Siberian Train Wreck

When I was in college I ate and most years lived in the student-run co-operative houses at Oberlin. A friend of mine who was a menu-planner at one of the co-op where I lived recently posted a recipe on Facebook for a casserole from those days. It features noodles, canned tomatoes, kidney beans, ground beef, and cheddar. I didn’t recognize the exact recipe but it seemed like the sort of simple, hearty, easy-to-cook-on-a-large-scale fare we ate back then. For some reason it was called Siberian Train Wreck. I decided I’d give it a try, for old time’s sake. It amused me to write the name on the white board, and given the predicted weather and how it was likely to derail the region, it seemed appropriate.

If you live on the East Coast or know someone who does you’re probably aware we had a big storm last weekend. Snowzilla dumped two feet of snow on the Washington area. It snowed from early Friday afternoon into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Friday

The school system panicked and cancelled Friday, which irritated me because if they’d done an early dismissal, the kids would have been home before the first flake fell and even if they’d had a full day of school they would have been home before the roads were messy.

When the first flakes did fly, around one p.m., I was at the food Co-op, picking up a few groceries. I knew it would be crowded but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I found there. There were easily three times as many people as I’d ever seen in the small store and the line snaked halfway around its perimeter. When I saw it, I almost abandoned my oranges, soups, kidney beans, and bag of vegetarian ground beef. But I was on this errand partly to get out of the house and have a little alone time while I still could and I had part of an episode of This American Life I hadn’t listened to yet, so I got into the line. To my surprise it moved pretty quickly and I was out of the store fifteen minutes later. The staff was doing a great job handling the crowd and with one notable exception the customers seemed understanding and in good spirits. (The one who wasn’t was pushing her way past people with her cart. What is the point of acting like that?)

From there I went to Spring Mill Bakery for a cup of Earl Gray and an enormous brownie. Their shelves were almost bare and the woman at the counter kept announcing they were out of bread, though they had baguettes in the oven. I got a table by the window, to watch the snow. I was making an effort to see the beauty of it, which I know is there, but I have been having trouble seeing it for a few years. I have to admit I didn’t quite succeed because I was just full of dread about the storm, or more precisely its aftermath, which was likely to be lengthy and trying. (The last time we had two feet of snow was when Noah was in third grade and June in preschool and a few days later there was another foot of snow and school was cancelled for almost two weeks straight.)

An inch of snow is just about the right amount for me. I know this because we got an inch two days before the big storm and even though the roads became impassable and I had to walk home from book club and there was a two-hour delay the next morning, it was kind of fun, walking home in the snow in a group of fellow book clubbers and taking June down to the creek for a walk the next morning.

It was a fluffy, sparkly snow, quite pretty, and I let June venture out onto the ice of the half-frozen creek further than seemed 100% safe because I’ve been trying to encourage her to get back into the habit of playing outside and I thought she’s only going to do it if I let it be fun. And what’s more fun than a little danger?

I didn’t stay at the bakery long because I needed to go get June from Megan’s house They had a five-hour play date that day—it started at our house and then moved to Megan’s house during the gap between my press release deadline and Megan’s mom’s conference call.

June and I got back home around 2:40, twenty minutes before the blizzard warning took effect. Beth had come home early and Noah, who had been home all day, was studying his lines for a scene from Romeo and Juliet his drama class is going to perform whenever they go back to school. So everyone was present and accounted for.

We passed a quiet afternoon and evening. We live on a busy road so it’s notable when traffic stops but by evening it was only plows, police, and emergency vehicles in the deepening snow.

Derailed: One day of school

Saturday

We woke to thunder and eighteen inches of snow on the ground and more coming down hard, but we decided we’d better start shoveling so it wouldn’t be impossible when it did stop. We have a corner lot and a big back yard so we have a lot of shoveling.

After a breakfast of oatmeal and buckwheat pancakes that Beth made and after Noah vacuumed the living and dining room—I asked him to do it, thinking we might lose power at any time as some of our neighbors already had—all four of us shoveled for a couple hours. We hired a passing man with a shovel to clear the driveway because that was too much for us to tackle. At first he said he’d do it for $100, but part way through the job he changed his mind and said it would be $200. I don’t know if this is standard operating practice or if it’s because we have a long driveway, but it’s how it usually seems to go whenever we hire someone to do this job. (In the end, we had to have it done again and paid $325 total.)

June wanted to try sledding on the rise in our back yard, but the snow was too deep and powdery and the sled just got stuck. I asked Noah to try to make a sled run for her by going down it a few times and he tried but he couldn’t make anything workable.

When we came inside I read a chapter of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to June and we all had hot chocolate and soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. Noah had a list of sixty English vocabulary words to memorize and exercises to do with them, so I quizzed him on these while Beth and June made chocolate chip cookies.

In the late afternoon, we watched Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. June had seen it already at a slumber party but even so, she needed to sit between Beth and me and hold Muffin (her favorite stuffed animal) on her lap during the basilisk scene. This strengthened my resolve not to let her watch anything past the third movie for a while because I know they just get scarier as they go along.

No one felt like making dinner, so we heated up frozen tamales and lasagna and June had hot dogs with leftover soup from lunch. I got into warm bubble bath to soak my sore back and read the newspaper, which had miraculously arrived that day. Meanwhile Beth and June listened to a Nancy Drew audiobook and Noah practiced his drums.

Once June was in bed, I read Library of Souls to Noah. It was snowing when we all went to bed and the sidewalk we’d shoveled was filling back up.

Derailed: One day of school, a gymnastics class, and a basketball game

Sunday

The next morning the snow had stopped—Beth measured 23 inches on our patio table—and the sun was shining. Beth, Noah, and I shoveled the walk all over again, an easier job the second time around, and Beth and Noah lent some neighbors a hand as well. We had one fewer shovel to do it with, as someone had stolen one off our porch. The footprints in the fifth photo belong to the thief.

I read to June again while Noah started to memorize a monologue for another drama class assignment. Then two neighbor girls came over to play with June so their mom could return a child who had gotten snowed in with them while her younger sister was being born. Our neighbor needed to re-unite the girl with her parents at the hospital and then drive the whole family to their house in D.C. This was why Beth and Noah dug out their car earlier in the day.

By mid-afternoon school we’d found out had been cancelled through Tuesday. (Monday was a scheduled day off because the kids get a day off between marking periods.)

I was tempted to go to bed and hide with a book when I got this news but instead I checked in on Noah and found him despondent about his progress memorizing the monologue (which is based on Beth’s mom’s memories of her youth in the 1950s). I broke it into chunks for him to make it easier to learn, ran him through the first five chunks several times, and then suggested he take the rest of the day off since he wasn’t going back to school until Wednesday at the earliest.

He went downstairs to practice his drums while Beth made a white bean soup for dinner and June played with the little girls. They are in first grade and preschool and June’s really good with them. It makes me think she might be babysitting in a few years. They played with My Little Pony figures they brought, June’s American Girl doll, magna tiles and the castle and its inhabitants. They only had to resort to a Care Bears video almost three hours into the visit.

Derailed: One day of school, a gymnastics class, a basketball game, and my weekly swim

Monday

By Monday I was feeling I needed to get out of the house so I was happy to meet Becky, June’s preschool music teacher and a friend of the family for lunch at the bakery. Becky and June have an upcoming acting and musical performance together (more on that in another blog post) and they needed to go over their lines.

It was quite a challenge getting there. Nearly all the sidewalks were shoveled but the bridge over Sligo Creek wasn’t (it never is) and there was a long stretch of sidewalk belonging either to the hospital or the university that wasn’t either. Usually we could walk in other people’s footprints, but on the bridge there were no footprints and the snow was halfway up my thighs. I struggled along for a while, with June trailing me, but eventually we had to walk in the street.

At the bakery they were still out of a lot of their menu items, but they had the makings of grilled cheese sandwiches, so we ordered three of them and chips and drinks, and a big lemon bar to share three ways. We ate and then June and Becky practiced their lines. I went across the street to the Co-op for more groceries for us and a gallon of milk for a neighbor. When we’d left the house, there were two men shoveling out our driveway again and I texted Beth to see if they were done and if she could come get us. She could and she did. It had been just about the right amount of adventure walking there but I didn’t really want to do it again.

Beth took the kids sledding shortly after we got home while I stayed home to work. They came home sooner than expected and when they got onto the porch I could hear June was crying. She’d flown off her sled and sprained the pinky on her right hand. Beth took her to urgent care to make sure it wasn’t broken and they came home with June’s pinky in a splint.

That night I made the Siberian Train Wreck for dinner. Beth said it was “just like Hamburger Helper” and it was. Sometimes that’s the kind of food you want.

Derailed: One day of school, a gymnastics class, a basketball game, and my weekly swim

Tuesday

Tuesday was the day I really lost it. The trigger was Girl Scout sleep-away camp registration. Last year the process had taken three hours and nearly brought me to tears. This year was worse. It was also worse than the dream I’d had the night before before about walking down a long, swaying bridge with no handrails.

I was logged onto the site at 10:01, one minute after it opened. There were 1,004 people ahead of me in line. I waited patiently, watching the count go down until it was my turn. This took a little less than an hour, about what I’d expected. Once in the site I rushed to find June’s choices. There were two spaces left in Storm the Castle, an archery-themed program and her first choice. Her friends Maggie and Leila were trying to get into that one, too.

But by the time I got through the registration process it said the session was full. I thought it had filled while I was registering, but when I went back to the selections to see what was left, it was still showing spaces, more in fact than there had been before. I kept trying over and over to register her either for Storm the Castle or to get on the waiting list for her second choice, Artistas, which was full but allegedly had space on the waiting list.

I asked Beth (who was working from home) for help and she tried, too, but all we could get to work was my very last choice—Moonlight Mania, a program based on staying up late. Even though I’ve gotten more relaxed about bedtime recently, it’s still a hang-up of mine and this seems like an almost comically bad choice. Plus June doesn’t even really like staying up late.

I regretted registering her almost immediately, as it leaves me with the decision of whether being the mean mom who says June can’t go to Girl Scout camp or whether to worry for six months about sending her to this camp. Beth gingerly suggested we all give it time before making any decisions. She seemed wary of me. This could have to do with the fact that after I got off the computer I started to cry and once I started, there was no stopping and I had to shut myself in our room. I wasn’t even sure what I was crying about anymore. There were too many options.

Later in the day I learned Maggie got in to Storm the Castle and Leila got on the waitlist for the same session, which I would have considered a better outcome than what we had.

I was so upset about the whole thing that I almost didn’t care when school was cancelled for Wednesday or that I seemed to be getting sick. In an email to a friend, I wrote, “I hate summer and winter and everything.”

Derailed: Two days of school, a gymnastics class, a basketball game, my weekly swim, a Girl Scout meeting, and my mental stability

Wednesday

Beth went to work for the first day since Friday. June had a friend come over for a morning and early afternoon play date. I ran Noah through his vocabulary, the Romeo and Juliet scene, and the monologue and then we did an extra long reading from Library of Souls because it seemed more worthwhile than anything else I could be doing. (Later that day I read June an extra chapter of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.)

After I’d made lunch for all three kids and Claire left, I decided I really should be getting some work done, so I outlined a couple of brochures and worked on some social media posts.

If Tuesday was the day I lost it, Wednesday was the day my stay-at-home mom friends started to lose it. After three snow days with nary a complaint, when the fourth was announced around 3:30, my Facebook feed lit up with laments. This must be the point at which it seems the kids are really never going back to school. Apparently we live in the worst possible place for this kind of misery: south and we wouldn’t get big snows; north and our cities and towns would own the equipment needed to clear them away in a timely fashion.

Derailed: Three days of school, a gymnastics class, a basketball game, my weekly swim, a Girl Scout meeting, my mental stability, a basketball practice, and an elementary school orchestra concert

Thursday

Thursday morning I was tempted not to get out of bed but I decided it really would be better for me if I did and that it might even be a good idea to try to get out of the house, which I hadn’t done since I waded through the snow banks to get to the bakery on Monday. We were running low on milk, so I walked to the 7-11, which was good and bad. Good because it got me moving and it was a mild, sunny day. Bad because it allowed me to assess how well cleared the streets and sidewalks are in my neck of the woods and how ridiculous it is that we can’t break our huge county into at least two pieces for snow cancellation purposes.

Anyway, after lunch Becky came and rescued June from her cranky mother and took her to her house for three hours, where they practiced for the performance and had a tea party. I wrote most of a brochure on fiber supplements while she was out of the house.

When Noah told me school was cancelled the next day I wanted to say some very bad words. Instead I said, “I suppose you wouldn’t make that up just to torment me,” and I went back to work. I am a paragon of restraint.

But there was a small ray of hope. In the evening Noah had a drum lesson that wasn’t cancelled. It was the first organized activity either kid had that hadn’t been cancelled in a week.

Derailed: Four (soon to be five) days of school, a gymnastics class, a basketball game, my weekly swim, a Girl Scout meeting, my mental stability, a basketball practice, and an elementary school orchestra concert

On Track: One drum lesson

I don’t know when the kids will be back to school. I hope it will be Monday, but at this rate, who knows? We once had a longer cancellation, but that was for three feet of snow. We’ll exceed our allotment of snow days for the year when we have our fifth one tomorrow and then there will probably be some more and then there will be drama about whether or not we’re going to make up the extra days and chances are we won’t and then I’ll be mad about that all over again.

But in the meantime, I’ve invited Megan to come to our house tomorrow morning and then in the afternoon Megan’s mom is taking both girls to meet another friend at Kung Fu Panda 3, so chances are I’ll get some more work done and we’ll all survive another day.

  • sylvia gray

    Girl Scouts sounds like hell. Their cookies have turned to dust for me in light of all that parenting stress. You are pretty much amazing. Randi

  • Bibliomama

    Geez, all of that would break the strongest work-from-home parent. It does seem like there has to be a better way – for snow removal, school cancellation management, Girl Scout camp registration (OMG, head is all explody). And may a thousand fleas infest the inadequately waterproof snow boots of the shovel thief.

  • Nicole MacPherson

    Oh my god, Steph. Honestly, that sounds nightmarish. That is a lot of snow, and that’s coming from a Canadian prairie girl. The Girl Scout thing would be the end of me. That kind of hassle makes me want to poke out my own eyeballs. I have nothing but sympathy. I sure hope things get back to normal soon.

  • Pingback: Posts of the Week: For the Winter Weather - Mombian()

  • Thanks for sharing your snowy experience! I’ve included it in a little roundup of weather-related posts: https://www.mombian.com/2016/02/02/posts-of-the-week-for-the-winter-weather/