Just as the dandelions were beginning to bloom, and the cornflower was coming up (unseasonably early) around the yard, winter came to central Arkansas. First there was the freezing rain sleet, leaving a sheet of ice around the city. Then a little snow came down on top of all that, and next thing you know the whole school district is closed for three days.
My sons couldn’t wait to build a snow person. Of course, the yard was nothing but one big ice cube. I explained how there were certain kinds of frozen precipitation and now all of them were conducive to creating snow people. So instead of making snow angels or building Frosty, they took the bottom half of a dog crate and went sliding down the hill in our back yard. I loved listening to their excited screams and laughter as they went sailing down into our now defunct garden space.
Sure, dog crate sledding probably isn’t the safest thing in the world. Later that evening on Facebook I found myself reading a story from a local news station about the so-called “dangers of sledding.” I’m not much of what people often call a helicopter parent. A backyard is supposed to hold a healthy amount of danger. And a kid needs to get hurt and dirty every now again.
My own mother was hyper cautious. Never in a million years would she let me go sledding, much less let a fellow hyper child my own age push me down with gleeful abandon. But we’re different in this regard, and I guess that’s why I sometimes find myself reliving my childhood vicariously through my sons. I believe that sledding down the hill isn’t just about laughter. It’s one of those many chances we have to learn something about the subtle differences between being brave and stupid; between being wisely cautious and paralyzingly fearful.
While it’s true my mother wasn’t a fan of gutsy childhood feats, she certainly knew how to honor the the childhood imagination, especially in the winter. I remember discovering icicles hanging from the eve of the house. I was probably around four or five, the same age as my twin sons. There were so many shapes and sizes. Some were pointed and fierce. Others bumpy and fat and crooked. I can remember the sound they made dripping onto the porch in little puddles. Others would break off in chunks and come crashing to the ground and shatter into hundreds of pieces. I remember feeling sad as I watched them slowly melt away with the sun. Without my ever asking, she went inside and got out a freezer bag. She reached up and broke off a big pointed formation, the perfect size for the bag. Then she stuck it in the freezer. Anytime I wanted I could take it out and remember the winter.
I remember another year we had a large snow, but it was the snow was so dry it wouldn’t stick together to make a snow man. We tried and tried to roll the balls, but it just fell apart in our hands. II was older then, but a snowman was still a very big deal. After all, we didn’t get snow that often and it could be another year before it returned. She was undeterred. She started piling all the snow together unto a big heap. Then she went inside and got one of her wigs (a relic from the days when wig wearing was high fashion in semi-rural Arkansas) and the foam mannequin head upon which it was stored, and placed the head and the hair down into the pile of snow. Then she went back in and got a piece of paper and wrote the words “Help!” on it in really large, block letters. I’d like to think she did it just for me, but now that I’m a mother I know that anything with humor was just as much for her as it was for me.
By the second day the boys were out for school, the ice was beginning to melt and become squishy. Thinking about my mom and the crazy avalanche snow lady, I knew we could find a way to make a snow creature. Armed with layers and mittens we braved the cold. I showed them how to roll up balls of the frozen material, watching them become bigger and bigger and bigger. It wasn’t a foolproof method. It wasn’t quite ideal snow, and we picked up all manner of leaves along the way. But we did succeed in making three round balls of ascending size. We picked some of the recently blooming dandelions for its eyes and and gathered some yarrow leaves for the hair. A red holly bush leaf served as the mouth, like a tongue sticking out in silliness. And we picked out a fuzzy hat to wear along with a purple super hero cape. After she was complete, my sons wanted to knock her down. What can I say? They knock down everything. But I convinced them to keep her up at least for one day.
Later that afternoon when I was standing on the back porch watching my sons go back to propelling themselves down an icy hill, I noticed the icicles hanging over the eves of the back porch, melting onto the steps below. I was holding my eight month old daughter in my arms who screeched and giggled at the cold air, her loud brothers, and the snow covered city. I leaned forward onto the front step a bit, making sure I found my footing in the leftover ice. I moved my daughter over to my left hip, reaching up to carefully grab one of the larger ice formations. It broke off easily into my hand, melting quickly. I showed it to my daughter who laughed and licked the ice. Then I took it inside and put it in a freezer bag so I could take it out later and remember.