In Fact I Do Want to Build a Snowman

snowmanAs a working mother, I get it; last winter was almost our undoing. My Facebook feed was full of friends clinging to sanity like a snowflake clings to an eyelash. These women were done. Done with the shoveling. Done with the cabin fever. Done with arts and crafts and glitter and glue guns. Done with the hats and mittens and boots. Done with the snow days and missed work days and conference calls interrupted by request for snacks. One more snow fall would have ruined them. I get it. I do.

But as a working daughter, I think last winter, with it’s record breaking snowfalls and incapacitated public transportation system, was the most wonderful winter in years – fifteen years to be exact.

One week I traveled to California for work. “Oh my god, Boston,” people would say to me. “You must be so glad to be away.” I would respond in a guilty whisper for fear of being cast out of the Commonwealth, “I kind of like the snow. I hope I make it home before the next blizzard.” I know I am in the minority and I figured out why.

I thought I was faring the winter better than others because I have the freedom to work from home and skip the bitter cold mornings waiting for a train that will never come. I also don’t have to shovel; my husband has a snow blower with a big engine so to him it’s a man toy. Without the commute, the snow removal, and the fear of losing my job, winter is a heck of a lot easier for me than it is for many. Still, like the mothers melting down on Facebook and Twitter, I too was homebound for days. I too took my life into my hands when I ventured past my driveway. I too heard, “I’m bored,” several time a day. But I loved it and here’s why.

On President’s Day, I had the day off from work so my son and I went out to play. We sat together for a good half hour a top a six foot snow pile chucking snowballs at the icicles hanging from our eaves and competing to see who could knock the most down. I was relaxed and happy and I had nothing else I needed to do and nowhere else I needed to be. And I realized that I was weathering the storms better than many because last winter was the first winter in fifteen years that I wasn’t worried about my parents.

My parents retired to Cape Cod fifteen years ago, to a sleepy beach community with few year-round residents, and even fewer who stay for the winter. The area is isolated in the winter and prone to power outages. And every time there was a snowstorm, for the last fifteen years, I worried. I got my parents a cell phone so I could reach them when the power went out, but they could never figure out how to charge it or answer it. I placed grocery orders from Meals on Wheels and PeaPod, but they never really liked the selection. Before every storm I half-heartedly invited them to come off Cape and stay with me. I knew that my mother wanted to, that my father did not, and that my husband would be tense if they ever took me up on it. They never did and I was never quite sure if I was relieved or not.

For fifteen years, I didn’t enjoy a single snowfall. I was too worried that my parents were freezing, or that my elderly father with a heart condition was shoveling, and that my elderly mother would have to go out in the snow and administer CPR to her husband. Whenever my children asked me to come out and play, I did so reluctantly, wanting to be near the phone in case of emergency. Or I said no so I could stay inside, dialing and redialing my parents in hopes they would pick up.

There was the storm when the neighbor who my parents paid to shovel their stairs and plow their driveway hurt his back and so they had no one to help them. I was in San Francisco then too for business and woke up at 4:30 a.m. local time so I could call plow services. I didn’t have any luck finding someone to help until I offered to pay triple the going rate. I even somehow managed to connect with a high school teacher who offered to check on my parents throughout the storm and call me to let me know if they were okay. I went about the rest of that day feeling like a hero.

But then a few months later there was an April storm that hit Cape Cod hard. Again, I was in California. My mother called frantic. Unbeknownst to me, she had fired my plow guy and hired another neighbor but he hadn’t shown up all day. Could I help? I stepped out of our company meeting to make calls. And I cried. The stress of managing snow removal long distance, and while I was supposed to be working, was awful.

There was the big blizzard when I extended my mother’s stay in a rehab facility (she broke her wrist) so I would only have to worry about one parent. Unable to reach my father all day after the storm, I called the police and asked them to check on him. They called me back to tell me he wasn’t home and must have gone to a shelter. Not my father. He would never leave his house. “Please go back,” I begged them. “And this time go around back and bang on his bedroom window. He’s hard of hearing.” A few hours later, a police dispatcher called. “Ma’am, we found your father. He was out back chopping wood.”

“Is the officer still on the premise?” I asked. He was. “Ask him to shoot to kill,” I said. I was furious! I had spent all day waiting for news and fielding calls from aunts, uncles and cousins concerned about my Dad and he was chopping wood in waist-deep snow. The officer refused to shoot.

Last winter took its toll on everyone in different ways and to different degrees. Perhaps you couldn’t see the impact on family caregivers, but it was real. Maybe you saw them at the sledding hill with their children on a snow day, or at their desks working the day after, but their thoughts were somewhere else. They were worrying about how to get their family members food and medicine, and how to keep them safe and warm. They were rearranging work schedules to accommodate rescheduled doctor’s appointments and calling around not just for one roof raker but for two. And they were counting on the kindness of neighbors because without them they had no options.

Sadly, my mother passed away last fall and I can no longer worry about her during the winter. I took so many pictures of the snow and my children playing in it with the intent to show her and then I remembered that couldn’t happen. Would I rather have had her here and worried about her safety during the winter? It didn’t matter. She isn’t here.

My father is though. He now lives less than two miles from me at an assisted living facility and I tell you I felt the absence of stress as sure as I felt its presence. Knowing he was safe and sheltered during last winter’s storms brought me tremendous relief – -even when he shoveled. Because, of course, he did. He “found” a shovel on the property and used that plus his  cane to improve upon what he thought was a less than satisfactory snow removal job by the staff. The executive director asked him to stop and he responded, “To hell I will.” But I knew, if he fell or went into cardiac arrest someone would have known and gotten him medical attention and that was a huge weight of my shoulders. So when my kids asked me, “Do you want to build a snowman?” the answer was, “Yes!”

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