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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lonesome Glove

Just before the dawn of spring, I lost one of my favorite gloves.
One howling night last week, when I was trying to feed a meter on a busy Philadelphia street, I dropped a glove.

Unfortunately, I neglected to rifle around in my coat pockets and note that I was missing one of the pair until it was too late—until I was already seated inside a cozy pub, gazing at flickering candles, gossiping with friends and waiting for pints to arrive—reluctant to dart back into the biting wind on what would most likely prove a frigid and fruitless search.

These gloves I had worn through at least a decade of East Coast winters—this last a particularly dreadful one—and it wasn’t quite over despite the fact that the calendar was creeping into mid-March.

The weekend before, we had gotten a break from the polar vortexes and clipper storms, with unappealing names like “Janus,” that had been tormenting our region, and much of the rest of the country, with heaps of snow and record lows for months. For a couple of days, the sun bloomed in the sky and actually warmed the earth.

Inspired, my husband and twin 7-year-olds hefted out shovels to try to break up several feet of snow that had been plowed against our sidewalks and solidified, impeding access to our minivan for weeks.

Griffin! That’s my ice chunk,” Georgia hollered at her brother.
“It is not!” he retorted, continuing to hack away at one of the icy embankments.

With sunlight on my cheeks where I sat at the edge of the front porch, gazing at the scene with my 3-year-old, I didn’t even care, for once, that my twins were fighting—and this time with metal shovels. They were making progress. Let them take out their pent-up frustrations on the icy white stuff that had been torturing us all winter and that I naively hoped we wouldn’t be seeing any more of for a very long time.

The next day was even warmer. Jane and I knelt down to admire the slender shoots of crocuses straining their necks through the worn-out mulch in our flower beds. Nearly all the snow melted from our backyard, turning it slick with mud. Neighbors stopped by. The kids started an impromptu game of kickball, the first in several months. They gleefully squelched around in the sludge under our swing set.

“I’m stuck!” Jane cried, and when I went to pull her out, her boots remained behind.

Then Jeff and Georgia got involved in an odyssey of emptying out the contents of our garage onto our driveway—old chairs, rusty Weedwackers, leaky hoses—inspecting each new discovery before giving it a new place, back inside the garage.

“We found all kinds of treasures!” Georgia triumphantly announced, holding up a grimy Florida license plate that had adorned my husband’s Volkswagen Golf when he drove it from his home state north to college more decades ago than I care to reveal.
“It really is much more organized in there now,” Jeff sheepishly replied to one of my looks.

But even though he eventually admitted that they had accomplished little more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, I didn’t really care. We had spent the day outside, and I actually thought I spied the faintest tinge of sunburn on our children’s cheeks before they fell asleep that night, worn out for the first time in weeks from outdoor physical activity that didn’t involve sleds.

But then Monday dawned with highs in the 20s and another blanket of snow covering the earth, freezing out any St. Patrick’s Day cheer we might otherwise have mustered. Georgia was the only one of us who even remembered to wear green, and she didn’t seem very excited about it, doing it more out of a sense of obligation than actual holiday spirit.

Later that morning, after her older brother and sister had trudged off to their warm classrooms, Jane and I took to the frozen streets to walk the dog. Periodic glacial blasts whipped our faces.

“I need it to be spring,” Jane implored. “When will it be spring?”
“Thursday,” I said, deciding this time to go strictly by the calendar and its promise of the spring equinox on March 20, though I knew I couldn’t count on the weather to cooperate.

Suddenly, Jane noticed that my mitten she was reaching for had a hole in it. I explained that a few days earlier I had lost my other, favored pair. “Well,” Jane replied, “you can borrow mine if you need to.”

And as she seized my hand with one of her red, heart-dotted mittens, I realized that my own missing glove and this evasive spring weren't so bad as long as I still had her fingers to squeeze.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Frozen


We have become intimate with snow during this historic winter.
We have grown quite intimate with snow during this historically bitter winter in the Philadelphia region, full of blizzards and frigid temperatures—a season that has left me numb in body and soul. If I never hear the words “polar vortex” again, it will be too soon.

I recently saw on the local news that a decrepit row house in West Philly actually collapsed due to the weight of ice on its roof. I’ve had friends whose pipes have frozen and burst; friends who lost power for a week after an ice storm, only to return home to find their pipes had burst; and a friend who invited me to a “Frozen” movie sing-along—an invitation I politely declined.

I’m tired of scraping the windshield of my minivan and shoving snow off its roof. I’m tired of space heaters. I’m tired of leaning out an upstairs window to whack pregnant icicles from our eaves with a baseball bat. I’m tired of scrubbing up salt that people have tracked onto our wood floors. I’m tired of wetting my wool socks in little puddles of snow melting inside. I’m tired of bundling up my children so just their faces are exposed to make them play outside, only to have my youngest tell me her teeth are cold.

As we watched our kids descend a wintry slope on plastic sleds during yet another recent cancelled day of school, a friend called to his son, “You'd better enjoy this! It’s the last snowfall of the season.

“I keep saying that, and then it snows again,” the father then turned to me and said.
“So you’re to blame for all of this,” I answered bitterly, before hollering at my first-grade twins to watch out for a tree they were racing toward in their toboggan.

Luckily, they missed it, but my friend’s prediction proved wrong. We got another few inches of snow and sleet the next day, piled on top of the three feet or so already encircling our house.

“We’re in sore need of some snow around here,” one of our garbage men joked to me the other day, as I scrabbled over a frozen bank the height of my 3-year-old to retrieve our cans. I chuckled in spite of myself. But lately I haven’t been finding much to laugh about.

“At some point, we need to sit down and have a serious talk about moving,” my husband said to me at 11 the other night, after the snow had finally stopped and after he had shoveled out our driveway for the umpteenth time so that he could get to work the next morning.

We do have a snowblower stored in our garage, but after filling it with fresh gas, changing the oil and replacing spark plugs, it remains stubbornly broken, leaking a rancid fluid all over the ground. We did find a small engine repair guy who said he would take a look at it—if we could get it to him—which we couldn’t before the last blizzard that dropped another 10 inches on our area.

“What’s the status of the snowblower?” our neighbor, retired and fit (he runs marathons), calls and asks without fail before each impending storm. Why he can’t take the machine, in which he owns a part share, to be fixed remains a mystery. And we find ourselves answering the phone and reluctantly replying, “still broken,” each time he rings.

So we’ve been straining our backs and our nerves clearing paths around the perimeter of our wide property and our driveway this winter, often multiple times a week. ‘Who needs CrossFit?’ I ask myself, lower back aching as I shakily prop a book on my knees at bedtime.

Running outside has become an exercise in defying death—or at least a broken hip—as each time I go the course varies with the texture of the ice, the depth of the snow, the humor of the drivers who make way for me on the banked and narrowed roads.

I’ve considered building a luge track from our roof into our backyard. In fact, the silver lining in all of this is that snowbound, with days and days off school, we’ve been able to watch a lot of the Olympics. My husband and kids even constructed their own rendition of the winter games out of LEGOs.

But it has reached the point where my twins don’t even cheer any more when classes are cancelled yet again. “We’re missing our Valentine’s Day party,” Georgia, 7, wailed on Friday. I consoled her with some Hershey’s Kisses.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” my lovely, elderly neighbor proclaimed from her doorstep a couple of weeks ago, staring out at the sun sparkling on the winter wonderland as I shoveled her driveway. “I just love the snow.”

By now, however, even she has changed her mind. “I don't think I'd like Florida,” she said when I checked on her the other day, “but New Mexico! New Mexico would be nice!”

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Life in the Overlook

Our house, inside and out, is starting to feel like the Overlook.
Shrouded in snow and adorned with sharp, fat icicles, our house is starting to resemble “The Shining’s” Overlook, the isolated hotel in the Colorado Rockies where Jack Nicholson, sealed up with his family off season, descends into madness.

Encased within the frigid depths of a particularly brutal Philadelphia winter, cooped up too long indoors with three young children during an extended holiday break—prolonged by several bouts of foul weather and cancelled school—I’m starting to identify a little to closely with Nicholson’s character. In fact, I worried when I sat down to write this that I might just end up typing, “All work and no play makes Courtenay a dull girl,” like Jack’s wife is horrified to discover he has been doing, pounding out this proverb over and over for weeks instead of polishing his latest novel.

In my own version of winter-induced insanity, I have been obsessively watching The Weather Channel, hoping that the temperatures will have crept up or that the latest approaching storm will have veered off while I momentarily stepped out of the room. When I have the local weather station on instead, my twin first graders sometimes wander in and dance to its jazzy tunes. This can be amusing. But what drives me nuts is when this channel—whose every detail I lately hang onto for dear life—makes a typo, as it has all day for tomorrow night’s low, mistakenly listing it as 41 degrees instead of the 8 degrees it is actually predicted to be.

Our first sizeable snow, the one that signaled that this winter would not be for sissies, arrived before the holidays and caught us driving home from the mall. What would normally have been a half-hour journey turned into a three-hour ordeal. Since our minivan has neither four-wheel nor all-wheel drive, we had to keep moving, albeit slowly, or we would’ve become stuck in the drifts rapidly gathering on the crowded roadways. As we approached each hill, we fretted that the car in front would slide back into us or that we would slide into the vehicle behind. By the time we made it home, miraculously without incident, I had a tension headache the size of Texas.

Then winter vacation commenced for our twins and our preschooler, promising ample together time and limited outdoor activity due to the bitter cold. We did puzzles. We played games. We watched movies and made the rounds of the local museums. Several times, we met friends at parks, playdates that didn’t last very long because of the frigid temperatures. So desperate to get out, one day I even took the kids to the Philadelphia Zoo, where they kept begging to go inside the reptile house where it was warm.

Back home, our children degenerated into the circular fights that seem to rotate round and round, one of the three always the odd one out. Then after one day back at school, classes were cancelled again Friday because of another blizzard.

I realized I wasn’t the only one losing it when I noticed my son playing with his plastic soldiers and humming “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

“Peace on earth and mercy mild,” Griffin chanted, bashing his green Army men again each other. “God and sinners reconciled!”

‘We need to get out,’ I thought and took the kids to sled behind the local middle school, where the wind lacerated our cheeks and pre-teens snowboarded down a steep flight of stairs, much to my dismay and my children’s delight. We lasted about 20 minutes until Jane, 3, started crying, “Snow keeps blowing in my face!”

We had more success the next day meeting friends at a gentler hill, for a sunny and invigorating hour of tobogganing. But then this morning we awoke to an ice storm.

In despair, I called a friend to commiserate, but she didn’t pick up because she had been on the way to her Presbyterian church. “Sorry I interrupted you,” I apologized when she later phoned back. Apparently, it was OK because church had been cancelled due to the ice—something my friend, a former Chicagoan and Catholic, couldn’t relate to but that I thought was entirely reasonable given the beastly conditions.

Later in the day, when I couldn’t take being inside one more minute, I skittered out for what I had hoped would be a run but which ended up being more like a crude parody of Disney on Ice.

“I admire your dedication!” a neighbor called to me as I skated by.
“I’m not dedicated,” I hollered back, “just claustrophobic!”
“I get it,” he cried.

It is supposed to thaw a bit tonight, and tomorrow the kids have school. But The Weather Channel promises that temperatures will descend back into the bitter regions of the single digits Monday night.

As is always the case in life, however, things could be worse. Minnesota is experiencing wind chill values of 30 to 50 degrees below.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Even my daughter who didn't believe was writing Santa notes.
When Christmastime was still just a distant beacon, my 3-year-old started asking if I was going to “be” Santa. “Yes,” I said. “I’m going to ‘be’ Santa.”

She seemed disappointed.

Unfortunately for Jane, well before she was born, her older twin siblings figured out that Santa Claus didn’t exist. Actually, my husband and I decided to disclose that news to them when they were just about Jane’s age. Griffin, now in first grade, was so terrified when he was 3 of the idea of a rotund man in red breaking into our house while we slept that my husband and I quickly debunked the Saint Nicholas myth.

“You mean Santa’s not real?” Georgia demanded.
“No one is coming down the chimney?” Griffin asked.

Our son, at least, seemed relieved, and in the intervening years, neither twin paid too much attention to the Santa Claus brouhaha. After all, they still got presents. And my husband and I were happy because we could take credit for all the gifts and felt released from the cultural pressure to buy more in the name of Saint Nick.

That is until this year, when Jane started in with her questions. “Are you going to ‘be’ Santa?” she asked every day or so, starting around Thanksgiving, always receiving the same response that, yes, indeed, I was. And I am convinced that these Santa sessions with Jane are to blame for Georgia and Griffin taking a renewed interest in jolly fat man. They even asked if they could put cookies for him under the tree.

“Sure,” I said.
“Are you going to eat them?” Griffin inquired.
“Probably.”

So instead, the twins decided to leave Santa notes, as if trying to butter him up into existence.

“How many presents are you delivering?” Griffin wrote. “Thousands? Hundreds? Millions? Zillions?”
“How are your elfs behaving?” Georgia wanted to know.

Jane, too, continued to pursue the Santa Claus question right up to the last minute.

“Are you going to ‘be’ Santa tomorrow?” she asked me again on Christmas Eve.
“Yes,” I said. “Daddy and I will be putting presents under the tree.”

But then it suddenly occurred to me that Jane might be probing much deeper than I had initially realized.

“I’m not going to dress up or anything tomorrow,” I clarified. “I am Santa, but I’m not going to be putting on a red suit. You do know that, right?”
“Well,” Jane replied, “you at least say, 'Ho! Ho! Ho!'”

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Happy Birthday Jesus

My daughter's coin asked, "What would Jesus do?"
“Happy birthday, Jesus!” my 3-year-old shouted over her hamburger and peas the other night at dinner, as if she were at a revival meeting. Jane might as well have been speaking in tongues.

In fact, it would have made more sense if she were taking the lord’s name in vain, since I have occasionally been guilty of doing so in front of her, and neither my husband nor I are at all religious.

Growing up, I stepped into an Episcopal church approximately once every three years for a Christmas Eve service with my family after a holiday party. My husband did a brief stint in a Congregational church, when his parents decided he and his brother could benefit from some moral instruction. Apparently, they protested so vociferously that my in-laws soon relented. And while Jeff and I respect the faith of others, we have emphasized none with our children.

But here was my 3-year-old crying, “Happy birthday, Jesus!” And I hadn’t even realized she knew his name.

My husband wasn’t home yet. Maybe he was playing a practical joke on me. Maybe Jeff had rehearsed this outburst with Jane. Or maybe our 6-year-old twins were behind it since they themselves had become temporary religious savants while attending a Presbyterian preschool.

I hadn’t set out to enroll them in a parochial program, but this nursery school had two openings at the right time. On the worksheets my twins brought home, “Y” stood not for “yo-yo” but for the “young Jesus.” They did Mary and Joseph connect-the-dots puzzles. My twins devoured the religious instruction and loved the place, though I, myself, did not always fit in.

After the holiday program one December, for instance, I stumbled into Georgia and Griffin’s classroom and saw them hunched over cupcakes with their friends singing, “Happy Birthday to You.”

“Oh!” I exclaimed. “Whose birthday is it?”
“The baby Jesus’!” my friend elbowed me and said.

I was equally dumbfounded when, at their pre-kindergarten graduation, my twins shot back answers to their teacher’s questions as if they were on a Presbyterian quiz show.

“Who gave his own tomb for the burial of Jesus? Joseph of…”
“Arimathea!” Georgia quickly responded.

Jeff and I stared at each other in puzzlement, much as I was now staring at Jane. “Happy birthday, Jesus!” she called out again, in case we hadn’t heard her the first two times.

Maybe she’d happened upon one of the little plastic tokens Georgia and Griffin’s pre-K teacher used to hand out as rewards—a sort of nursery school Bitcoin—without the seamy underbelly but equally unspendable in the real world. I found one of these discs the other day, left long forgotten behind a radiator. It was imprinted with a crude image of the son of God, radiating light and surrounded by the words, “What would Jesus do?”

Jane roused me from my reveries by crying, “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” a fourth time and wielding a wide grin. By now, Georgia and Griffin were laughing.

“How do you know about him?” Griffin asked.
“It’s not a him,” Jane retorted. “It’s a her.”
“You mean God’s son, Jesus?”
“It’s a her!” Jane insisted.

‘Just one of the many mysteries of the season,’ I told myself, and we wrapped up the meal with a lively round of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”