The coy and quiet voice – just loud enough to wake me – inquired: “Can I go outside to play in the snow now?”
It was 6 a.m. I looked out the window. It appeared that huge chunks of ice mixed with intermittent bursts of acid rain were falling from the sky, the backdrop to some sort of Currier-and-Ives nightmare.
It had been a late night. “Can we, uh, talk about this when it’s actually morning, Kate?” I replied. The sad sound of a six-year-old‘s feety pajamas scuffing on the cold hardwood crept under my eyelids. The enormous silence of pouting from across the hall sucked the warmth from beneath my covers. I got up.
In Upstate New York, the merest rumor that El Niño might touch down in Tibet is cause for the cancellation of school. I stumbled downstairs to make a strong pot of coffee.
School, of course, was off. I remembered well the joyousness of the first snow day of the year when I was a boy: the soft flakes making a pillowy path of the asphalt street, the limbs of the maples in our yard sagging gently under their beautiful burden, the absolute silence as magical tapestries of snow obscured the other side of the valley, the look of utter dread and mortification on my mother’s face.
By the time I dragged my weary carcass into the living room, Kate was sitting on the big iron radiator looking longingly out the window. She did not address me directly. “Sitting in the house is so boring when there’s snow outside. I guess we’ll just have to stay inside and have a boring day.“ A long plaintive sigh followed these observations.
It was too early to rise to the bait. I turned on SportsCenter and sipped sullenly at my coffee.
My wife left for work singing gaily, “I hope you guys have a wonderful snow day!“ I searched her smile for traces of sarcasm but could not ascertain her true motivations.
Kate, meanwhile, had cleverly enlisted her sister in the scheme to break out. Now four sad blue eyes greeted me when I turned around. No man can stand up to four sad blue eyes.
Kate put her big-sister hand on Nora’s shoulder, nudging her forward. I had no trouble reading Kate’s faint smile. Her pint-size dupe, who is not quite two, pointed out the window and screeched, “Snow Daddy! Snow! Outside!”
Kate paced pensively while I rummaged through closets for Nora’s snowsuit. Their big-hearted but high-strung Labrador retriever, whose very being is testament to the tragedy of overbreeding, anxiously trailed Kate, his clicking toenails sounding like the second hand of a stopwatch as I stuffed Nora into the absurdly padded garment I had found in the attic.
We emerged into the biting gale.
Kate dashed about the yard with the dog while Nora and I stood shivering by the battered, ice-covered sandbox. I had not found the right snowsuit. The unfortunate child – a mere pawn in a clash of wills she could not begin to fathom – tried to light out after Kate and was shocked to discover that her enormous suit kept her rooted where she stood.
Poor Nora. Forever trying to follow footprints that are too big and too far apart.
Finally, Kate, her teeth chattering, her cheeks approaching purple, joined us. “Maybe we should go in,“ she said, “Nora looks cold.” I was deeply moved by her display of concern for her sister.
Trailing snowsuit, boots, socks, mittens and ice encrusted hats, we made our way across the kitchen. A chill quite unrelated to the weather gripped me. I had been so concerned about facing the cold that I failed to consider the perils of being trapped inside all day.
Nevertheless, we hit a stretch of about four good hours. We read about snowy place in our atlas, we built Lego towers and knocked them over, I chased the girls through the house with a remote-controlled control car. Certain mishaps occurred. My wife will one day look for little knickknacks she keeps here and there and she will not find them.
By 4 p.m., the situation was beginning to deteriorate and we were reduced to tricking the dog into chasing its tail, shrieking loudly as he knocked dishes off the coffee table and swept books from the shelves.
I tried to create a diversion. “Why don’t we watch a video?”
I knew their choice before I asked. We have watched The Aristocats almost continuously since last Christmas, to the point that it has seemingly stretched into an interminable Warhol film. I hear Eva Gabor‘s voice in my sleep. I actually called my wife “Dahling” one day.
I sat down to the stack of ungraded papers on my desk. Objects flew and crashed in the other room as if possessed by the icy wind outside. I made half-hearted attempts to restore order. “Now, I expect you two to settle down in there because…” my voice trailed off. When I finally dared enter it it appeared as if a miniature Gulf War had broken out between various factions of toys.
I turned the television off and put on a B.B. King album. Loud. I surveyed the room. “We’re going to have to do something about this before your mother gets home,“ I said to no one.
Lucille’s silky chords drifted into the kitchen above a thundering baseline as I commenced to ponder dinner.
“What do you two gals want to eat?”
“I don’t know.”
“How about a grilled cheese?”
“Chicken noodle soup? It’s fresh, right out of the can!”
“Fried lived and eggshell soufflé?”
“Oh, come on Dad.”
“Right then. Grilled cheese it is.”
More plaintive sighing Grilled cheese is the last resort of a scoundrel.
During dinner I fielded these questions:
“Can Santa make my dog talk?“
“Do you think a meteor will ever hit our house?”
“What do those words you used when you were fixing the window mean?”
I popped a Molson (my first, I swear) and stared dumbly as Nora fed her sandwich to the dog.
After dinner, Kate took charge. She let Nora into the living room and they began to pick up their toys. Could she help with the dishes, she wanted to know. Her victory had been complete and she is not one to gloat.
By the time Gina arrived home, the house was vaguely in a state of order. My sleepy girls and I were buried under afghans on the couch reading storybooks. The dog slumbered at our feet, twitching nervously every few seconds.
Gina survey the scene warmly. “I knew you three would have a super day!“
Kate and Nora and I shared a secret smile and then they reached out for their mother’s arms. Fresh snow was falling.