Saturday, December 28, 2002

Downhill Memories, Downhill Dreams

Saucer Sled, Hot Cocoa To Follow.

After letting me sleep until almost one, Darcie asked very nicely for a few hours off from baby this afternoon. After a quick trip to Mim's Market for coffee, I was happy to oblige; I love the little tyke, after all, even if she's starting her clingy stage and can't always go that long without Mama anymore. We played happily on the floor for a while, making cooing noises and giggling at each other; when that got stale, I put on a jazz CD by Bob Dorough (the guy who did all those Schoolhouse Rock songs, now sadly licensed to Disney), and we danced around the room to Wake Up Sally, It's Saturday and Marilyn, Queen of Lies.

Willow is still developing regular sleep patterns, and the two-week hiatus from our usual routine has thrown what little pattern she had already established out the window, but she had a nap earlier in the morning, and I knew she wouldn't sleep for me. Darcie had left breastmilk in the fridge to mix with the powdered rice cereal flakes, but I was saving that as a last resort. When crankiness began to set in around 2:15 , it was time for something different.

Luckily, I had a plan. Willow was a summer baby, so we've been cautious about bringing her outside for long in the cold; today, however, was a beautiful bright day with little wind, and I thought a stroll around the campus might be a nice treat. I zipped and velcroed her into her warm brown teddybear suit and added a hat underneath the hood for good measure; since the good stroller was and is still trapped in the trunk of the plowed-in-and-buried Grand Marquis, I strapped her into the cheap second-hand umbrella stroller we use as a second-string backup.

Her movement thus restricted, the baby fussed a little at first. But when we stepped out the door, her jaw dropped open and her eyes grew wide. I must admit, my own eyes went a bit wide too. The snow was everywhere, white and shiny and glorious, like someone had adjusted the monitor settings on the universe. The stroller skidded and hiccuped as I pushed it down the half-shoveled aisle in the driveway past her favorite tree, now dripping icicles where once fall leaves fell in browns, reds and golds.

Past the mailroom, up the hill and around the white striated pillars of the dining hall; down again and along cottage row, now barren of house directors and students; past red barbecue grills with sparkly white caps standing deep in the snow we went. At the top of the long sloping hill overlooking the football field we found a growing crowd of parents waving and smiling as their bright-colored eskimo children flew laughing down the hill on their saucers and toboggans and inflatable sno-doughnuts and then trudged back up dodging other sledders and sleds. Mothers turned away from their speeding children to gurgle and caw and push their cold faces at Willow while a few of the fathers and I, mostly holding dogs and thus not hurtling down the gentle slope with their youngest children, exchanged how's your holiday small talk and compared notes about the best kind of sled. In the background, childless strangers, relatives and friends of the nearby residents rushing through the last moments of their visits, packed bags into their cars in silence.

When I was in grade school the best sledding was on the hill at Claflin School, an old derelict elementary building which was much later remodelled into a series of bright shining artist studios where, one imagines, the faded spirits of long-grown kindergarteners inspired crayon drawings of big-headed dinosaurs and construction paper collages ultimately destined for well-lighted refrigerator door displays in kitschy NoHo galleries. Wake to dad in the kitchen waiting for the plow; pull on our snowpants and boots and meet up with the kinds of half-friends that snow days make; walk though the backyards of old people with grown children whose faces we had never seen, across a few slippery streets and, finally, emerge from a long trail flush with low pine branches bent down to the ground with snow into a wonderland of children laughing and flying and building ramps they'd invariably miss on the way down the slope.

Such older boys and girls were absent today; the big-kid sledding hills are always parentless. Today was for the smallest children, whom we left behind, I lost in my thoughts, Willow lost in the bright new world of snow and yelling rushing-by children. Finally past the student center and into the driveway again; nose aglow, cheeks pink, eyes bright, we returned home. Darcie was beginning to stir; a new diaper and an appetite-whetting bit of milk-and-flakes cereal and the mother-baby bond was physically enacted once again.

Sledding with the baby will wait until next year; even the one-year-old downstairs is still reluctant to sit alone in his sled while his daddy pulls him on a yellow plastic rope. But there's so much Willow and I can do together now, and however eager I am to teach her how to keep from spinning on her saucer, we've got plenty of other hills to ride down together before the snows fall next winter, more, surely, than we'll ever have time for. Until then, I have my own memories, and a future bright with faceplants and giggling and dashing through the snow and aftermaths of hot chocolate and marshmallows to keep me warm.

posted by boyhowdy | 4:46 PM |

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