Poems & Essays

07 Dec

Learning to Love Winter

General/Column No Response

Today, it’s the first blizzard of the season. As my one-year-old daughter Sophie climbs up to stare out the window, I wonder how her story of the season will evolve. She’ll be raised in the Northeast, while I grew up in Georgia where no one knew what to do with a little hail. I’d like to show her that winter can be enjoyable, not simply a time to let pass. Since she’ll grow up with this weather, I’d like her to learn to tolerate it, even find the fun in the cold and snow, and see days like this one as chances to play. But outside looks terrible, with gusts of wind and flashes of nearly horizontal snow.

“Stuck inside again,” I say.

Sophie excitedly points out the window. Earlier this year, we’d bought her a blue snowsuit and snow boots but neglected to buy the same gear for ourselves, not expecting to be out in the snow too long. At most, I thought, I’d trudge through the slush on my morning commute. But Sophie wrangles her shoes on—a five-minute process—and motions me outside.

“You want to go out?” I ask her. She nods, with a determined look.

“There’s a time and a place for taking a morning walk. Not now.” She laughs as if she doesn’t understand. It’s far below freezing and supposed to get worse, the paper said, with those famed nor’easter winds.

“Might as well go,” Philippe says, finishing his breakfast. “Look at her.”

I glance over at Sophie’s downturned face. She’s steadfast. Even at this age, once she’s gotten an idea, she’s not about to relinquish it anytime soon.

“It’s cold outside,” I tell her, “seriously.”

She flings her arms up as if cold were simply a word in another language. I can’t believe it. I assumed she’d want to be warm and cozy, cuddled up inside. My story of the season isn’t hers. She doesn’t share my background, nor my mindset, nor the distaste of winter I’ve learned.

“Let me help you get up and look,” I say.

From the other room, Philippe calls, “Let’s take her out.”

“Just a few minutes,” I call now as we leave our apartment, my shoulders already braced.

Outside, it’s as bad as the forecast predicted. Wind whips my eyes till I squint. Hail with gravel bits gusts onto my cheeks. My neighbors have come out too, which surprises me. Several families are standing around with their toddlers, who play alongside a pile of shovels and sleds.

“They look prepared,” Philippe says, waving at them with his gloveless hand.

I nod. Clearly we’ve missed the message, or at least have never learned to become hardy New Englanders. As a child, I swam all summer from the time I was four or five but had never been skiing. As an adult, I’ve been too fearful to try.

But maybe now was time to upend this story of myself and start to build a new narrative.

Now that we’re outside, Sophie has become quiet. She stares at each individual snowflake, as if seeing one mystery unfold after the next, then laughs as a few fall on her tongue.

I put her down on the snow to let her feel it, to learn its texture and experience its cold. A second later, she starts crawling on hands and knees, slipping as she goes. She’s headed for a snowbank where the older children are already flinging snow and sliding, absorbed in their play.

“Look at her go,” my neighbor says with a smile as her three small children clamber around her, seemingly oblivious to the cold.

For her part, flailing through the snow, Sophie looks ecstatic as if we’d just dropped her in a pool of cool water and let her swim. When I go to pick her up, she howls.

“Okay, okay,” I say as I release her, letting her get as snowy as she wants. It’ll wash off, I tell myself, as she lunges down the street bereft of cars. Other than the squeals of the other children, there’s a strange, pure silence. The snow heightens every sound. Even the branches, packed with ice, make noises when they swing, and the streetlamps turn on with audible clicks. When she crawls back, I start playing with her, tossing bits of snow onto her hair. She laughs and hurls snow back with a loud laugh in the back of her throat.

This is the story I want to tell—about how enjoyment can find us when we’re least looking for it, about how there are pockets in every dark day that carry light. While I’d still rather have a cup of hot chocolate than a double diamond, I start to revise my own story of winter in my mind. Maybe, in raising Sophie, I can rethink not only winter but also my deeper stories and start to find a different way of being. Start to play.

 

Rebecca Givens Rolland’s work has appeared in Brain, Child Magazine, on EdSurge, and at Education Week, and is forthcoming in Cognoscenti. She can be found on twitter and at my website. She is the mother of a 4-year-old daughter, as well as a writer, speech-language pathologist, and consultant on parenting and education.

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