When my children were little, a snow day was not really one seamless start-to-finish event but rather 10 cycles of a five-step repeat:
- Yay! Let’s go outside!
- I’m cold! I want to come inside!
- I’m hungry!
- Can we watch TV?
- Can we go back outside?
Since snow days were (are) workus-interruptus days, I set up my office computer and spread my very important papers on the kitchen table only to shuffle them aside during each cycle’s repeat. Temporary exuberance; intermittent stress; eventual exhaustion. At least that’s how it was, once. I think that’s how I remember it.
We live on the bottom edge of Zone 7. If you are a gardener, then you know what this means; but if you are not a gardener or did not have a gardening mother, then the short version is this: We live in a place where single digit temperatures are rare, where deep, hard freezes are (usually) temporary, where a winter weather event stops everything in its tracks, and where good, thick sledding snow makes an appearance only every few years.
This year was its year.
I know, I know. By Nebraska standards it’s nothing. But here at the edge of Zone 7 it was a grand event and, for me, one with a surprise realization.
What disappeared with the stray Lego blocks and Polly Pocket pieces was the need for me to be the zipper of jackets, hat Nazi, and constant watchman. I’m still the preferred maker of hot chocolate and macaroni and cheese, but this week I learned that my days of snow-day management are (mostly) over. “We’re going outside” replaced “Mother, may I?” They checked in by text message and Instagram feed, free to roam in neighborhood winter wonderland. They went sledding while the dogs and I went for a walk; they built a snow fort while I built email campaigns. We were together but, in new ways, independent.
In college a friend and I once made a pact: I would raise her children (and mine) while they were little, and she would raise them when they were big. I dreamed of being home with babies, toddlers and kindergarteners. The idea of small children frightened her; she would take over when they turned 12. It was a perfect plan, or at least sounded good at the time.
We’re both lucky she never took me up on it, as mothering tiny people wasn’t quite the bliss I’d expected it to be. I was clumsy at it and often impatient. I had trouble reorienting my sense of time. Snow days, idyllic in picture books, only exaggerated my incompetence and frustration.
Then my tiny people magically got bigger. Sometimes we even have real conversations. They can now pull their own sleds, make their own snow day plans. Though I’m still in charge of rules and reminders, I can see the day when tandem will supplant towing.
One decade-long constant across all the (infrequent) snow days on our block is the adult kitchen gathering after the sun goes down. When the children were little we’d pile them on the sofa, cover them in blankets and turn on a Disney movie so the adults could relax over food and wine and whatnot.
This time wasn’t much different, except that the children piled themselves on the sofa and arranged their own entertainment, leaving us to Coney Island-style chili dogs (Bernard’s creation) and a tasting of the pompelmocello (think limoncello, only with grapefruit) that’s been steeping in our basement for six weeks.
We toasted to graduating from the days of Hello Kitty mittens, to how much we enjoyed this new dynamic. A part of it is bittersweet, their coming of age marking our eventual sunset. But another part is just deeply, immensely enjoyable. For this one moment, suspended in time, we all, adults and children, had the best day ever, together in the deep, deep snow.