Growing up in southwestern Connecticut, which only saw an average of 24″ of snow each year, was a bit rough for a snow bunny like myself. Because of the relative rarity of measurable snow, even a little bit brought everything to a halt; you could count on school being cancelled at least three times a year, sometimes at the mere prediction of snow.
Moving to Rochester was, therefore, a thrilling experience for winter lovers like Nick, the girls, and me. With an average of 100″ of snow per year here, there’s no shortage of the white stuff to go around, which is awesome for folks like us. (Lest you get the wrong idea, the volume of snow does not lessen our enjoyment of it; we still gleefully celebrate the first nighttime snowfall each year by waking the girls up and carrying them downstairs from their beds to watch the falling flakes, just like my mom used to do with me.)
This is our seventh Rochester winter, and I think I’ve finally got it figured out. Which probably sounds strange – what is there to figure out? It’s just freakin’ snowy all the time – but it’s not quite that simple. Here’s the thing: our snow doesn’t usually fall in large increments. It’s not like we get a foot of snow one day, eight inches a few days later, and another foot the following week. Although we do get a bunch of snowfalls that total over six inches each season, the majority of our snow comes in rather small amounts: an inch today, half an inch tomorrow, the two more inches the day after tomorrow. An inch of snow doesn’t sound like much – and it isn’t – but when you have an inch of snow for 10 out of 14 days, and it’s remained cold enough for the snow that’s already fallen to stick around, it adds up.
The exception to this rule is an odd thing we have here called lake effect snow, which technically means that the Great Lakes (in our case, Lake Ontario) gather up moisture which then comes down as snow in the winter. Practically speaking, it means that even when we don’t have a storm moving through, if the conditions are right over the lakes, it can snow pretty much any time, and that snow is entirely unpredictable. Dealing with lake effect snow is like anticipating Pope Francis’s next move – he might deliver a homily in Latin or take a selfie in the Vatican square. On any given day, it can be clear and dry, and suddenly there’s a snow squall so thick you can’t see across the street for fifteen minutes – and then, just like that, the snow is done. It’s kind of cool, in a geeky weather way, but is also maddening because you never know when it might pop up next.
(Side note: I think Pope Francis rocks.)
So anyway, now that the meteorology lesson is over, I’ll get on with the actual story. Oh yes, there is an actual story. Last week, Annie was scheduled to attend an evening Girl Scout outing where we would be caroling at a retirement community. (I know, I know… I said we would be caroling, which goes against everything that the Slacker Moms stand for. But people, it was singing Christmas carols. I just couldn’t help myself.) I also say we because I’d signed up for this to be “my” activity, so I definitely needed to participate.
See, although we may be slackers, we still want our kids’ scouting experience to be a good one, and the troops don’t run themselves, so each of us agreed to be in charge of one meeting or field trip. Because my piano lessons prevent me from attending any of the meetings, I knew I’d have to do an extracurricular activity, and the caroling seemed tailor-made for me. First of all, singing. CHRISTMAS CAROLS. Check. Second, since it was an already-organized activity (our troop was tagging along with several other Girl and Boy Scout troops, one of whom had arranged all of the sing-along details), it was really easy to make it “my” event: all I had to do was bring song sheets, cookies, and hot chocolate. Check. And finally, since I was already attending a(n adults-only) Cookie Exchange later that night, I needed to be making cookies anyway, and I am nothing if not efficient. Check.
Beyond that, the only thing that Annie and I had to do was show up at the retirement community. When she got home from school, this seemed like it would be no problem; she was excited to go, the cocoa and cookies were ready, all was well. It was quite cold that day, with temperatures in the teens and twenties and a decent wind chill. Given that we’d be caroling outside from house to house, bundling up sufficiently would be necessary, but that wasn’t really a big deal. With about an hour to go before our scheduled departure, I glanced outside and noticed that it had begun snowing, but I didn’t think anything of it; no snow had been predicted for the day, so I only just barely registered the falling flakes.
Annie was in the middle of playing – nothing particularly earth-shattering, just, you know, playing – when I gave her the heads-up that we’d be leaving soon. She called back to me that she didn’t want to go because she was busy. Playing. I told her that I was sorry that she didn’t want to stop playing, but we definitely needed to attend, so we’d be out the door in a bit.
Well. Little Miss must have been in a mood, because when I told her it was time to put on her boots, she began having a world-class meltdown. Had I not heard her? She DIDN’T WANT TO GO. She’d NEVER wanted to go! SHE WOULDN’T GO.
I tried to calmly talk her down, and then glanced outside again. The flakes that had been fluttering to the ground an hour ago had apparently been gathering steam, because, in those sixty minutes, a good two inches of snow had piled up on the lawn, the driveway, the road. As I surveyed the white-out, I was momentarily confounded: I didn’t think we were supposed to get snow today. With that much already on the ground and more continuing to fall, I knew that boots wouldn’t quite cut it; she’d need full-on snow gear.
When I broke this news to Annie (who was lying on the dining room floor, writhing about as though perhaps the subject of an exorcism), she didn’t exactly take it well.
Have you ever attempted to wrestle a sobbing orangutan into a pair of overalls? It is a good time, let me tell you.
As the snow fell ever more steadily and the time of our departure drew nigh (first time I’ve ever written that word, holla!), I considered my options. More specifically, I considered that we didn’t have any options. On another night, I might have said, Ah, forget it. It’s snowing like crazy and Annie’s behaving like she’s possessed. We’ll pass. But this was MY ACTIVITY. I had vats of steaming hot chocolate (carefully packed into dispensers nestled within an insulated carrier) and dozens of cookies and had spent a good hour printing and stapling together packets of Christmas carol lyrics. Plus, the other girls in our troop were counting on us to be there and take the reins… Because it was my activity. Seeing as how Annie is the Girl Scout – not moi – she needed to come along, too.
I finally managed to get Annie into enough snow gear to cover her, but it wasn’t pretty. I can’t remember if I worked out that morning, but after the wrestling match, I’d easily burned enough calories to account for the cookie dough I’d consumed making the treats earlier in the day. After stuffing Annie into her booster seat and heading down the driveway, I attempted to reason with her. She could choose to continue to be upset, growling like a wounded animal, or she could choose to have fun. We would be spending the evening with some of her closest friends. We would be singing! THERE WERE COOKIES AND COCOA, FOR GOD’S SAKE.
Also, if she didn’t stop crying, her tears would freeze to her cheeks and then she’d really be miserable.
Crazy-mom threats. Always a good strategy.
I’d worried that, after our short drive, Annie would still be a hot mess when it came time to join the rest of the troop – but, as luck would have it, she had plenty of time to get herself under control because the road conditions were horrendous. Rochester is typically pretty good about clearing the roadways quickly and efficiently, and even in decent storms, we tend not to have much trouble getting around. This night was different. I’m not sure what happened – maybe the road maintenance crews had read the same forecast I had and didn’t know we were going to get snow, either? – but there were at least three inches of snow in the streets and nary a plow in sight.
As I crept from our street into the main drag, I could see nothing but brake lights up ahead, so I – very wisely, I was sure – chose to take the highway for our ten-minute sojourn. Wrong. The moment I merged from the on-ramp onto the freeway, the traffic was absolutely bumper to bumper. We never drove faster than 13 mph, and that’s when we were moving at all. THESE HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS ARE SO MUCH FUN.
Forty minutes later, I exited the highway, and asked Annie if she was feeling a bit better. When she didn’t answer me, I turned to ask her the question again and saw this:
My little wounded animal had howled herself out.
After driving the wrong way – twice – at last I found our meeting spot, parked, and gently shook Annie awake. She was… not particularly happy with this development. Given that we were more than 25 minutes late, there would be no hot chocolate or cookies before the caroling, so I dragged the insulated carrier with me as we started off on our slippery jaunt around the retirement community. Naturally, the carrier had no straps, so I had to carry the enormous container in my arms, like I was toting a boulder up a mountain. (Does anyone actually do that? Perhaps I need a better metaphor…)
We joined up with the rest of our troop, trudging off through the snow that was far deeper than it had been at our house. As soon as I caught the eye of one of the other moms, she gave me a bewildered look back and said, “I didn’t realize it was supposed to snow…”
Annie came along for the ride, but she wasn’t exactly festive. Partly to defy me and partly because her body temperature hovers somewhere around volcanic, she refused to wear her hat, and within the first ten minutes, at least five adults asked her if she was okay, or offered to loan her their hat. No, that’s just my kid being defiant and stubborn. I realize it’s a blizzard out here, but I’m sure she’ll be fine. When she began literally dragging her feet and stomping on residents’ bushes, I pulled her aside and whispered violently to her that if she didn’t pull her act together, there would be a very serious consequence. I had no idea what that consequence was, mind you (another stellar parenting decision), but with my arms full of the hot chocolate and cookies, I couldn’t very well lug her around, too.
As we reached the third of seven houses, Annie’s demeanor began to change a bit. Rather than stand off to the side and murmur her “thumpity-thump-thump“s, she took the lyrics from me and sang a little louder. At the fourth house, she miraculously perked up when the residents offered the pint-sized carolers some Hershey’s kisses. By the last three houses, I could hardly even see her – partially due to the ridiculous conditions, and partially because she ran so far ahead, laughing and singing with such gusto, I could scarcely keep up.
When we had completed the final sing-along, our troop members were more than ready to hightail it out of there. We were frozen to our core and covered with snow; my feet were thoroughly soaked, because – not knowing that the snow was going to be so deep – I had worn my sneakers, which proved greatly ineffective. We Slacker Moms don’t sign up for such hardship, damn it! But there were two things that needed addressing before we could hop in our cars and inch our way back home: hot chocolate and cookies.
We – parents and girls – milled around for a good twenty minutes after everyone else had left, sipping and chomping and discussing how none of us had had any idea that it was going to snow that night… And now, here we were, with five inches on the ground in less than two hours. At last, we said goodbye, commenting about how crazy we must be to be out in this weather, how terrible the driving was…
… but also, how rather sweet it had all been. The kids, rushing from house to house, “singing” with such force that the tunes were sometimes unrecognizable. The octogenarians stepping outside and onto their porches, joining right in with the chorus despite the swirling snow. The catching of snowflakes on tongues. The richness of the chocolate, and hugs shared between friends. Knowing that we’d made people’s evenings just a little bit brighter, that we’d genuinely spread some cheer and happiness.
On our drive home, even Annie had to concede: that was really, really fun.
The return trip was much quicker than the journey there, which was a good thing because I still had a Cookie Exchange to get to. It struck me, as I crawled along the streets to my destination, that this kind of snow would have closed school in Connecticut (indeed, our friends who live in Connecticut, southern New York, and New Jersey had already had a snow day due to 4-5 inches of predicted snow), and here I was, blithely driving to a friend’s house to trade cookies.
But hey. Cookies are cookies, man. You don’t mess with cookies, not even in a blizzard.
By the time I reached my destination, the snow had largely stopped. When I left two hours later, I could glimpse the moon.
Turns out it was just lake effect snow after all. Nothing to be concerned about.
The cookies, on the other hand? So totally worth it.
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