What An Ice “Storm” Reminded Me About Family

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Photo by Lina, via Flickr

Photo by Lina, via Flickr

This past Friday, it rained some trace amount that couldn’t be measured, and my entire city went berserk.

All weekend, the weather, the accidents, and how long it took to get home were the only topics of conversation. Hours. We spent hours talking about it.

It caught everybody off guard. See, it was supposed to warm up Friday afternoon and melt everything before school let out, but it didn’t. So as the day went on the chorus of “oh crap, the world is a sheet of ice!” grew steadily more pervasive until all else in my Facebook feed disappeared entirely. Teachers and administrators stayed at schools until seven, eight, nine at night, waiting for busses to arrive. One principal got on the last bus of the night, to make sure the kids got home safely. Some kids didn’t make it home until one in the morning. Around town, busses were crashing into mailboxes and Jeeps. Cars were crashing into each other. A pileup shut down the interstate, and in town a drive of twenty minutes took three hours. I heard that Carl Edwards brought out his tractor and started pulling people out of ditches, trying to clear the road so people could get home.

I was supposed to have carpool duty on Friday. But the other mother was already on that side of town, and she said, “It doesn’t make sense for us both to be out. Do you mind if I pick up your kids early?” I opened up Google maps and ran the routes for her to figure out the best path home.

I didn’t know Google maps had a “burgundy.” But there it was, interspersed with bright red, right along the route from school to home.

It took them well over an hour to make a drive that usually takes 8 minutes. And then we began waiting for Julianna’s bus.

And we waited…and waited…and waited.

An hour after dismissal time, I managed to get hold of to the school. Only one bus had arrived yet. “Oh!” I said. “I’ll come over and get Julianna, then.” I mean, it’s only about a mile and a quarter from our house.

Well…a mile and a quarter that includes a steep dip into a ravine and back up the far side. We live at the bottom of a much more gradual hill, and by the time the van and I had slipped and slid past about six houses, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.

I went back home and called the school back.

Between then and 5:45, when Julianna got home, I spent a lot of time fretting and anxious. It’s bad enough to have your kids caught out in bad weather. It’s worse when you aren’t with them and you realize you have absolutely zero control over their safety.

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get people to leave me alone. I can’t work when it’s noisy. I can’t think. And this year, with Michael home in the mornings and bored out of his ever-loving skull, I am really, really short on work time. I dream of the day they all go to school all day.

And yet every so often…like, when my daughter’s safety is outside my control…I find myself imagining a world in which they don’t exist at all. A world in which I am alone—a situation one of my short story characters found herself in. (As a matter of fact, it’s the situation faced by my newest novel character, too.)

Whenever I contemplate this world, I think of the freedom I would have, the luxury of spending as much time devoted to work as I wanted, the ability to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted—and I shudder. I shudder deeply and shut my brain off, because the emptiness of that world is more than I can bear to think about. What would be the point of all that freedom and potential for productivity, if I didn’t have this gang of destructicons? Even an introvert draws her strength from the presence of those she loves.

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A good realization to ponder on the cusp of Christmas break.

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A Cold Story

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This creek resisted freezing shut until late January. I crossed it every day going to and from school my first year.

This creek resisted freezing shut until late January. I crossed it every day going to and from school my first year.

Being in the deep freeze for a couple of days reminded me of something that happened when I was in grad school in Iowa. When I first arrived in Cedar Falls in the fall of 1997, the locals were determined to impress upon me the extent of the cold I was going to experience in an Iowa winter. I didn’t have a car, so I had to walk everywhere, and my first year I lived a mile or more from the school of music. Knowing there was nothing I could do about it except adjust, I got my attitude and my wardrobe set.

By the time my second winter rolled around, I had the routine down: long underwear, jeans and sweatpants over top; two pairs of socks, fur-lined boots and a pair of shoes to change into when I reached school. T shirt, sweat shirt, coat. Two scarves, earmuffs, a pair of gloves with mittens over top. I still got cold walking from point A to point B, but not dangerously so. And actually, I complained less than the locals did, because I figured I’d chosen this climate, so I needed to deal with it.

Ice skating at George Wyth Lake. It was a big lake, as you can see. One of the cooler experiences of my time in Iowa was getting to skate out in the middle. Our ponds at home rarely froze that solid, much less a lake.

Ice skating at George Wyth Lake. It was a big lake, as you can see. One of the cooler experiences of my time in Iowa was getting to skate out in the middle. Our ponds at home rarely froze that solid, much less a lake.

One day in my second year I bundled up in my dozen layers and went outside without checking the weather. As soon as I stepped out the door I realized it wasn’t as cold as I had been expecting. But I wanted to get up to school and practice, so I wasn’t going to take the time to disrobe. I just went ahead.

When I rounded the corner of the music school, I came face to face with a fellow graduate student who hailed from Canada. He was wearing a light jacket–unzipped–one pair of jeans, and Birkenstocks (no socks). He and I stopped and stared at each other. “Uh, Kate, it’s not that cold,” he said.

“It’s not that warm, either!” I said.

May your Wednesday be warmer than the last few days!