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Posts tagged ‘New England’

A mid-winter’s whine

Boston Winter 2

Ugh (Photo credit: DanielCon)

[WARNING: this post contains a Downton Abbey spoiler. I know it seems weird but it comes up. Thanks!]

I don’t care if that blasted groundhog saw his shadow and said that spring was coming. It’s not, OK? I can see well enough out my window, you wretched ball of fur, and here in New England we are still in the deep, bleak, midwinter. And I’m coming out of my own personal burrow, filled with muddy boots and half-heartedly made indoor crafts, to tell you: winter with little kids…sucks. I was trying to think of some other, more elegant way to say it, but it sucks. That’s what it does. So, Punxatawney Phil,  you can tell all those old dudes in top hats to just calm down. We’ve got a long way to go.

I know I’m stating the obvious, but can we just commiserate for a minute? Maybe five? Can I ask you to read a few of my invernal complaints? Before I became a mother I used to love winter. The silence of the falling snow, and how it looked blue in the dusk. Cozy evenings in front of the TV watching The Sopranos or whatever drama everyone used to carry on about at the time. I remember, one President’s Day in Cambridge, we got 27 inches of snow. That’s OK! we said, all rosy cheeked and cheery, and we put on our boots and marched out to dinner down the middle of the street. Throughout the harsh winter, our daily routine would just go on, with a little added inconvenience, maybe, and a lot of romance derived from gazing at hushed scenes of trees covered in white.

Now, even without 27 inches of snow, even on just an average winter day, having kids makes winter wickedly more complicated. For starters: tack an extra million minutes on to getting ready for school, or going anywhere, to pull on snow pants, boots, hats, mittens, and huge winter jackets. Remember the scene in A Christmas Story, in which the mother heaves and grimaces as she puts her five-year-old into snow gear? “You can put your arms down when you get to school!” All these years later, and even in these salad days of high-performance heavy weather gear, it’s still just as much of a grind. It’s like a full-on wrestling match before 8 am. And still the geniuses at all the gear companies that produce such beautiful catalogs cannot engineer a mitten that will stay on the mitts of a two-year-old who wants to eat an awful lot of filthy snow on the way to school drop-off.

Now tack on another million minutes, maybe more, for all the additional tantrums that winter brings. I’ve realized, after spending so much time indoors with two little boys in the cold and day-shortened dark, how much good it does them to spend their free hours out-of-doors, as they do the rest of the year. How good it is for their spirits to just throw on a pair of sneakers and run outside, unencumbered by layers of clothes, and patches of ice, and blistering wind that can knock a child down (and did, just yesterday). Plus, a poor two-year-old, no matter how much he wants to go outside and play in the snow, spends much more time out there on his face than romping around. So an intrepid expedition out into the snow, like the one we had this morning, is usually very short and cold and involves carrying a doubly-heavy toddler in boots up and down stairs and over snowbanks that he has just fallen into. Tiring. I may just have a tantrum myself. I wouldn’t put it past me.

Enough already.

Enough already.

Once indoors, and stir-crazy, we are scrapping over toys, doing crafts for five minutes before tossing them aside, or taking magic markers to walls, before it’s Movie Time! Somehow, letting your child watch TV for a while so you can get some peace or do some chores sounds less bad if you call it Movie Time! rather than Several Episodes of Max and Ruby Time! On the bill today, while the little one sleeps and I write this: The Empire Strikes Back. And by the way, I will say this to you since I can’t say it to my son, I SO DO NOT CARE what happens to whomever on the ice planet Hoth! I LIVE ON THE ICE PLANET HOTH and it sucks so I don’t need to hear any more lectures about it thank you.

So there’s the slog of coats and boots and falling over and buried cars and no parking and crowded supermarkets where everyone is shopping for Armageddon and school snow days and weeks on end where we pass the same colds around to each other and cancelled travel and playdates and weak sunshine and then Downton Abbey has to go and end and SPOILER ALERT Matthew up and dies so you have to transfer your crush to Dr Clarkson (you’re too good for her!) and it’s months until Breaking Bad starts again so there’s nothing on and I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE! Is it Easter yet?

Still, as wearying and frustrating as winter is, I know that what we go through these days is nothing like what people once suffered before central heating and Patagonia puffer coats were invented. Times when winter meant an autumn of preparing and stockpiling food, which you hoped would last, and might not; when homes and lives were much more vulnerable to the cruel, harsh elements, and were often taken by the deep cold. It makes me think of the old poem Beowulf, which I love, and picture in my mind to be set in a perfectly dark world, where it’s always a cold night in the north of Europe. Where the only brightness comes from within the mead halls, glowing gold with fire and drink, yet still open to attack from beasts, like Grendel, from the edges of consciousness. In the poem, and in those dark days, lives were measured by winters survived. Life was harder. You think I’m in a bad mood? Just look at Grendel’s mother. And who could blame her?

Grendel's Den: now a pleasant watering hole in Harvard Square (Wikipedia)

Grendel’s Den: now a pleasant watering hole in Harvard Square (Wikipedia)

Now, we get through winter, wrapped in blankets of heat, and electricity, and TV weathermen who warn us, with great alarm and fancy graphics, to prepare for every inch of snow and gust of wind that might threaten our cocoons of comfortable existence. But even though that immediacy, that shivering rush for survival, is gone for most of us, winter still gets under our skin. No amount of Gore-Tex can change the fact that nature is still our master. It changes our moods, our outlook; it governs our daily lives. We’ve got cabinets of snacks to sustain us and can go buy watermelon once the winds let up, but those winters of old are still out there, they’re in our bones and the way we bristle at the weather report. With every ice dam or snow drift we battle, we are like the people of Beowulf, “deep in their hearts/they remembered hell.” Even if hell for us now might mean the cable going out.

I know what some of you might be thinking: “Why don’t you move to California or something if you hate winter so much?” No, I’m not doing that. Have you seen Annie Hall? And don’t worry, April and May will pass soon enough and I’ll be on to complaining about schlepping kids around in the heat.

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Black ice

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One year later, I am still grieving for Newtown.

http://www.momsdemandaction.org
http://www.sandyhookpromise.org

[Originally posted December 17, 2012]

The morning after last Friday, my five-year-old son, C, went over to his little play table, and told me not to look. But I watched his back as he sat quietly, even though he kept calling over his shoulder: “Don’t look at what I’m doing.” What else could I do, but look at him? Since he came home from kindergarten the day before all I could do was hold his face in my hands, rumple his baby-chick hair, listen to him earnestly tell me about another Friday at school. I hardly let him walk at all on Friday night, and Saturday morning; I practically carried him around the house with his head on my shoulder. So he knew something was up.

“OK, you can look now,” he called, and I hurried over to him. He made me a card. “C loves Mommeyy” it said.

I turned away from him, hid my tears. I rummaged in the drawer to find tape, take a breath, and stick the card up on a cabinet. I hugged him, again. “Don’t forget T,” he said, and I hugged the two-year-old too. Again. And that little glimpse of sadness is about as much of an inkling I want them to have that something horrible happened on Friday.

The internet is clogged with cliches this week, and here’s another: once you become a parent, you can never relax again. It’s a cliche because it’s true. And I can’t. A parent’s job is to anticipate peril, in any form, and shield a child from it as best we can, for as long as we can. But what about a peril, an evil, that’s so palpable, and hits us right where we send our children to be safe, and to thrive? We all know danger is always right around the corner, no matter what we do, but this is too stark and immediate a reminder to us all that everything must end.

I am sure I am not alone when I say it was difficult to send C to school today. Another embodiment of the fact that every goodbye releases him into the unknown. So we all put on boots and hats; instead of one or the other of us dropping C at school a few houses up the street, we all decided to go.

When we opened our front door, it looked like another raw, wet December day in New England. But on his first step out of the house, C slipped and fell. The wooden porch and steps were covered with a thin, invisible layer of black ice. The front walk looked merely wet but it was too, too slick; back in the house we went. We would go out the back door. But those steps were the same. We stumbled back into the house.

Finally, we made it out the third, and last door, through the murky basement. Cobwebs cover the stone foundation walls. C hoped that our noise would scare away the mice he thinks run rampant down there. “What’s that?!” A leaf scurried across our path as we opened the door.

Out on the sidewalk, C was still slipping on the invisible ice, and I walked tentatively, clutching a squirming T. I grabbed a bush to steady myself as I walked, and the leaves crackled. “I’d better take T back inside. Just hold on to C and go,” I said to their dad. There were more pressing dangers at hand; I couldn’t risk a fall to make a statement that would only soothe me, and not protect the boys.

Aside from police that are set to cruise by schools in town throughout the day, it will, I hope, be just another day. And though I will continue to grieve for Newtown, and pray that something good will come of this nightmare, I will say nothing of it all to C. He is five; he is too little to comprehend the evil that people are capable of in the world, evil that can end the lives of twenty beautiful children, and how close to it we all can find ourselves. Though on the other side of it, there is a lesson to be learned in the bravery that was shown by so many that day.

Little kids, judging from watching my own at play, see the world in black and white, like the pages of a comic book. Nearly every game C invents with his friends is about “good guys” and “bad guys.” It could be Spider-Man, or Batman, or themselves in superhero form. But in their make-believe world, the emphasis is not on the evil that these dreamed-up bad guys do. They are just bad; what they do is never specified. What’s important, in the game, is the imperative that the good guys (themselves included) have to vanquish evil and save the day.

“Are bad guys real?” C asked me a few days ago, before any of this happened. “They are,” I said. “Bad guys in comics aren’t real, but there are people in the world that aren’t nice, that do bad things. But there are good guys out there, to stop them.”

We can’t always, as we learned so painfully, stop them. And I can’t always carry my children around the house, or away from black ice, or shield them from terrible things. They will have to be able to stand on their own one day. But not today.

Now, all I can do is foster the good that lives in them, and remind them of the good in the world, the kindness, the bravery. In our town, and other New England towns like ours. And I will remind them with a smile, with warmth and reassurance, while all the while I wear a mantle of grief and fear, that I will hide behind me.

How Not to Talk With Children About the Newtown Shooting (from the Motherlode blog at The New York Times)

It’s just a flesh wound!

Near the Indian restaurant we like and the music store where I bought C a ukulele for his second birthday, at the main intersection in this New England town, there is a corner park where an old train track runs catty-corner to the streets. Elsewhere in town, the route of the old tracks runs nearly parallel to the main road, and has become a bike trail. Weaving over and under the streets it crosses, and almost everywhere shaded with oaks and willows, the Minuteman Bikeway traces, as near as it can, the path Paul Revere trampled with his horse when on April 18, 1775, he (and others) rode to Lexington to warn the new Americans, “the Regulars are coming out!” (He didn’t actually say, “The British are coming!” Thanks, internet!) Now the words that usually ring out on the Minuteman sound more like “On your LEFT!” or “Move that stroller!” or worse sometimes, huffiness dependent on the seriousness of the cyclist.

The Minuteman Bikeway. Look, I’m not Ansel Adams.

On his own second birthday, recently, I took T there after Indian food and he stepped on and off the rails, holding his cousin’s hand, while I looked in the sheet music sale bin, filled with old Suzuki violin practice books, the same as I used to avoid as a child, and a piece of music called, “Pleasure Time.” And in the park there is also this stone monument, one of many in the town that mark some moment or other of the Revolutionary War. I held T’s hand while I took this picture:

The old Yankee spirit.

I love this. Of course I don’t love the idea of anyone, especially not the British, dying. But in it there is so much to love and remind us about the New England persona. The best part of it, anyway: the part that is resolute, resilient. Full of stick-to-itiveness, as they say, with a little touch of stick-it-to-’em.

My cousin also loves this marker. We laughed as we thought of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the knight who lost limb after limb and still stood fast, in his own insane way. “It’s just a flesh wound!” (Here’s a link to the scene, though I still maintain that, as great as Monty Python is, no one EVER sounds cool quoting it. I’m doing it, but I never said I was cool.)  “It’s so New England,” she said, laughing. “Samuel Whittemore was just like all the other old coots around here, coming at some scamps yelling, ‘Get off my land, you whippersnappers!'”

Looking around, that sentiment remains, and it’s transferred from dry, crotchety farmers to local urban types: the Charlestown resident digging four feet of snow out of a parking space, then putting an old chair, or I’ve even seen a dresser, into it to save the spot that’s been dug out, and raising holy hell if anyone dares move that chair and takes the spot. Or my friend’s neighbor in Somerville, who cursed me out in front of a one-year-old C for daring to use his driveway to turn around on a narrow street (I’ll drive to the next town to avoid parking anywhere near the apron of his driveway, slapped up with menacing yellow paint). Or there’s the Boston driver willing to take a ding to the Subaru rather than let someone move in front of him (especially if that person has New York plates).

And then there’s me, having a canary and yelling at people who would park in my driveway when we lived in Cambridge (“It’s the principle of the thing!” I remember yelling at a neighbor. “If you would have asked me I would HAVE SAID YES!”). Isn’t that what we fought the Revolution for? John Locke? Life, liberty, and parking spaces, er, property! And a getting a good parking space truly is the pursuit of happiness in these parts.

When Samuel Whittemore stood his ground, when muskets were drawn on the Battle Green, anyone I was ever related to by blood was far from here – they were in the hot, dry mountains of the south of Italy, or the volcanic fields near Naples, or in quiet villages in the flatlands of the north of Germany. But nevertheless, the old Yankee spirit has found its way under my skin. Each time I enter a rotary to do battle with oncoming traffic, something deep within my flesh tells me not to give an inch. To stand my ground. Even if by law, I don’t have a leg to stand on.

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