunch in front of him.

“A castle with princesses and ponies,” June piped up.

You’re going to eat princesses and ponies for lunch?” I said in mock surprise and soon she was over at the toy castle, pretending to be a dragon munching on the royals.  But I was thinking silently that I know something much better than noodles or princesses: a morning with my firstborn as he stands on the threshold of midterms and whatever else middle school has to offer.

Groundhog’s Day

“Doesn’t cloudy on Groundhog’s Day mean an early spring?” I called to Beth from the kitchen. It was a wet, gray morning. Surely the groundhog would not be seeing his shadow.

Beth looked up from the paper and her breakfast long enough to say yes, that’s what it meant.

It was my second reason to be happy about the weather and it was only seven a.m. A predicted ice storm had failed to materialize and both kids had school. The night before another ice storm had produced only the thinnest coating of ice and Noah had a two-hour delay and June’s school day proceeded as scheduled. This nearly normal three days was a welcome respite from the disruption of the past two weeks when five inches of snow cancelled school for three days in a row last week and something (ice, snow, who remembers?) cancelled it for another day the week before.

I have never been a fan of snow days (in my adult life, that is). Even before I had kids I disliked having my syllabus thrown off by unexpected university closures and once there were kids in the mix, I became even less enthusiastic. Nevertheless, I could still take pleasure in snow once I got over the jolt of a change in plans. I could appreciate its quiet beauty and share the kids’ enthusiasm in sledding and throwing snowballs and making snow angels and snowmen.

Then came last winter. We had so much snow school was cancelled for almost two weeks. Sidewalks were impassable for several weeks after the biggest snow, which made it tough for me to get anywhere, since I don’t drive. We spent a lot of time stuck in the house, getting on each other’s nerves. To add insult to injury, the school district applied and received for a waiver from the state and so the five days we’d gone over our built-in snow days were not made up. I’d been comforting myself with the idea of an extended school year and once that was yanked away I felt as if some important part of the social contract had been violated.

Now that we are up to our (alleged) limit of snow days for the year again, I am all done with snow. In fact, if it didn’t snow at all for the next couple years I don’t think I’d miss it. Unsurprisingly, I have not been a particularly fun snow day mom this year. I encourage the kids to go out and play in it, help them get their snow clothes on and off, time and tally their sled runs from the kitchen window, make hot chocolate, etc., but I stay in the house, and if they don’t feel like going out, I let them stay inside and spend too much time on the Wii. I do read to them and consent to playing Chutes and Ladders or dominoes when requested and when my mom came for a visit last weekend she and I took June on a snowy walk along the creek to the playground. I also bake, so I am not completely inadequate as winter mother.

But this is what I sounded like on Facebook the past week or so:

1/25/11
Steph is not emotionally ready for snow.

1/26/11
Steph is hosting her third play date in as many days, baking coconut-pecan-lemon bars, watching the quickening snow with an increasing sense of desperation and wondering in the back of her head what it would even mean to “win the future.”

1/28/11
Steph’s house looks as if the kids have been home six out of past seven days. Wait, that’s because they have. Too bad her mother’s coming tomorrow and she can’t just ignore it.

1/29/11
Steph, after two days of Beth at home, her mother’s arrival, Thai green curry and baked coconut custard, and a puppet show by N & J, is starting to emerge from her funk. But chances are, if it snows next week, she will slide right back into it.

1/30/11
Steph & crew have gone on a dominoes spree the past few days. Current tally: June, three wins; Steph, Noah & Grandmom: two wins each.

1/31/11
Steph is brewing tea and thinking how to best spend the next two hours and fifteen minutes, just in case it’s the only day the kids go to school this week.

2/1/11
Steph is waiting for the ice, baking apple crisp, listening to NPR’s coverage of Egypt and hoping for the best.

2/2/11
Steph is really happy with that groundhog right now.

And I was happy yesterday. Not only did Punxsutawney Phil (http://www.groundhog.org/) emerge from his hole or his box, or wherever they keep him and see no shadow, it was unseasonably warm. It was supposed to get up to 54 degrees in the afternoon and I think it did. It felt so liberating to walk outside into the balmy air. When we went to Co-op story time I allowed June to wear the purple coat we bought for her at the consignment shop last year. It’s not as warm as the blue and green one she inherited from Noah and usually wears, but she prefers it. I told her at the beginning of the winter she could wear the purple coat on “not so cold days.” It’s been so cold this winter she has barely worn it. I eschewed my winter coats all together and put on a fleece jacket with no scarf or gloves. We both wore boots, of course, and June wore snow pants over her tights to protect her legs from the slushy snow. I was wearing long underwear under my corduroys, but purely out of habit. Once I was outside I realized I didn’t need them.

“The snow is really soft today,” June observed as we walked from the bus stop to the Co-op. She pressed a hand down in it and was delighted at how easily it gave. I could see her individual fingers clearly delineated in the print even though her hand was encased in a mitten. She made more handprints and more. Before we entered the Co-op, I plucked the sodden mittens from her hands and wrung them out onto the parking lot.

Later that morning as we walked to preschool I could hear water everywhere. It dripped from wet tree branches, poured from gutter spouts and slid down the streets in sheets before tumbling into the storm drains. Swathes of grass were emerging here and there and in some lawns we saw standing water an inch deep. June tripped on the sidewalk and fell right into a muddy puddle, drenching her snow pants.

While June was at school, I went out into the yard to fetch something from the garage and I was startled to see sunlight. I looked up and saw patches of blue sky. I felt the sun, ever so faintly, on my face. It felt good.

It was clouding up again when I picked June up from school, but in the parking lot I saw long chalk outlines of the children’s shadows traced in different colors, a groundhog’s day project.

Today is “quite an icy day,” according to June. It’s cold again, in the thirties, and a lot of what was slush yesterday is ice all over again. Nonetheless, I know spring is coming. Maybe early, maybe late, but it will come. We started talking about our garden this morning, what we might plant, where things might go. And at the library I checked out a bilingual book of garden words for June.

But meanwhile, if you want to read gloomy status updates every time the meteorologists predict snow, you know whom to friend.

Inside the Snow Globe: A Countdown to Normal

Friday: Normal Minus Five

On Friday, Beth went back to work, after four days at home. The kids were still home and June’s drama class was cancelled, but I was determined to attempt something close to our normal routine. Our old Friday morning routine before drama class started up was a leisurely morning at home, laundry and Sesame Street, followed by a walk to Starbucks. I knew the walk would be a challenge and Beth thought we should take a bus, but I walk a lot and this snow will be weeks melting so I wanted to get a lay of the land, on a low pressure outing without needing to arrive anywhere at any specific time.

With June in the stroller it’s fifteen minutes to Starbucks and fifteen minutes back, making it a forty-five to sixty-minute outing, depending on time spent inside. If she rides her tricycle or scooter it’s more like an hour and a half. So taking that into account, I think the fact that we walked there — sometimes on neatly shoveled walks, sometimes on narrow paths pedestrians had packed down on unshoveled walks, sometimes on the street, sometimes scaling the glacier-like peaks at intersections– in two hours and five minutes is not so bad. And we even stopped at the grocery store on the way home. I intended to pick up some Valentine candy for everyone to share, but somehow we ended up leaving with a heart-shaped box of candy, a heart-shaped balloon, a vase filled with candy and a tiny balloon and one Valentine card (for June—she picked it out herself, being a little unclear on the concept of Valentines). And June was crying at the register because I drew the line there.

Of course, we lost the balloon on the way home. It was a Mylar helium-filled balloon, the kind that comes with a weight on the end of the ribbon. I figured if June let go, it would be too weighed down to escape. But after a while she got tired of carrying it and handed it to me. As I walked under some low-hanging branches, it got entangled and the ribbon came untied. I turned to find it about a foot above my reach. A tall man or a very tall woman could have easily rescued it. But there were no tall men or very tall women in evidence. As I considered my options a breeze parted the branches and the balloon drifted up into the wild blue yonder. June started to cry, a keening sob, occasionally punctuated with the single word “Balloon!” She kept it up all the way home, even as I lifted her over snow banks and backtracked a quarter of a block to retrieve a lost mitten. It was the low point of the trip, worse than when the man who was shoveling out his driveway yelled at us for walking by him too slowly and delaying his ability to dump snow onto the street. So, I’d have to say it was only a partially successful outing. I did get a latte and we all got some sunshine and exercise. Beth spent two hours on a windy Metro platform that morning as train after overloaded train went by, so that puts things in perspective.

Noah spent a lot of time outdoors that day, exploring the wild new terrain of our yard and working on reconstructing his sled run. In the afternoon, he made Valentines for his classmates and helped June make Valentines for hers. He actually did most of the lettering on her cards (I did a few) and he drew all the hearts for June to color in and he was much more patient than I would have been with her often unclear instructions and teary recriminations when these instructions were not followed to the last detail. I feel he should be awarded some kind of medal for his participation in the project. He’s such a good brother sometimes. So when they disagreed about dinner music—he wanted Blue Moo (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Blue-Moo/Sandra-Boynton/e/9780761147756) and she wanted Wheels Go ‘Round (http://www.kindermusik.com/shop/product.aspx?pid=3-10-90040&cid=1100)—I went with his choice.

Saturday: Normal Minus Four

On Saturday morning, the Valentine-making bug had not left June. But she did not want to make them herself and she had run out of people willing to help her. This resulted in crying. I muttered something about never celebrating another holiday again. June heard me and was stricken. She has a birthday coming up next month. I had to promise her that yes she would indeed have cake and presents and a party for her birthday.

Clearly it was time for me to get out of the house without children. Fortunately, Beth and I had a date scheduled, our second in the space of about a month. We’d been unable to get a sitter for Valentine’s Day and decided the day before was just as good. We were planning to leave at three for a movie (Crazy Heart), coffee and dinner at Mandalay (http://www.mandalayrestaurantcafe.com/), a Burmese restaurant in Silver Spring and one of our favorites. Since June usually wakes from her nap between two-thirty and three I expected a nice long mental break. Her nap started early though and was quite short. The disproportionate depth of my despair when she woke at one-thirty and I found myself alone with her and needing to fill an hour and a half (Beth had taken Noah to his swim lesson, which—hooray!—was not cancelled) was instructive. Since becoming a stay-at-home mom, I never get enough time alone, but I am operating on a much thinner margin right now. And what I miss just as much, if not more, is time alone with Beth, which is always in short supply.

So the date was fun. The movie was reasonably good and dinner was delicious. We ran into another lesbian couple we know at the movie and then again at coffee portion of the date. Their older son was in Noah’s class at the Purple School and their younger son just finished preschool last year. We didn’t talk long, but it was nice to get a dispatch from the outside world, to be reminded that the world has not shrunk to our little family of four.

Sunday: Normal Minus Three

“Is today a regular day?” June wanted to know when she woke up. Beth wasn’t sure what she meant and said yes. June was exasperated, “But it’s the day after yesterday!” she said. We told her the day before that the next day would be Valentine’s Day. Once that was cleared up she had me dress her in her “holiday dress,” the green velvet jumper with rosebuds on the bodice. We took to calling it that so she would wear it for Thanksgiving and Christmas and not require separate dresses for separate holidays, but now she will use any semblance of a holiday as an excuse to wear it. She wore it to school on the Red Gingko’s birthday because birthdays are holidays. And Valentine’s Day is a holiday, too, she reasoned. I’ve never considered Valentine’s Day a dress-up occasion, especially if you intend to spend it entirely at home and at the grocery store, but apparently June does.

At breakfast the kids discussed their favorite holidays. Noah said he liked his birthday best. June said she liked them all. I felt a little guilty for my anti-holiday tirade the day before, but I was still unable to maintain a spirit of cheerfulness as the morning wore on.

“I need another date,” I told Beth after she found me crying in the study around ten in the morning. She was getting ready to take the kids grocery shopping and Noah had been looking for his boots for a long while. Every time I suggested a new place to look, he asked, “Have you seen them there?” in a snotty tone until I snapped and yelled, “Noah, stop saying that!” I hate it when I yell at them, but I do sometimes and more often now than when Noah was little. I just run out of patience more quickly these days.

Beth pointed out that Noah didn’t seem to have suffered any lasting damage. It’s actually pretty hard to hurt his feelings, while it’s quite easy to hurt June’s. She had spent much of the morning whimpering about some mysterious slight she refused to divulge. Beth also said, by way of cheering me up, “You get to go to the dentist on Tuesday.” She was only partly kidding. These days a dentist visit to get an impression taken for a crown qualifies as me time.

Eventually, Beth found Noah’s boots (they were in the study with me ironically) and they left. While they were gone I cleaned house and wrapped the kids’ Valentines presents and arranged the wrapped presents, cards and candy on the dining room table. They returned shortly before noon with a pink, heart-shaped Hello Kitty balloon and heart-shaped shortbread cookies with pink and red sprinkles. And while this was not strictly speaking a Valentine’s present, Beth bought a Pepperidge Farm lemon cake because she knew I’ve had a hankering for one for several weeks and she saw one at the grocery store for the first time since I mentioned it. I put it in the freezer for after the Valentine’s treats are gone.

June was simply delighted with everything. She loved her card (the one she picked out herself); she loved her books (Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse! and Maisy’s Valentine Sticker Book) and thanked me multiple times. She wanted to try all the treats. She had made Valentines for all of us. She had drawn a box of Mike and Ikes on Beth’s because Beth often buys them for her; mine had a heart colored blue, because blue is my favorite color; and Noah’s had a stick figure carrying a bouquet. June’s drawing has recently and suddenly become representative and all she wants to do some days is draw and paint. I have a thick folder of her drawings just from the past few weeks. I’ve been meaning to sort through them and pick a few to save, but I’m pretty sure the blue heart is a keeper, even though there are a lot of them in there that are more detailed or technically adept. It’s the first Valentine she ever made for me.

Noah seemed indifferent to his book, Magic Treehouse #43 Leprechauns in Late Winter, which was a surprise. I’m no fan of this series, but he has loved it since he was five. (He started listening to it on tape before he could read.) Even more puzzlingly, as they are well below his reading level, he then said that he never understands them. I wrote it off to the crankiness that is slowly enveloping all of us with each passing day of cabin fever. Later he went to bed and tried to take a nap, which made me wonder if he was sick, but he said he was just tired.

After June’s nap, the kids were tearing around the house, playing with the Hello Kitty balloon. Beth warned them several times, but they chose to ignore her words of wisdom and soon June was crying because the balloon had a big gash in the front and the helium was all out of it. I taped it up so it wouldn’t rip more, but it no longer floats.

Suddenly turning on the Olympics seemed like a good idea. And that’s pretty much what the kids did for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Noah’s interest in the Games is largely technical– how do the cameras follow a skier down the hill, he wants to know—and personal—he likes the features about the athletes, particularly if there’s discussion of gruesome accidents in the athlete’s past (and no, he has not seen the footage of the luger who died). June just likes to watch people swooshing down snow-covered hills and jumping and twirling on the ice. Most of the figure skating is on past the kids’ bedtimes, but the one pair she saw skating riveted her.

Monday: Normal Minus Two

I woke thinking about my father. It was the one-month anniversary of his death and according to my original travel plans, I was supposed to be visiting him over President’s Day weekend. I’m pretty sure that part of my inability to cope with the disruption of this storm comes from feeling emotionally wrung out and near the edge already.

Right before breakfast June finally told us why she’d been crying on and off for hours the day before. Recently, Beth and I have been trying to cut back a little on Noah’s monster breakfasts. He has always woken hungry and eaten his biggest meal of the day then, but because of his sensory issues he’s not always aware of when he’s not hungry anymore and we suspected he was only eating so much out of habit, especially on the weekends when he’ll eat two waffles and then ask for a bowl of cereal and then another. Anyway, he’s been complaining in a joking sort of way that we want him to shrivel up and die and sometimes we joke back that yes, that’s our evil plot. Anyway, June heard this and took it seriously and was convinced we wanted Noah to die. She was relieved to hear this was not the case. Poor June! She’s not even four and often seems to have the weight of the world on her little shoulders. I worry about that.

“Today is going to be boring,” Noah declared soon after that was cleared up.

Beth surprised him and me by saying, “Do you want to come to work with me?” (She would normally have President’s Day off, but because her office was closed four days last week, they cancelled the day off.) It took him a while to answer, but he decided to go. I wasn’t sure whether this would make my day easier or harder. It would be quieter certainly, but as much as they bicker, the children do play together a lot and now I’d have to entertain June by myself all day long. It was different, though, and we all could use a change of pace.

Faced with a different day than the one I thought I was having, I wondered what to do with June. I’d been thinking of just staying home all day, but without Noah, this no longer seemed like a good idea. And while I have standing emergency back-up plans for some days of the week, Monday is not one of them. Before June was in school, I used to take her to the Community Playtime sponsored by the rec center on Mondays, but I never really liked it much. It’s noisy and chaotic and I’m too shy to talk much to other parents without a more organized activity going on. Plus I had no idea what the sidewalks are like on the long, steep hill we’d have to climb to get there.

Then I decided I would try to catch up on the newsletter clipping I do for Sara while June watched Sesame Street and then we could build an outing around going to the post office to mail the packet. Mayorga (www.mayorgacoffee.com) has re-opened at a location in that direction so I was pleased with this plan. Then a few minutes into my work, I realized—President’s Day. The post office would be closed. It’s so hard to keep track of why the children are not at school when they never go. I went ahead and finished the work, getting everything into an envelope, addressed and ready to go so I could take it with me and mail it on my way to the dentist.

When June’s show was over, she came into the study. I told her I thought we should go somewhere. She brightened. Then I told her I wasn’t sure where to go and asked if she had any ideas. She piped right up, “Starbucks!” For once, I didn’t particularly want to go there. I asked her if she remembered how long it took to walk there on Friday and if she was really sure. Yes! Yes! She was sure. She wanted to go. Could we go now?

So without a stop at the grocery store, this outing takes an hour and forty-five minutes. It would probably go more quickly if June would walk on the sidewalks that are cleared, but she prefers to trudge through the snow. We stopped at the bridge over Long Branch creek and threw snowballs into the coffee-colored water. June was chatty. She asked if I thought the Yellow Gingko has ever watched Sesame Street. I said I bet she had. “Yellow Gingko is cool,” June said. “You are not cool. You are interesting.” Then she paused and asked, “Are cool and interesting the same thing?” Not exactly, I allowed. But even though I am not as cool as her friend, she did tell me at two different points in the walk, “Mommy, I like being with you,” so that was nice. On the way home, she kept falling backwards into snow banks, seemingly on purpose, and closing her eyes.

“Are you tired?” I asked. She said yes. I suggested that home might be a better place for a nap and tugged her gently to her feet, only to watch her do it a few yards later. Finally, we got home, ate lunch, read a book and I put June down for her nap.

All the while I was keeping my eyes on the sky. Slow, sleet and rain were forecast, but when we’d set out on our walk at 10:45, the sky was mostly blue. It clouded over as we walked. And sometime between two and two-thirty, as June slept, it started to snow. I remembered something Beth said after the last snow. She said it was like being inside a snow globe that a giant child will not stop shaking. I even felt a little queasy watching it come down. Within an hour, even though the snow wasn’t even sticking to the streets or the sidewalks (and it never did), Montgomery County Public Schools announced a two-hour delayed opening. This meant Noah would go to school, but June would not. Normal had been pushed back another day.

Tuesday: Normal Minus One

I left for my 11:30 dentist appointment at 8:50. I did not really expect it to take me over two and a half hours to travel from Takoma to my Dupont Circle area dentist, but I simply could not wait to get out of the house. Public transportation is still sluggish, especially the buses, but by 10:15 I’d mailed my packages and was ensconced with a mocha, the Health and Science section of the Post and a collection of Alice Munro stories. Life was good for an hour or so.

I was home with my temporary crown applied and my mouth half numbed by 1:30. I was trying to decide whether to nap in my room or June’s when she met me at the door. “June, you’re still up!” I said. No, Beth informed me, the nap was over. That was a disappointment, but it didn’t seem right to complain, after having cut out so early on a day when Beth was trying to get some work done at home.

We muddled through the afternoon. I read to June and helped her make meals for the castle people out of modeling clay. While the kids watched television, I got back on the exercise bike for the first time in longer than I want to admit. I made cauliflower-cabbage soup. I defrosted the lemon cake and we ate most of it, even though the Valentine’s sweets are not completely gone. I was in a celebratory mood. It was the eve of normalcy.

Wednesday: Normal!

Noah went to school. June went to school. I exhaled.

It was not exactly a normal day. Noah had after-school science, and then we had dinner at El Golfo (http://elgolforestaurant.com/Home_Page.php) with several nursery school families in honor of the boy formerly known as the Grasshopper and his family (they moved to Seattle and were back East for a visit) and after that Beth had a nursery school board meeting. June and I walked a lot. As the sidewalks are not passable by stroller yet, June had to walk to and from her school and then to and from Noah’s school for a total of almost two and a half hours walking in one day. The day was stuffed full, so full that Noah had to do his language arts homework at the restaurant. But it was better than the alternative. We are out of the snow globe, for now.

That evening, I gathered up all the sympathy cards I’ve received, read them one more time and put most of them in the recycling. I put the rest, along with the blue heart, in a box of special papers.

Meteorology is not at its most accurate this far out, but they are anticipating several more storms this winter, including one on Monday, June’s next day of school and the day before the newly re-scheduled Geo-Bowl. If that happens, I am thinking of hopping a freight train south.

Snow on Snow

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

From “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Bleak_Midwinter

The sky had been completely clouded over by two-thirty and it had begun to snow an hour later, and this time you didn’t need a weatherman to tell you it was serious snow, no flurry that was going to melt or blow away when the evening wind started to whoop. At first it had fallen in perfectly straight lines, building up a snowcover that coated everything evenly, but now, an hour after it had started, the wind had begun to blow from the northwest, and the snow had begun to drift against the porch and the sides of the Overlook’s driveway. Beyond the grounds the highway had disappeared under an even blanket of white. The hedge animals were also gone, but when Wendy and Danny had gotten home, she had commended him on the good job he had done. Do you think so, he had asked and said no more. Now the hedges were buried under amorphous white cloaks…

“Will it ever be spring?” Wendy murmured.

Jack squeezed her tighter. “Before you know it. What do you say we go in and have some supper? It’s cold out here…”

So they went in together, leaving the wind to build the low-pitched scream that would go on all night—a sound they would get to know well. Flakes of snow swirled and danced across the porch. The Overlook faced it as it had for nearly three-quarters of a century, its darkened windows now bearded with snow, indifferent to the fact that it was now cut off from the world. Or possibly it was pleased with the prospect. Inside its shell the three of them went about their early evening routine, like microbes trapped in the intestine of a monster.

From The Shining, by Stephen King.

The kids have been out of school all week and Beth’s been home from work, too, but yesterday was the first day we were really snowed in. Tuesday the streets were imperfectly cleared, but clear enough for us to brave the roads and drive to Silver Spring, where the Blue Gingko’s mom had suggested a meet-up at Panera and Borders. The Blue Holly’s family came, too, as well as some of the Blue Gingko’s neighbors. We ate bagels and cake, drank coffee and tea, chatted with people unrelated to ourselves, browsed for books and bought Valentine’s presents for the kids on the sly, and read to children other than our own all because we knew we wouldn’t be able to do any of these things for a while because another storm was coming, another big one.

But yesterday we couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t even play in the yard because of more or less constant high winds and occasional white out conditions. None of us left the house except when I ventured out into the yard for a few minutes to snap some pictures. The snow is too drifted to get a good measurement but it’s up well past my hips. The wind has blown it everywhere. The windows were blotted with it yesterday, though by now that snow has mostly blown away or melted. This morning we had two inches of snow on the porch and four inches on the porch steps and our house is a 1920s bungalow with a long overhang over the porch and stairs if you are familiar with that architectural style. The wind howled all day yesterday and for the first time I appreciated that as a literal description of the sound, not as a metaphor. Icicles dangled from the gutters at the front and back of the house, looking like monsters’ teeth.

Yesterday morning around nine June asked me, “Mommy, can we go soon?” June likes outings and I almost always take her somewhere in the morning even if I need to manufacture a reason. When I told her we weren’t going anywhere, she frowned and said, “I have to ask Bef something,” and sought her out. “Bef, do you have any errands?” she wanted to know. Beth said no, we really weren’t going anywhere. So June wanted to know if we could play in the yard then and when we said no, she was beside herself. She was irritable all day long and prone to tantrums. I let her watch an extra episode of Super Why on the computer on top of her regular television and computer time and around four-thirty, I took her down to the basement and let her jump on Noah’s trampoline until she was worn out.

I was feeling antsy, too. I like my routine and there’s been no trace of it this week. Even the things I normally do on snow days or other days school is cancelled (go to the regular Circle Time at the library on Tuesday mornings or to the Co-op Story Time on Wednesdays) were out of the question. The library is closed and I don’t even know whether the Co-op was open yesterday. I didn’t call because there was no way we could have gotten there.

So the kids probably spent too much time on the computer playing games and making videos of themselves. But I helped them clean their room and I quizzed Noah on the state capitals just in case he ever goes back to school and competes in the twice-postponed Geo-Bowl. In the afternoon, I made a chocolate-mint truffle cake and a hearty dinner of vegetarian sausage, mashed turnip, Munster cheese melted on dark rye and sauerkraut. But I think I would have appreciated all that heavy food more if I’d been able to get outside and move around more.

But today we got to move around plenty. I shoveled for over two hours and as I write, Beth’s been at it for well over three hours. Noah helped a little with the shoveling (in between his efforts to balance precariously on our lawn furniture and knock icicles off the gutter with a stick) and we hired three enterprising young men with shovels to dig out the driveway. Earlier this morning, Beth and June made a snow alligator and a snow-farmer menaced by said alligator. The roads, at least the ones we can see from our house, are plowed; the sky is a brilliant, cloudless blue and high temperatures are supposed to be in the mid to high thirties for the next four days.

I’m hoping that by tomorrow, a walk to Starbucks (normally a fifteen-minute affair) won’t be out of the question and that the “possible snow” forecast for Monday does not materialize because Tuesday is the day the children are supposed to return to school for the first time in a week and a half for Noah and two weeks for June. I am just starting to see glimmers of normalcy on the horizon, so I really don’t want it to come to anything resembling a scene from my very favorite novel.

The Long Winter

On Friday morning, around ten o’ clock, I sent Beth the following email: “It’s started. Right on time. I’m going to take June for a walk in the falling snow when Sesame St. ends. Wish you were here.” A big snowstorm was predicted to start at ten and it did, pretty much right on the dot. At first it was just tiny scattered flakes. If I didn’t know that 20-28 inches were predicted I would have thought it was a passing snow squall. By the time June and I got home, around noon, the snow was falling harder, in bigger flakes and the sidewalk was wet with melting snow; it didn’t really start to stick to the streets and sidewalks until three and the busy road where we live was passable until early evening. I ordered our traditional Friday evening pizza a half hour earlier than usual, just in case, but I didn’t need to; it came a half hour early, too.

Both Noah and Beth were home earlier than usual. Noah had an early dismissal and got home just before one and Beth was giving a presentation at the National Labor College (http://www.nlc.edu/) that wrapped up around five. After a quick stop at the grocery store for essentials (like chocolate chips), she was home shortly before six and we settled in to eat our pineapple and mushroom pizza and watch the snow come down.

Beth slipped out of bed at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday morning to go sit on the porch and watch the snow. She said it was falling so hard it looked like someone was pouring sand out of a bucket. At 7:15, I measured 19.5 inches on the glass table in our backyard. (I’d cleared an inch or so of snow and ice off of it on Friday afternoon, so we could get an accurate measurement.)

It has been an extraordinarily snowy winter here for us in Maryland (and in most of the mid-Atlantic region as well). We had eighteen inches back in December and then just in the past week and a half, we’d had a six-inch snowfall, followed by another inch or two and that’s just the ones I remember. It’s all kind of blur now. I don’t think there’s been a day since mid-December when I haven’t seen snow, if only those big, black mounds in apartment complex parking lots. Before today, Noah had already had four snow days, a two-hour delay and an early dismissal and June had been out of school five days. It seems like they hardly ever go to school any more and it was already feeling like a very long winter even before this storm hit. Although I must say that despite the fact that a few of my friends have already joked about this, I don’t think we’ll be forced to venture out into a blizzard with Alamanzo in search of the hidden cache of wheat for the starving townspeople or make kindling from hay twists.

But this storm was The Big One. I put up a poll on my Facebook page on Friday asking my friends when they thought public schools would re-open and how many inches we’d get. Answers ranged from Tuesday to the whole week off and from 19-26 inches. By the time the skies cleared and the snow stopped falling around five Saturday afternoon, we had 24 1/4 inches on what my friend the Yellow Gingko’s mom dubbed “The Official D.C. Area Weather Table Out Back.” (She had the closest guess on that part of the poll, too.)

Unfortunately, it was not a very good snow for playing, at least on Saturday: too powdery for packing and approximately two-thirds as tall as June. It was almost impossible for her to walk in it. Beth tried to clear a shallower play space in the front yard for her and Noah made a valiant attempt to create a packed-down sledding trough on the hill in the back yard, but neither of them had much success. June declared the snow “too tall” and I had to agree. There is such a thing as too much snow. It had been easier for the kids to play in the inch or so we’d had in the yard before the snow started falling on Friday.

Beth started shoveling Saturday morning and I took a turn in the afternoon. The snow was so deep that when you created little hollows or cracks with the edge of shovel the light inside was turquoise. As I turned the corner of our lot, I noticed that in contrast to the bright white of the snow topping the fence, the peeling paint on it that normally appears white was now the palest blue-gray. Everything was eerily transformed by the snow. The mailbox seemed to wear a white Russian-style fur hat. The trees were frosted and the smaller ones were bent over, creating a dome-like effect. The seven snowmen we already had in the yard were either mysterious obelisks rising from the snow or had been completely obliterated by it.

Sunday dawned sunny and sparkly. Beth and I finished shoveling the sidewalk. The very last part was a shoulder-high, compacted drift created by neighbors who plowed the contents of their driveway onto our walk. I thought it was too tall and too packed and that we would have to just leave it on the sidewalk, but once we had the rest of the walk clear, it was too tempting to try to finish the job. Beth worked on one side and I worked on the other until it was demolished. The path we created was narrow, but it’s possible to walk down it single file. Unfortunately it’s not wide enough for stroller traffic (which I regret as a stroller user), but I might widen it in the days or weeks to come, as I don’t think the snow will be melting any time soon. We’re not supposed to get temperatures topping 35 degrees until Thursday and it’s supposed to snow again Tuesday night.

While we were digging out Sunday morning, we hired a man who was walking down the street with a shovel to clear our driveway, a job that’s beyond either of our capabilities. At first he said $50, then he took a look at the driveway, saw how very long it is and said $100, which seemed fair to us, and then he came to the door with the job mostly done and revised his price to $125 for the work already completed or $140 to finish the last little bit left cutting off the driveway from the street. Beth gave him $125 and sent him on his way; we resolved the break the barrier ourselves.

After lunch, Noah went out to play in the snow and had fun crawling around in the cave under the glass table and working on his sledding trough. “It’s awesome out there,” he reported on coming inside. Xander, the more adventurous of our two cats, did a little exploring, too, though he had his ears back for much of the time he was walking in the snow.

Later in the afternoon I took June for a walk. I pulled her down a partially plowed side street in her sled. (I formulated this plan when the street was completely unplowed but packed down by cars and June was so enchanted with it she was loathe to give it up once we were faced with a lot of bare asphalt.) Then I pulled her along the footpath that goes by the creek to the playground, stopping along the way to skirt the stand of bamboo totally bent over by the snow and the big tree blocking the path, and detouring onto a footbridge to admire the frozen creek.

We made it to the playground where I pushed June on the swings. I was unused to standing so high up and I started out too close to the swings and ended up getting kicked in the chin. We didn’t stay at the playground long, but it was too long nevertheless. I had to take June’s boots off so I could extricate her from the bucket swing and we never got one of them back on securely so it filled with snow and her mittens soaked through, too. When she urgently declared, “My fingers are frozen!” I knew we needed to get home right away, so I said one time down the tunnel slide and then we were leaving. It was icy inside and she shot through landing on her belly in the snow and cried “That was fun!” As we started back, June observed in a worried tone that Noah says when your fingers freeze they turn black. Leave it to Noah to fill her head with troubling facts about frostbite, I thought.

Once we were off the creek path, June had to walk because I just couldn’t pull the sled any longer on the street. She started to cry that she couldn’t do it, that she was too cold, so I stripped off her wet mittens and gave her my gloves, which calmed her down a little. She cried intermittently until we were almost home and I was able to distract her with the sight of a downed tree lying across three cars and a taxi stranded in the middle of a busy street (presumably since Friday or Saturday based on the amount of snow covering it). But a few houses from ours she started sobbing and I abandoned the sled and carried her the rest of the way home, leaving Beth to undress her while I went back for the sled. After a warm, rose-scented bubble bath she was in better spirits. I decided a bath would do my sore arms and back good, so I had one, too.

School’s already cancelled for today and tomorrow, with the rest of the week up for grabs. Who knows when the school bus will next pull up to our curb or when the Purple School will open its doors? But we’ve had uninterrupted heat and electricity unlike many of our neighbors and we’re eating well– spinach-black bean burritos, chocolate-butterscotch chip cookies, homemade waffles, vegetable-white bean soup with whole wheat parmesan rolls– so I won’t complain. We’re lucky that Beth also has the day off today (along with many other D.C. worker bees) and she even was able to get out and do the week’s grocery shopping. Update to follow…

For more pictures of The Big One, click here: http://picasaweb.google.com/loveladyallen/February672010?authkey=Gv1sRgCIbY5dDUwIvxYA&feat=directlink

Holly Jolly

The Radio Shack receipt was for $38.87. I stared at it uncomprehendingly. The remote-control trucks June had selected for Noah’s Christmas present were $14.99, a surprisingly good price, and when the clerk suggested batteries, I agreed, not sure what kinds we had at home. Almost immediately I was chastising myself for saying yes. Surely there’s a huge mark-up on batteries at Radio Shack. But $38.87? The batteries couldn’t be that expensive. Then I noticed the trucks had rung up at $24.99.

I told the clerk the shelf tag said $14.99 and added that the trucks had been sitting behind that shelf tag for at least two days. I knew because I’d been in the store by myself on Wednesday morning while June was at school, looking for appropriate gifts to suggest to her. The clerk was unmoved. He didn’t even apologize for the shelving error. (If it was an error, I thought–I was getting irate and uncharitable.)

I felt a deep weariness settle over me. It had taken forever to get rung up despite the fact that the line was short. Before the price dispute, the clerk had been chatty and over-friendly, full of tips on how to manipulate my husband into getting me what I want for Christmas (perhaps a new computer from Radio Shack?). I never know how to come out in situations like this and sometimes I just don’t. Eventually I lay my left hand with its bare ring finger conspicuously on the counter, hoping he’d see it, take me for a straight single mom and just be quiet already. But he didn’t.

I was not going to walk out of the store with almost $40 worth of trucks and batteries as a present to Noah from June. That much was clear. Most of the presents I’ve been purchasing on her behalf have been very inexpensive, most close to $5, so $15 was a stretch as it was. I asked the clerk to refund my money and he did. We went back to the shelves and I gave June a few more options. She refused them all. She liked the trucks. She didn’t like the blue car or the silver car or the little cars that ran around a track. I gave up and we left the store empty-handed.

I thought she might be more amenable to my position after a snack, so we went to Starbucks next. As her spoon scraped the bottom her yogurt parfait, I broached the subject. Would she like to go back to the store and reconsider? No, she would not. I wondered desperately how we ever got through the beginning gift-giving stage with Noah, when the child is old enough to have some responsibility for reciprocating gifts but too young to make rational choices. The problem is I want it all: I want her to pick gifts (or at least pick from several choices I give her), to pick gifts the recipients would like (had I been willing to buy a light-up Cinderella figurine for Noah we could have gotten out of there with a gift) and to pick affordable presents, too. It’s too much to orchestrate, but I wasn’t sure what needed to give.

“Where are we going now?” June wanted to know as I pushed the stroller away from Starbucks.

“Home, I guess,” I said. “I don’t have any other ideas. We’ll have to think of something later because if we don’t, Noah won’t have any presents from you and that would be sad.”

“But I got him a book,” June piped up.

“What book?” I said. Did Beth help her pick a book for Noah? But she would have mentioned it if she had, because she knew I was taking June to get his present that morning.

“The book I got him at the store at the beach,” June said impatiently. Then it hit me. The limerick book! I even blogged about it not two weeks ago. I didn’t know whether to be hugely relieved or irritated I’d made not one but two completely unnecessary trips to this shopping center looking for a gift I had already bought. I settled on relieved. I still had two more “from June” gifts to buy for other people so one down was good, no matter how it came to pass.

We came home, I ate lunch (June passed, having just eaten that big yogurt) and I put June down for her nap. The babysitter arrived while she was sleeping and I set off for Noah’s school’s Holiday Sing. That morning he’d been excited about it and practicing a selection of the Kwanza, Hanukah and Christmas songs. (He also invented a pirate version of “Holly Jolly Christmas” for his own and June’s amusement. Sample lyric: “Ho, Ho, the mistletoe, hung where ye can see. Somebody waits for ye. Kiss her once for me!”)

As I walked along the side of the school, I could hear the pianist practicing “Holly Jolly Christmas.” I had a moment of panic, thinking what if it wasn’t practice. What if I had the time of the concert wrong? I knew “Holly Jolly Christmas” was the last song on the program. But when I arrived ten minutes before concert time, there were parents milling around and the multipurpose room (the cafeteria is often pressed into service as an auditorium so they call it the multipurpose room) was not even set up. I hadn’t missed a thing. Parents helped set up folding chairs in the back of the room, finishing just as the kids filed in. As I was waiting outside the room, I was happy to see Beth walk down the hall. I didn’t know if she would be able to make it.

“You made it,” said and then I saw her face. “What’s wrong?” I asked. There was a nursery school fundraising crisis involving addresses on letters that don’t line up with the windows in the envelopes. Plus she had been handed a huge unexpected project at work that might mean working on vacation next week. She was anxious and overwhelmed.

The sing-along was cute, as usual. I could tell Beth was distracted, though, and when Noah’s class came in we waved at him but he didn’t see us. I knew if he didn’t see us then, he never would because the 4th and 5th grade choir faces the audience but the rest of the kids sit on the floor and face the choir. I was sad about that. He always lights up when he sees us at school events. Telling him we were there later just isn’t the same.

We made it home before June woke from her nap. Beth spent the afternoon in a frantic effort to get letters re-printed while I watched the kids. Just before six, we piled into the car and drove to the community center for June’s school’s Solstice Party. We paraded from the Community Center to the library with the children all wearing paper crowns and holding their glowing, painted paper-wire-and-wood lanterns they made at school. (Noah, along with other older siblings, carried his old lantern.) We sang “This Little Light of Mine” as we marched. Inside the library we feasted on pizza, crudités, hummus, oranges and a wide variety of homemade sweets. Noah, June and I sat with the Yellow Gingko’s family. Beth sequestered herself in a corner, assembling the re-printed fundraising packets for people to collect at the end of the evening. I brought her a plate of food but she was afraid food wasn’t allowed in that room, so I took it away.

After we ate each class presented the teachers with gifts and there was a shadow puppet show (to celebrate shadow at this, the darkest time of the year). The Tracks class (four and five year olds) gathered behind the screen and held up their puppets as Lesley read a story about a magically expanding mitten that shelters a whole forest of animals. At one point the Red Maple (last year’s Caterpillar) rushed the stage (he wanted to see what was going on behind it) and he had to be snagged back by the Blue Gingko’s dad, who assured him it would be his turn to be in the puppet show next year. Next the classes gathered together and greeted the other classes. And then it was time to go home.

Of course, the evening wouldn’t have been complete without another snafu. Some people took the wrong packets with them on their way out. Beth was beyond frustrated.

But it was the eve of the biggest December snowfall in the history of the Washington region and Beth loves snow about as much as I love the beach. We woke this morning to seven inches of pristine, white snow. It snowed all day and by evening, we had eighteen and half inches on our patio table. Beth took the kids out to play and then Noah spent a good bit of the day sledding with Sasha’s family and then again in our backyard. June tramped around in snow up to her waist and enjoyed sledding down our little hill, crying “Again! Again! Again!” When she was too cold to continue, I snuggled with her under blankets and we read six of the seven Curious George stories in The Complete Adventures of Curious George. Later in the day, I took her out in the snow again. Beth designed and printed our holiday cards and heroically shoveled the walk (two times!). I made some very tasty bulgur burgers and roasted potatoes for dinner.

When I went into the kids’ room to tuck June in, I found her kneeling on the bed, looking out at the snow through parted curtains. Even with the frustrating shopping outing and mounting work and school committee stress, it was still a holly jolly two days.

And February Was So Long That It Lasted Into March: A Photo Essay

And February was so long that it lasted into March
And found us walking a path alone together.
You stopped and pointed and you said, “That’s a crocus,”
And I said, “What’s a crocus?” and you said, “It’s a flower,”
I tried to remember, but I said, “What’s a flower?”

From “February,” by Dar Williams
http://www.poplyrics.net/waiguo/darwilliams/006.htm

So we had this…weather yesterday I don’t even want to talk about, but here are some pictures. Noah measured seven and a half inches on the picnic table out back, the most accumulation we’ve had at once in June’s life. Our crocuses are buried.

Beth took a personal day. Sasha came over at ten and stayed most of the day. Beth took them sledding on the hill behind the hospital. (Noah’s verdict: “Going down that super steep hill really rocked.”) I took an almost two hour walk with June. She alternated riding in her sled and stomping along in her boots and only did a full face plant into the white stuff once. Beth and June were out playing in the yard until well after dark. Hot chocolate and homemade potato-parsnip soup and chocolate chip cookies were made. Noah’s back in school after a two-hour delay this morning. It’s frigid today, 14 degrees right now so I don’t expect much to melt right away.

On Sunday, in anticipation of the storm, Beth bought me some yellow daffodils (my favorite flower) to cheer me up. I’m making spaghetti with asparagus for dinner tonight. Seventeen days until spring…

Good Sledding

The second snow day is always harder than the first one. I considered this fact this morning as I stumbled out of the bedroom at 6:40, bound for the bathroom, and Beth said, “School’s cancelled again.” It wasn’t exactly unexpected. An ice storm had been predicted, ice on top of the inch of snow that cancelled school yesterday. Since Monday was a teacher grading and planning day (there’s one at the end of every marking period), this was Noah’s third consecutive day off school and my third day of trying to figure out how to entertain both kids all day.

Tuesday was pretty easy. Both kids were thrilled to see our first significant snowfall since last winter. “There’s snow on the ground today!” June kept saying and running to the windows to check and make sure it was still there. We played in the yard. Noah and I pulled June around in her sled and I pushed her down the hill over and over. We made snowballs and threw them at the fence. (Noah devised a complicated scoring system depending on where they landed. He had some trouble deciding if the one that soared over the fence counted as landing between the pillars and over the crossbar, the prime target. In the end, he decided it did. “Well, it did go over the bar,” he reasoned.) We went to the library’s Circle Time where Noah was good-natured about doing the hoky-poky and playing Ring Around the Rosie with a bunch of toddlers, preschoolers and their out-of-school older siblings. Then we walked home in the snow. After Mr. Rogers, lunch and a nap, June was eager to go outside and play in the snow all over again, so Noah watched her while I shoveled as much of the walk as I could. It had gotten packed down and heavy in places so I only managed the front sidewalk. (We have a corner lot.) Then we came in and had hot chocolate. In between, I clipped newsletters, folded laundry and made squash risotto for dinner. The only thing I hoped to do and didn’t was make cookies.

This morning when I went outside for the paper (which had not arrived), I found the yard slick with ice. I wondered how feasible outside play would be, but I decided to give it a try. June’s music class was cancelled so we had nowhere to go. Also, June was running around the house beside herself with excitement that there was still snow on the ground and wanting to know when she could go outside. I gave her a bath, then unloaded the dishwasher and did the breakfast dishes while I waited for her hair to dry. This was a nearly unbearable delay for June, who kept letting me know she was ready to “go outside and take a walk in the snow.” I decided a walk was a good idea. It would be pretty down by the creek. It always is after an ice storm. June also expressed interest in riding in her sled instead of the stroller. If the sidewalks were unshoveled, as the path by the creek surely would be, it might actually be easier, I thought.

I took a peek down the block. Some of our neighbors had managed to shovel, but mostly I saw ice. As I fetched June’s sled and tried to chip the ice off it, the kids had fun walking around in the yard, delighting in its new texture and stomping their boots to crack the ice and sink into the snow underneath. I ran back inside for a towel so June wouldn’t be sitting directly on the ice I couldn’t remove from the sled and off we went. I pulled, June rode and Noah alternately darted ahead and fell behind. He had a yellow plastic baseball bat with which he was shattering the ice on every surface that captured his attention.

We didn’t make it very far down the creek path. We kept finding fun places to play, like the stand of bamboo weighted down with ice and leaning over the path to form a green, leafy cave. Then Noah found a leaf frozen into a chunk of ice and decided it was the fossil of an ancient plant. For a while after that we were archaeologists excavating gemstones (creek rocks) from the ice. We found a snowman someone must have made yesterday and Noah donated his leaf-in-ice, which was now a feathered hat for it. We threw rocks into the creek. Landing in open water was good if the splash was big enough; cracking the thin ice rimming the creek was better. I ran down the path in short bursts, pulling the sled while June called out for me to go “faster and faster.” Around 9:45 I declared it was time to turn around and head home, much to both kids’ dismay. It’s always hard to pick the going-home time that won’t result in chilled and tired kids whining all the way and I thought this was it.

As we neared home, we passed a man walking down the cleared street in the opposite direction. He wanted to know if was very slippery on the sidewalk. I nodded. “Good sledding,” I replied. On getting back inside the house, June and I watched Sesame Street. Noah stayed outside whacking ice with the bat for another ten minutes before joining us. I made hot chocolate for everyone again. Noah passed the rest of the morning playing on one computer while June and I looked at photo albums on the other one. Then Noah started whining because he was having trouble with the animation on the Power Point presentation about the evolution of language that he’s working on for a school project so I suggested he break for lunch.

After lunch I was trying to sneak in a little work time while the kids played in the living room, but on hearing both of them screaming, I came in and scooped June up without asking either of them what had happened. “It sounds like nap time to me,” I told her. She wailed even louder, but after a story and a brief cuddle, she was sound asleep. I read Noah part of a chapter of Me and My Little Brain and left him to finish it on his own. Noah reads a few years above grade level, but he’s always preferred adults to read to him. We have a new system for reading now in which he reads ten pages of each chapter on his own. Yesterday, he got so engrossed he went ahead and read an entire extra chapter on his own.

After nap I’d hoped to play outside again or maybe shovel part of the sidewalk I hadn’t done yesterday, but a cold rain was falling so I just cleared the parts of the front sidewalk that had iced over again. (Beth salted the walk before leaving for work and that helped a little.) I went back inside. The kids had started fighting again in the five minutes I’d been outside.

“Who wants to make cookies?” I asked. This was my ace in the hole, but Noah was uninterested. June wanted to help, though, so she sat on the kitchen floor and mixed the dough for Lebanese sesame seed biscuits and then stacked dominos into towers while I rolled the balls of dough into strips, twisted them into spirals, glazed them with milk and sprinkled them with seeds.

Around 5:15, June was asking to “go and take a walk on the ice.” I told her it was raining and cold and “yucky” outside. “You don’t want to go out there,” I said.

“Is it really, really yucky?” she asked, skeptically. I promised she could play outside again tomorrow. I don’t think it will all melt by then. I hope not. When the sun went down this afternoon, it stained our white yard all pink. It looked like strawberry yogurt, or frosting on a birthday cake. We really don’t see that particular sight often enough.

I do hope there’s school tomorrow, though. The kids are getting on each other’s nerves and I’d welcome a return to our normal routine. It hasn’t been all rough sledding, though. Some of it was pretty good.

44 Centimeters – Postscript

Shortly after we got completely cleaned up from the ice storm another one was predicted, but instead we got four and a half inches of fluffy, wet snow, perfect snowman snow. It fell on a Sunday so Beth got a chance to play with Noah in it and construct their snow-Beth (his idea) after we all took a walk down by the creek. While they worked on it, I nursed June to warm her up from our walk, and then made grilled cheese, soup and hot chocolate for everyone else. Later on, Noah and Beth made oatmeal cookies. I fully expected a snow day on Monday, but we got off with a two-hour delay. That morning before school, Noah and I repaired the melting snow-woman, removing the glasses and giving her long hair made of sticks, turning it into a snow-Steph. Noah sledded a bit and I dragged a beaming June around the yard in circles in the little pink sled. Winter does have its pleasures, but two days later when June and I were on our way to pick Noah up at school, I glanced at the path by the creek and saw a forest of purple crocuses, growing where there had been none the day before. I was so happy I gasped out loud.