Last weekend it snowed — again. Usually, I am the lucky mother of two children whose father plays with them. A lot. His role is to build the igloo while I stay home and make the bolognese for their return and also write, catch up on email, and generally exist as an adult enjoying a Saturday morning while he becomes an Inuit and carves imaginary blubber. Last Saturday he was out of town and so we began the lengthy process of dressing to go out into the snow and play.
I did my best, toting two plastic snow ballers, they’d gotten for xmas, sleds and making sure we were well bundled. We sledded. I gave giant pushes as they careened down the hill (kind of a minor one since we live in the midwest) I sledded too, without the benefit of snow pants. It was 19 degrees and although sunny, very windy. My son, sat in the snow, reveling in its powdery depths as he struggled to make perfect snowballs that often dissolved at his touch. My daughter made a snow angel and when I lay down and joined her my jeans got soaked. But it was all good; we were having fun. We had races down hill, built a fort and then used the sleds, that were circular as “nests” and filled them with snowballs that we called eggs. We were outside, getting exercise, enjoying nature in the middle of Chicago; it was ideal. Until it wasn’t; I agreed to sled with my daughter one more time, holding her between my legs as we journeyed down and when I sat down, my zipper broke unleashing a stream of freezing air that seared my solar plexus. Ok so she’d sit in front of me, I’d be fine. We lasted more then four or five runs (my younger son in the distance, making snowballs and hurling them at us, his knit gloves — all wrong — crusted with ice.) I stopped to try and fix my zipper but ice had lodged in its grooves making it impossible to close. I looked at my watch; we’d been out for an hour. It was time. My announcement met with no response. My daughter stood atop the hill in some kind of fugue state, examining the tracks of some rodent while my son raised a handful of unfortunate yellow snow to his mouth. I grabbed his wrist in time then examined his tiny hands inside his terribly wrong gloves that were crimson with cold. “Your hands! Don’t you want to go in and warm up?”
“No!” he answered cheerfully, while I lead him away to a less urban mound of snow.
I called to my daughter, resorting to bribery. “Time to go in. I’ll make you cocoa!”
“With marshmallows!” I yelled.
Then from behind, the ambush! Snow on my neck, seeping down into my shirt and my son’s delighted grin.
My sweater was soaked. I sneezed three times in a row. “Ok, not funny! remember the rule, no snow on skin!” I tried in vain to close my faulty zipper again when my daughter piped in.
“Mom, you really shouldn’t have worn that coat!” It’s my down coat, the warmest one I own. I don’t say anything.”Promise me you won’t next time because you keep on stopping playing!”
“Right because I’m freezing!” I say losing it. I feel like a terrible mother. I am not sturdy enough, and mean on top of it.
“I’m not!” she says. I watch her shuffling away within an absurdly padded, waterproof, silhouette of outerwear.
“I’m not cold mommy,” my son insists even though his cheeks are really windburned his lips edging toward indigo.
“OK,” I negotiate, always a bad move, “five more minutes then we’re going in.”
Another race begins and I beg off saying I will wait at the bottom and act as referee. I am, I think, not so much fun, un-playful and selfish. And I am COLD. From another few minutes I spend glove free so that I can fiddle with the zipper, my fingers are burning with numb tips. Five minutes come and go and they show no sign of moving. My appeal about being cold means nothing to them since they aren’t. But their father is away. No one else will play with them. Throughout the school week we are always rushing them and as my daughter handily points out they’re just “trying to have fun.” Guilt makes me remain a few minutes longer. Then I ask again. No response. They are always perfect and we, parents are always flawed. But we are also human. What good would I actually be to them if my finger tips did break off from frost bite.
My needs do matter; if I let them not matter, then I am gone and they will be too. All good rationales but somehow I let loose a shout that startles my son so that he cries and my daughter snaps out of her hundredth snow angel and pops up to attention. They rise, collecting their gear and they put one foot in front of another and they follow me home.