Just Another Blizzard

Today is a snow day. Snow started falling yesterday afternoon and by 5:30 this morning, the school called to declare a two-hour delay. Two hours later, they called again to cancel. So I slept in. This is my typical response to a snow day, because most days I’m up by 6:00. I like sleep and will find excuses to indulge. The snow’s been lightly falling all day, a soft blanket of beautiful white, decorating bare branches and pines with a fleecy white veil. My last check revealed a total of six inches—and it’s still coming.

Yesterday when the snow started, I was at a doctor’s appointment about twenty-five miles from home. After lunch with my husband, I drove home, noting the blinking highway signs reading, “Caution: White-out conditions.” In the distance, the valley looked fuzzy—a sure sign of snow, rain or other precipitation. Still, I continued on. After all, how bad could it be? Not more than a mile down the road, I encountered the white-out. It was like someone drew a line, and that was where the mayhem started. Blowing snow, decreasing visibility, gusting winds. Fun, fun. In our area, we’ve had multi-car pile-ups on the interstate in similar conditions. At the next exit, I drove to the old mountain road which everyone used before the interstate went in. It’s longer, but the trees block the wind and reduce the blowing snow that make I-80 so dangerous. Instead of a white-out, I faced untreated roads and slush-filled tracks. I followed the twists and turns up the mountain while my traction control engaged and disengaged. I’m blessed I didn’t get stuck. After a quick stop at Dollar General for the requisite milk and water (we already had enough bread), I hurried home.

If I had to do it over again, I’d make the same choice. But it made me remember why I hate driving in snow.

I’ve lived in Pennsylvania my whole life and in this small town for most of it. I’m not sure how I’d handle living in another part of the country where hurricanes or tornadoes or earthquakes are the norm. Blizzards and heavy snowfall seem easier to handle. Our preparation checklist looks like this:

  1. Buy enough gas for a generator, if you own one.
  2. Make sure your vehicles have full tanks.
  3. Check your pantry for a stash of canned goods.
  4. Cancel any appointments that may have been scheduled.
  5. Buy milk, bread, and water and “hunker down.”

We’re hunkered down now. I’ll let you know when we get out

House Rules

As the parents of two munchkins, my husband and I have had to lay down some rules. For example: no electronics in the bedroom, always tell the truth, and homework before fun. When the kids were smaller, we also had “Try one bite of everything on your plate.” (That one still sometimes gets pulled out when I feel adventurous and try a new recipe.) Many of these rules are probably very familiar to parents across the world. But we’ve had to institute a few unusual ones, too. One, a holdover from my childhood, is no singing at the table. I’m still not sure why, but I think the logic behind it is, if you’re singing, you’re not eating. And as a kid, I was a slow eater. Very slow.

Most weeknights, our family comes together to have dinner and share about our day. We’re all encouraged to share one good thing, one bad thing, and one interesting thing. Several years ago, we noticed an unusual trend. During dinner, Munchkin One would quote a memorable movie line that was appropriate to the situation. Munchkin Two would give the expected next line. Before you could take another bite of your mashed potatoes, they’d repeated half of the movie’s script, complete with sound effects. Now, there’s a small part of me that felt a motherly pride with their steel-trap memory, something I lost about ten years ago. But after experiencing the movie line phenomena a few times, we lost something precious. My husband and I would walk away from supper without any clue to how their day went.

At their age, I would come home from school, sit on the yellow stool just inside the kitchen doorway and spill my guts while my mom made supper. I had a few rough years dealing with school bullies, and I needed that verbal dialogue as a kind of decompression. If I was still bothered by a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, I’d practice my piano lesson and lose myself in the music. But my kids don’t follow in my footsteps. Each of them comes home, does their homework, and then plays video games. So that connection at the dinner table is crucial.

In response, we created, “No movie lines, TV lines, or music lyrics at the table.” Sometimes my husband or I will slip with “Everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?” (from Star Wars IV) or “I don’t know what they taught you in France, but rude and interesting are not the same things.” (from French Kiss.) But my kids store pages and pages of dialogue from all the Pixar movies, Disney movies, and most recently, anime shows. (You know you’ve experienced a rare thing when your English-speaking kids sing a whole song in Japanese.)

So with the no movie line rule, we eliminated the movie play-by-plays, and they shared what happened at school. But sometimes with Munchkin One (now a teen), we hear, “Cause we were like, ‘whooooa,’ and I was like, ‘whooooa.’ and you were like, ‘whooooaaa…’”

As you can see, it’s a work in progress.


No Easy Answers

Some people are never satisfied with the status quo—especially when it comes to someone else’s life. They’re quite content where they are, thank-you-very-much. But you, you should be out there changing the world! Or at least your own corner of it.

I’d been dating the same man for two years (my husband now), when the difficult questions began. People would discover we’d been dating a while, would nod and smile, and then ask, “So, when are ya gonna get engaged?” The first time this happened, I blushed furiously, laughed, and hoped my boyfriend hadn’t heard. My choices of retaliation were limited. I couldn’t publicly strangle this person and claim insanity later. There was an expiration date on dating? Nobody had shared this privileged information with me. I hadn’t read the manual.

After hearing that question for four years, my boyfriend buckled under the pressure. We got engaged. When “they” heard of this new development, the question became, “So, when are ya gonna get married?” For the next ten months, I heard this question over and over while I ate, breathed, slept, and dreamed the planning of my wedding. I thought “they” would be happy when the magical day arrived.

I was wrong. Before long a new question started: “So, when are ya gonna have a baby?” When I expressed no interest in having children, it was as though I’d claimed to be Elvis reincarnated— raised eyebrows, overly bright smiles, and quiet whispers reserved for the mentally unbalanced. “They” had never heard such a thing. Had I buried my maternal instincts under a rock? Maybe I was deficient and didn’t have any.

That was only the beginning. “They” devised tests (aka suggestions) for me, hoping I’d declare my mission in life was to bear dozens of children. I was told, “You should see Jane’s new baby,” or “Why don’t you hold Cheryl’s new baby so you can practice?” or “Go stand next to Tammy and Jennifer—they’re both pregnant.” As if something like that was contagious. (Names have been changed to protect the pregnant.)

It was five years before a maternal instinct hit me. They were necessary years, because now I was ready to have children, rather than feeling like I had to. In five and a half years, I gave birth to two beautiful and gifted girls (no bias here), and closed up shop. Still, I wondered how many other questions “they” had up their sleeve. Would “they” ever be content, or would it be a constant stream of questions? I could only imagine it: “When are your kids gonna get married?” “When are you gonna have grandchildren?” “When are you gonna retire?” What could be the last question? How about “When are you gonna die?”

To my relief, I haven’t heard any of the former imagined questions. Because God’s calling the shots, I don’t have any answers for these kinds of life-changing questions. After forty-five years, I’ve learned I’m not in control and I’m okay with that. His plans are bigger, better, and more phenomenal than anything I’d dream up. So when we talk, I don’t tell Him how to fix my problems. He’s got me covered.

And They Lived Happily Ever After: A Manifesto

Romeo and Juliet. Allegiant. Marley & Me. The Fault in Our Stars. Quick, what do they all have in common? Yep, you guessed it. A main character dies. (For those of you who haven’t yet read these books, but planned to, my apologies.)

The works listed above aren’t recent releases, but I can recall several recent books and movies with the same problem. I’ve become leery of paying good money to read about someone’s death. In love stories, this dying trend seems ironic to me. Forgive my romantic leanings, but a love story should have one vital requirement: a happy ending. Remember the familiar ending to many romantic tales, “…and they lived happily ever after?” I’d like to know who replaced it with, “…and he died, leaving her alone and heart-broken.”

Even if the story doesn’t “require” a happy ending, many time it’s what the reader wants. I don’t understand why someone would choose a book with a depressing ending. With a drama or a thriller, grittier elements like poverty, drugs, terrorism and death can be expected. But with a love story? Where’s the joy in watching a couple fall in love, only to realize the two people so suited for each other will never be together? And I’m not so sure the adage about it being better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all really works. Ask someone who has lost.

My reason for reading a book is simple—escape. I want to laugh, to smile, and to walk away uplifted. Give me a good ending, one where justice is served, someone’s perspective is altered for the better, and the characters find their soulmate. There’s plenty of sadness and bad news infiltrating reality without creating more of it on the page.

I’ve had this aversion to sad endings for as long as I can remember. After hearing someone raving about Casablanca, I chose to see the old classic on television. Afterwards, I couldn’t believe I had spent valuable time just to hear Humphrey Bogart mutter, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and disappear into the fog. And against my better judgment, I watched Titanic, only to cry for a good thirty minutes afterward. Even now, I refuse to watch movies or read books with sad endings. Friends and family members shake their heads when they discover I read the last paragraph in a novel just to make sure I know what I’m getting. I knew my habit was incurable when I found myself checking the ending of my daughter’s board books. In my defense, when those ten ladybugs started to disappear one by one, I wanted to make sure they weren’t being eaten. Who knows how my daughter might have been traumatized?

But I refuse to be disenchanted by Bogie, Hollywood, or any NY Times bestseller. If I want sad endings, I’ll just watch the news.