This is what I know about snow: it’s white, it’s wet, and it’s cold. And this morning, my Pennsylvania yard is covered in it. Which would be fine, except that I haven’t seen anything other than snow on my lawn in well over two months. Having spent the better part of my youth south of the Mason Dixon line, I have never grown to enjoy the recreational opportunities that snow provides. I don’t like walking in it or driving in it. And I certainly do not shovel it. My southern mother raised me to believe that a woman can do anything a man can do, but doesn’t have to if she doesn’t want to. On this particular Friday morning, I definitely don’t want to shovel snow.
For the writer in me, however, the idea of a white winter spent curled up on my sofa in front of a fireplace, a mug of fresh coffee by my side, notepad and pen in hand, is as inherently scintillating as it is romantic. I imagine myself emerging triumphantly in spring, the finished first draft of a poetic masterpiece scrawled in long hand across the fluttering pages of my notepad.
Except that I don’t have a fireplace. Even snowed in, my daily life is dictated by the needs of my two little girls. That fresh mug of coffee is long cooled by the time I take the first sip, and every piece of paper in our house is covered with as much crayon as long hand. For my girls and me, “snowed in” is neither scintillating nor romantic. Snow days equal forty-five minutes of dressing in overstuffed layers, only to attempt a few toddler-sized snow angels or one lop-sided snowman. After we peel off the cold, wet layers and start some cocoa, I fold laundry and I change sheets. We sing songs and we color. We bake cookies, and we play with finger paint. I hardly ever get to write. That is, except on Fridays.
Fridays are “Daddy Days,” affectionately named by our three-year-old; I know Fridays as “Writing Days.” Having generously agreed to negotiate his office job down to four ten-hour days, Scott assumes the role of primary parent on Fridays, ushering our girls to various preschool and gymnastic classes. Friday is my single day of solitude, the day I await with anticipation all week long for its inherent rejuvenation. I relish the silence in our small house, the absence of demands on my time or attention, and the expectation of an opportunity to engage in inspiration and creativity. While I may not spend my white winter writing masterpieces in front of a blazing fireplace, I make do on Fridays with hot coffee in my favorite pottery mug, an extra quilt on my bed, and my laptop.
However, on this snowy Friday, our small house is teeming with chaos. Writing is impossible. I sit on my bed and stare through the window at our white-washed lawn. I know that I should feel privileged, that even on a snow day, I am an onlooker to the happenings of our home; that my husband so values my writing that he is willing to switch roles with me. But the girls’ activities have been canceled, and their shrill voices pierce my paper-thin walls, alternately playing happily and arguing over one toy or another. I can’t help but wonder if Scott gave them vitamins at breakfast, and if Caitlyn is playing too rough with her little sister, Charlotte. My computer screen is blank. I am frustrated and resentful.
“I need to go for a run,” I say to Scott, desperate for the comfort of isolation, and the sense of clarity that a long, sweaty run provides. Losing myself in my music and the rhythmic pounding of my sneakers against the treadmill may entice my creative brain out of hibernation. Maybe it, too, hates the snow.
Scott stares at me for a moment and then out the living room window at our Arctic slush pile. “I would have to shovel out the driveway first,” he says, with a look that tells me that’s exactly what he’s not going to do. And how can I blame him? He’s already handled two temper tantrums and is up to his elbows in dirty dishwater. And after a month of shoveling our driveway and sidewalk every weekend, his shoulder is aching and inflamed. He has talked of hiring someone to do the job for him this time, and has no intention of driving anywhere today. “Besides,” he says, “don’t you have some writing to do?”
Resigned, I return to my bedroom and try again, tapping out a few uninspired words on my keyboard. But the sounds of my children pull at my presence of mind. I am overwhelmed by the urge to give up, to close my laptop and take charge of the morning. Quieting my maternal instinct and allowing my husband to handle the activity of our home and the needs of our children is always an excruciating challenge. Today I am losing the battle. Today, consumed as we are by snow, I feel trapped, trapped inside, trapped in this life. And so, much to the chagrin of my southern upbringing, I decide to strap on my boots, and shovel myself out.
At first it’s pretty easy. The snow is fresh and soft; it gives way easily to the hard plastic, as I scoop shovel after shovelful, and toss it over into our already snow-covered front yard. After a few minutes, however, my arms start to burn, as the repetitive scooping motion begins to take its toll. My lower back begins to stiffen, as I bend over once to scoop, straighten to toss the snow, and then bend again to fill the shovel once more. No wonder Scott’s shoulder is killing him. This is miserable.
I push through the pain, through the monotony, shedding layers as my body warms up. After awhile, our front patio railing is a clothesline of years gone by, draped in my winter coat, Scott’s Flyers hat, and my Alabama sweatshirt. Stripped down to a t-shirt, workout pants and gloves, knee deep in an expanse of snow I have yet to shovel, I am sweating like a pig. I find that I am energized by the effort, by the burning and the throbbing. The repetition of bending, scooping, straightening, and tossing numbs my mind. All I can hear is the music from my headphones and the scraping of the shovel against ice. It’s the monotony that clears my head. In my yard alone, shoveling snow, I am free.
After twenty minutes, the front door opens and my three-year-old emerges, decked out in pink snow clothes, plastic spade in hand. She wants to help. I show her how to scoop the snow and where to throw it on the yard. We work silently alongside each other for a few minutes, my headphones hanging around my neck. She makes heavy breathing noises as she works, engrossed in the manual labor. After awhile, she stands up, face flushed as pink as her coat. “I’m proud of us, Mommy.”
I’m stunned by the capacity of this small being to understand and acknowledge pride. I stand up and take a deep breath, feeling taller now, lighter. I look back at the cleared stretch of sidewalk. I’m proud of us, too. I’m proud of my relationship and of my family, of our willingness to work together to create the life we want, no matter how challenging that can be. I wrap my arms around my daughter. “Me too, Caitlyn.”
Surrendering to the cold, Caitlyn returns indoors to her daddy and the grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup that awaits her. Shoveling through this snow with my daughter, and coming out on the other side has cleared my head. Words surface with each shovelful of snow and ice. I look ahead at the stretch of sidewalk yet to be shoveled, and I find that I am unwavering. It’s hard work, but the path is almost entirely clear.