I woke up last night after a series of strange dreams – one in which my family and I moved into an abandoned library, and discovered that the resident ghosts stole pages from the ancient books and made paper bodies for them to inhabit – paper fingers, paper bellies, paper eyes – and became increasingly emboldened by our presence. I woke in a panic when a couple of paper teenagers jumpstarted my car and convinced my daughters to join them in joyriding and general carousing (my last thought before wrenching myself awake was not, “Oh my god my daughters have been abducted by ghosts” nor was it “Oh my god my car has been stolen again,” – no. My final thought was, “Those blasted teenagers are going to peer-pressure my girls into drinking alcohol. And stuff!” Which, of course, gives me some insight into my Map of Fears – the center of which is my fear of peer pressure. I blame a childhood watching After School Specials. And possibly also peer pressure.
Anyway, I lay in bed for a long time staring at the brown, pre-snow sky, and listening to the wind howl and howl and howl. I couldn’t see the line of clouds bringing the snow – my windows face East and not West – but I could feel them all the same. The weight of snow curling at the edge of the sky, tensing its muscles, preparing to spring.
When I woke the world was white. And it will be white for a while. My kids were over the moon.
“Is this just fake snow?” my twelve-year-old demanded.
“What is fake snow?”
“You know. Snow that makes promises and then lies and turns into rain and then everything is sad and terrible.”
“Ah,” I said. “No, this is the real thing. It will snow, then it will stop, and then it will snow a lot, and then the temperatures will plummet. The low on Thursday is five degrees, I think.”
“THIS IS THE BEST NEWS EVER,” my child said, jumping up and down.
I sighed and looked outside. The snow wasn’t deep, but the bottom layer was wet. Best to shovel in stages, getting the bottom layer up now, and then shoveling again later.
“Okay,” I said. “Who wants to help shovel?”
“OH ME PLEASE I WANT TO SHOVEL PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!!!!” said my son.
This, of course is a delicate affair. So, like any good parent, I channeled my inner Tom Sawyer. “Welllll,” I said after a long hesitation. “I suppose you can help . . . . .but-”
I let that hang there for a moment.
“ANYTHING MOM!” My son already had his snowpants on.
“Brush your teeth, pack your backpack, AND make your bed.”
He was off in a flash.
This past autumn in Minnesota has been astonishingly beautiful – long, lingering, and warm. It was russet and amber and mauve and taupe and blue and gold, gold, gold, gold. We haven’t had an autumn like that in ages. Ages. And we deserved it, you know? After last winter. After the flooding in the summer. We deserved good apples and crisp leaves and bare skin in October. But one of the problems with the beautiful autumn is that it makes us anxious about the coming winter. It hovers at the edges of our imaginations like a specter.
My son and I pulled on our boots and arranged our hats and gloves just so and went out into the snow, our feet crisping into the crust of white. Our shovels slicing dark, wet patches of concrete into the fluff of crystal.
I forgot how quiet snow is. How it softens the edges of the world. How it tames the things that jangle and screech and keen. Cars slide by in a mostly silent swoosh and swish before fishtailing prettily away. The branches are laden and glittering, their ends bending toward the ground. My son shoveled the main walkway and I shoveled the drive way. He reached down, gathered up glovefuls of snow, packed them into balls and launched them in clean, quiet arcs, landing with a muffled thud right behind me, or in front of me, or beside me. Missing on purpose.
“Oh, mom,” laughed each time. “I was this close.”
He thought he was the cleverest boy.
He was the cleverest boy.
My daughters were inside, turning up Christmas music (they do this to annoy me) so loud I could hear it through the walls and the windows. They waited for me to notice. I looked at them through the windows, and watched them laugh and spin around and around and around.
It is winter. And the world is dreaming. And it is beautiful. I don’t know why I was so worried.