Well, actually it was more of a moonless, snow-covered, bitter, and frosty wet. But school was called here in the Midwest for the fifth time this season and we had a date with a new family tradition. So, I whipped up a fabulously easy pot of white chicken chili, set it on the back stove for our return, and headed out the door to three kids and a husband who were, practically, running in place with their excitement.
I love it when we, the parents, are given the rare opportunity to holler through the house, “Kids, get dressed! We’re goin’ out!” On a wintry night like this one, when the snow is already a foot deep outside our windows, they all come running, snatching up socks by the handfuls and rummaging through the hat and mitten basket, which sits by our front door. Moments like these always remind me of warm childhood memories when my brother and I were granted the surprise of a late-night outdoor adventure.
Of course, our dad was more of the, “Let’s see how long we can sit here with our butts in the snow on the edge of this cliff, in stealth mode, and wait for any sign of life to scurry by.” I can never quite describe this kind of “adventure” to my kids without evoking scrunched eyebrows and comments like, “What? How is that fun?” Tracking rabbits into a snowy bank, in the hopes that you will find that little cottony tail sticking out of the bushes, running through sleepy woods with nothing to see by but the reflection of the sparkling snow on the ground, just waiting for your dad to jump out at you, growling like a bear. These are, indeed, warm memories.
This is our third Winter Stomp. It’s now officially a family tradition. At least, that’s what the kids tell us. Our first stop is always down at the barn to give clicks and pats to the horse and ponies, Mindy, Loretta, and H.I. They no doubt wondered, “What the heck are the humans doing down here at this hour!” With the kids tugging on our coat sleeves in the direction of our woods, we set out, led through “secret” paths, across the creek bed and up the bank.
This was where Rick, my husband, the manly man of the bunch, refused a helping hand from, as he put it, “a little girl,” our daughter, Colleen. At which time, he was promptly punched once in the arm for this chauvinistic, demoralizing, not to mention ill-advised comment and a second time for flinching! (I know he is VERY sorry for this moment of indiscretion, and will keep his caveman commentary to himself in the future.) I, by the way, was now perturbed to say the least, that this now meant that I could absolutely not request any aide myself for the rest of this jaunt through the cold woods. But, by the time we’d trudged across the open pasture and made our way over to the lane that runs alongside our house, I had forgiven him his failings and shamelessly begged for a hand, a coat tail, anything to pull me up this long and slippery hill.
We made our way out to the road and waved hello again to our warm and cozy house “all lit up like a cruise ship,” as Rick always describes it. I have to say, it was really difficult, standing there in the snow up to our ankles, out of breath, and contemplating the actual wording I would use to suggest to our kids, that we be done with our winter stomp and go home now. Eyeing my hesitation, Rick foiled my selfish plan with his humorous interpretation of an ice skater’s routine in the moonlight. I respectably swallowed my whimpers, sipped the last of my French vanilla coffee in my American Expedition Travel Thermos, took another deep breath, and followed in his footsteps. My youngest, Freddy, grabbed my gloved hand with his thick little gloved fingers and smiled at me as if he knew and understood my second thoughts, and then we pressed onward, hand in hand.
We talked about last year’s winter stomp down this road when all the houses were lit up with Christmas lights and about how neat it feels to walk down the center of the road in the middle of the night. As we crested another small hill, we saw an old farmhouse and barn still lit up with red and blue and green lights, fuzzy through the falling snow. Our oldest, Will, graced us with his teen-angst, melodramatic refusal to sing Christmas carols in January, in front of the only house on the road still in the spirit, by falling back and out of arms reach with his shadowed form and walking stick. By the time we’d started the second verse of Jingle Bells, he was closing in on us. Lucky him, we ran out of breath for the third.
Colleen persuaded her younger brother, Freddy, to stop and make snow angels in their usual spot under the barn lights, shining through a long line of cedars. Freddy offered a hand to her so that she wouldn’t mess it up trying to crawl out of it (isn’t that sweet?), at which time Colleen rudely refused his help and reached for my hand, insisting that he wasn’t strong enough to lift her up (sins of the Father, I’m thinking about now!). It’s times like these when I really shine as a mother. The girl was left with the boy’s help or none at all, as I gave her my most disappointed mama-look and turned up the road. (Isn’t this just the picture I’d had of a warm family outing?)
Actually, that moment came a few minutes later when Colleen lay down in our path, in her cute little snow coat and boots to make another snow angel, and Freddy, still holding my hand, not missing a beat, kicked snow up onto her still little body as we side-stepped her in the road. (Now, THAT’S the stuff that makes for good family memories!) By the time we’d turned for home, we were all tired, hungry, and facing a long walk with the wind and snow in our faces. I took Will’s hand and Freddy’s, and Freddy took Colleen’s hand and she took her dad’s, and for what seemed like a good long minute ... or two, we all walked together hand in hand down a quiet country road looking for our cruise ship.
When I reached our well, across from the old oak tree, I seriously considered dropping to my knees and giving thanks for the feeling still left in my toes, and would have if I had thought I could get back up without assistance. I have to maintain some dignity in front of my children, after all.
We closed the doors behind us, shed our wet clothes and boots wherever we dropped, passed out warm bowls of sustenance, and headed downstairs to the family room. There we would snuggle our cold toes together in front of a welcoming fire. On his way down to his chair, I smiled with affection as Rick switched off light after light. I paused by the front door, alone in the glow coming in through the window, looking out on the snow still coming down. I thought to myself, what if someone is out on their winter stomp tonight looking for some small sign that they’re not alone.
I joined my family beside the fire, filling our bellies with warmth, coveting new memories for years to come, while our front porch light lit up the snow on our front lawn ... and the tree limbs outlined in white ... and the dead flower stems in our front garden poking out of the cold ... and a sled left in the driveway for Rick to swear over in the morning ... and a cat or two’s footprints leading toward a heated little bed in the garage. Well, it is certainly the cruise ship I would ride, again and again.
Love and Warmth From Your Cruise Director,