Saturday, January 19, 2008

Snow Angels

It’s snowing today in Fox Valley.

That’s a rarity. Here in the South ice falls more frequently than snow, and since the globe started heating up, we haven’t gotten anything cold and frosty in a very long time. The first Christmas after we moved here 10 years ago, Billy put a Flexible Flyer at the top of his list. Suspecting that would never be used for anything but garage clutter, Bob and I flat out told Billy there would be no sled beneath the tree. He was sad, but if he looked back on it now, I’m sure he’d admit it would have been a tragic waste of a Christmas gift.

Billy wanted the sled because he and Ben were born in a place where two or three decent snows fell each year. They know what it is to sled and make snow angels, to eat vanilla-scented snow cream quickly before it melts, to feel their cheeks and noses chap as they sled away a morning.

Until recently, we had a photograph from those days up in the den. (We rearranged some furniture, and suddenly the frames that held six pictures of the boys as babies and toddlers didn’t really fit the décor anywhere. We took them down to the basement and stacked them with other pictures on an old sofa.) In it, Billy and Ben are 6 and 3, dressed in pull-on red rubber snow boots and an assortment of mismatched winter clothes, standing in our snow-covered back yard. Ben, a full foot shorter than Bobby, is wearing a drum-shaped green fleece hat I bought at Gap. I got it because it pulled on so easily, but it’s easily the strangest looking headgear since Devo and the flower pots, and someday soon he’s going to ask me to burn every photo that shows him wearing it. Bobby was in his ruin-every-photo stage at the time, and he’s making the most confident monkey face you’ve seen outside a zoo, his blue-tobogganed head cocked and his feet firmly planted against the chill.

I’m sure I complained the day the picture was taken about the hassles of wet clothes and puddles and the children who created them. In all likelihood I didn’t even go out in the snow with Billy and Ben; no doubt Bob pulled the sled and made the snowman and shot the picture. I probably watched from a window, and said I couldn’t wait until they were grown.

When Ben came downstairs this morning, he was excited. “It’s snowing!” he said. Usually one to stay in his bathrobe until we force him out of it, he quickly showered and dressed. He’s breaking in a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors for his role in an upcoming production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (your Chuck Taylor’s have to get filthy if you’re Pigpen), and so he was wearing those and Levis and a pullover sweater reminiscent of one Wally Cleaver might have worn. In fact, we all seemed a bit Cleaver-ish this morning – I made bacon and homemade pancakes, and put on a pot of soup. I didn’t look much like June, though; I had on a pair of jeans so hideous they make Mom jeans look like Sevens, and a bottle green, long-sleeved t-shirt I’ve had since Billy was a baby.

Maybe it was wearing that shirt, which I so strongly associate with those one-on-each-hip years, or the fact that Ben went out to the deck – coatless, of course -- to see if our meager accumulation would support a snow angel, or the Cleaverness of our morning. But something about this morning brought those preschool days back to me. I went down to the basement and hauled up the picture. It warmed me like oatmeal.

After awhile, Ben grew tired of the snow. Today became just another video-game-Saturday. Billy woke up around 10; he had to attend a luncheon of some sort to honor the cast of a play he’d been in. Like many of those things he does these days, I don’t know all that much about it; he’s quickly getting better than I am at things like RSVPs, and this was his deal.

As Billy headed for the shower, I pointed out the snow. “I know,” he said, sounding as if he thought he should be excited but wasn’t. Instead of boots and a toboggan, he dressed in a coat and tie. Everything matched, and he tied his tie himself. Bob and I did a lot of driving coaching -- there’s a mountain between Fox Valley and the site of the luncheon, and this is a kid who’s never driven icy roads – but soon he was off to the luncheon, a young man on his own.

My sister lives in New England. A couple of years ago, I kept her girls, then 1 and 4, for a week in January. Of course it snowed, so much that even those hardy New Englanders shut the schools. Each trip out the door meant pulling on coats and snowsuits, mittens and hats; each trip back home required hanging all that stuff up to dry, soothing static electricity shocks, finding Chapstick and dry clothes. It was exhausting. I came back home to kids who can dress themselves and don’t wear coats till the temperature drops to the twenties. I told everyone I knew that it was crazy to live in the Northeast with babies.

So it’s not that I’ve forgotten the demands of young children. Yet today, I’m looking at that picture of my own little angels on a snow day, and I keep tearing up.

I love my kids with a bright white light. They’re my friends now -folks I look forward to having home every night so that I can hear what they thought about the world that day. They don’t need me for the demanding physical things anymore. They tie their shoes and fix their breakfasts and respond to invitations on time (well, mostly). Sure, they need me, but not in the same exhausting way. My life is much more my own.

But I miss the snow days. I wish I’d known then what I’m starting to realize now: that each and every moment of our love affair with our children, the good moments and the miserable ones alike, will eventually melt like snow. Sure, there are photographs, but it’s not the same. I’d give anything right now to kiss a chapped, chubby cheek and hang a dripping jacket up to dry. I wish I’d done it more when I had the chance.

No comments: