Best Snow Day Ever (Really)

Six days ago, we were slammed by a ferocious windstorm. Not a series of tornadoes… Not a hurricane… Just wind. TONS of wind that barraged the region relentlessly for hours. Topping out with gusts at over 80 miles per hour (yowzers), these were no gentle breezes. Trees weren’t just snapped; they were uprooted, literally. Power was knocked out to over 150,000 homes. Utility poles bent and broke, sending power lines flying. (Amazingly, we never lost power.)
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These were just a few trees within a half-mile of our house; to see truly incredible images, check out this, this, and this.

Our district canceled school for two days; several schools remained without power, buildings were freezing, buses couldn’t be fueled. Ella’s middle school was turned into a weekend shelter; other local organizations (a community center, churches, the JCC, the Islamic Center) became warming stations, offering spaces to charge devices, get water, huddle up.

If you did venture out, everywhere you turned, you’d run into stately pine trees on their sides accompanied by gas and electric (and tree trimming) crews working overtime. We don’t get a lot of natural disasters in Rochester – the lack of hurricanes, tornadoes, avalanches, earthquakes, tsunamis, and forest fires is a definite plus of living here – so this was a rather unprecedented occurrence.

It was a damned mess.

On the second “wind day,” the girls and I did something I’d been wanting to do for ages: brought flowers and notes of support to the JCC and Islamic Center. When I asked about other places that might need assistance, a friend suggested that we spread a little cheer to local fire stations, who were fielding emergency calls left and right, and gas and electric linemen who were working feverishly to restore the area to power. We did both, to astonished appreciation. It was kind of rad.

The following day was Annie’s Girl Scout troop’s cookie booth sale, which meant three hours of 4th grade girls freezing their tushes off in 18-degree snow while hawking boxes of Thin Mints from the gas station sidewalk. It was kind of surreal, cheerily shouting about cookies while watching people load up on bags of ice and cans of gas; obviously, 72 hours post-windpocalypse, there were still a lot of folks without power.

As a means to both move the cookies along and give us all a greater sense of purpose (not that Peanut Butter Patties aren’t life-changing), we set up a collection for boxes of cookies to be donated to gas and electric crews. The response was overwhelming; our box was overflowing. It seems, when faced with times of crisis, helping feels really, really good.
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Although our troop leader was able to deliver the bulk of the cookies over the course of the weekend, five additional boxes were donated last-minute. I bagged them up and stuck them on the front seat of my car, assuming, one way or another, that I’d come upon some utility folks sooner or later and could hand over the goods.

Because Jesus loves me, school was back in session yesterday. Today, however, we are being walloped by the edges of the blizzard-y storm that is thrashing away at Philly, New York, and Boston. With the governor declaring a state-wide state of emergency that called for no unnecessary travel and 12-18″ of non-stop snow predicted over the course of 36 hours, the district called official snow days today and tomorrow.

Yes, this means four cancelled school days in less than a week. Yes, this also means we have spent a boatload of time together.
Ask me how well my daughters are getting along. 

By 8 a.m., I’d decided that a Starbucks run was definitely “necessary” travel; my survival (and sanity) depended on it. It took me three hours to accomplish the rest of the stuff on my list, but shortly before lunch, Ella and Annie and I braved the roads to make quick stops at Target and Starbucks.

The roads were bad. I would’ve felt really crappy if I’d slid off the side and, when asked by the first responders why I’d ventured out in these conditions, I’d responded, “A latte.”

After explaining to the girls why this would not be a leisurely shopping excursion, I sheepishly admitted we really should get back to the house ASAP, with one caveat: if we happened upon any gas and electric crews, we’d lengthen our sojourn to drop off the cookies.

The roads were all but deserted (yet another sign that perhaps a latte wasn’t really “necessary”). The Target parking lot was much the same, with one notable exception: eight large, flashing-light bearing vehicles, idling side by side. The moment I glimpsed them, I startled the girls with a hearty, “OMG ARE THOSE GAS AND ELECTRIC GUYS?? WE’VE HIT THE MOTHERLODE!”
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Can you see the trucks back there?

We drove slowly by to get a closer look; the cabs of the trucks were empty, save for one guy on his phone and another taking a snooze at the wheel. I didn’t recognize the name of the company (National Grid) but a quick Google search told us they were, indeed, a gas and electric outfit. Gleefully, we took the car back toward them, coming to a stop in front of the gentleman we’d seen on his phone.

He exited his cab as we rolled down the window. (Considering we’d basically stalked him in the Target parking lot, he was understandably wary.) “Can I help you?”

So we explained – about the booth sale, the donations, driving around with the cookies. When we handed over the bag, his face registered only shock.

“For me? For us? You’re sure?”

We told him we were – very sure, in fact – but he was still incredulous. “You don’t understand. We’ve been here for a week. We’re eight hours from home and still can’t go back yet. This is the first time anyone has done anything like this. I honestly can’t thank you enough.”

He looked, standing in the wind-whipped snowstorm, as though maybe he might break down. Over a bag of Girl Scout cookies. Over people showing gratitude.

We explained further that it wasn’t so much us delivering the cookies and our thanks; it was the community, everyone who had donated the boxes and wanted to help. He truly could barely believe it. We exchanged a few more pleasantries and thank-yous and then were on our way. (Hey – at least now, if I slid off the road, I could say that I’d gone out for a latte and to hand over cookies.)

After the girls and I finished our shopping, I was placing our Starbucks mobile order (what? You thought we’d skip out on the lattes?) when I wondered aloud if I could put in for one of those ginormous box-o-coffee dispensers to bring to the National Grid crew on our way back… but there was no sign of them. They’d gone.

The rest of the (slow, slippery) drive home, we talked about the kind of person it takes to leave their families and travel to help others in times of crisis… how we wished we could do more to thank them… And then, just as we turned into our neighborhood, less than a quarter mile from home, there they were.
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I kid you not: a veritable fleet of National Grid trucks were lined up behind one another, lights on, crews out. (We soon discovered two more trucks were parked in our cul-de-sac.) The very same guys! It was our turn to be astonished. This one little crew from eight hours away… working in the Rochester area for a week… less than 30 minutes after we’d seen them in the Target parking lot and wished we could do more… was working on our street?? WHAT WERE THE CHANCES?

Slim, I tell you. VERY, VERY SLIM.

Since Fate had clearly spoken, we knew what we had to do: get these men a warm beverage. Which is how we found ourselves dispensing hot chocolate to the National Grid crew in the middle of a snowstorm.
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The guy said to us, “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate this. Some people have been really rude to us. This is so nice.” WHY ARE PEOPLE RUDE TO FOLKS DOING THE HELPING?? WTF??IMG_1225

Best. Snow day. Ever.
(It’s also Pi Day and we have two chocolate pies for dessert, so there’s that.)

I know there’s a lot of scary, mean, selfish stuff going on right now. I know – I do – how easy it is to slip into frustration, anger, despair. But I also know a really easy way to feel better: thank someone. Help someone. Do something for somebody else. It’s clichéd, but it’s true. Doing good feels good. Really simple math.

No, it won’t solve everything (and with another snow day tomorrow, my cherubs might face off, Hunger Games style). But I am positive that if we were all just, I don’t know – NICER – that we really could change the world. Or at least our windy, snowy corner of it.

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Tuning out and tuning in

I hadn’t realized I needed the break until we were there. That may sound a bit daft – how could I not know I needed to get away? That some time off would be a good idea? Wouldn’t I understand my own self?

The answer, apparently, was no. I knew I was looking forward to our trip to Puerto Rico, to sharing the island that Nick and I loved with Ella and Annie, introducing it to my dad and Meg, celebrating my dad’s birthday. I knew I was psyched to be on vacation for six delicious days(!). But I didn’t discover just how stressed and anxious I had become, nor how liberating it would feel to lose that stress and anxiety, until we arrived.
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Fresh tropical popsicles at check-in make everything better.

IMG_0161So does the local rum in your hotel room.

It wasn’t until then, when we were essentially forced to take a break from life as we know it, that I understood not only that I had been feeling tense, but why: politics. More specifically, the ever-present coverage of politics on the news, my Facebook and Twitter feeds, every time I turned on the radio.

Politics. Every. Where.

 

In our house, this is not business as usual. Until this last presidential election, Nick and I discussed politics basically never. (Obviously, social justice is a big deal in our family; I know that LGBT concerns, racial prejudice, and women’s rights have become political, but to me they’re just human issues.) It wasn’t that we didn’t care; we did. We had opinions. But, by and large, we trusted our politicians – even those with whom we disagreed – to take care of politics.

As Andrew Sullivan wrote in New York Magazine: “One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all.”

For the past 16 months or so, I’ve thought of politics virtually daily. And I don’t like it. It’s exhausting; it’s maddening; it’s disheartening; and, without my realizing it, it was seriously stressing me out.

When we got to Puerto Rico, we got out of the news cycle. I unplugged and breathed.
It was glorious.
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Yes, I still checked in; I was aware of what was happening on the mainland. But I didn’t take time to dwell.

Avoiding politics became a deliberate decision. My dad and stepmom, Meg, are often at opposite ends of the political spectrum from Nick and me, so it would have been simple to fall into a debate, even accidentally. We chose not to let it happen. This was a family trip to celebrate my dad’s birthday; that was our focus. (I mean, if I hosted myself a party and someone went on about how awesome the Red Sox are, or started dissing the Yankees, I’d be pissed, y’all.) On this – my dad’s birthday trip – I had no desire to do that to him, to us.

At first, it was actually somewhat challenging; for months now, politics has been dominating my daily life. (And if I believe the news or my Facebook feed, politics is the only possible topic worth discussing or contemplating.) I didn’t know what else to talk about. We began with some slightly pregnant silences…  but they soon abated. How refreshing and renewing it was to consider books, family, movies, school, work, music, travel, food… You know – life outside politics.

IT DOES EXIST.
Sweet fancy Moses!
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Some liberal folks might say it’s my duty to bring up politics, to continually acknowledge that our current political environment is not normal, not okay, should be challenged. I agree that we cannot sit back and do nothing. We must remain aware, engage, keep at it.

But sometimes, it’s okay to sit one out. My friends know how I feel. My family knows how I feel. My dad and stepmom know how I feel. Staying quiet for a few days was not only acceptable, it was necessary.

See, at some point, this political cycle will end. Change will occur. I don’t know how or when or what it will look like, but I do not believe, in ten years, that the world will look as it does today. What I do know is that I adore my family, both my immediate family and my extended family. We may disagree politically, but they’re good people; in fact, they’re some of the goodest people I know. I respect them. I love them. When all is said and done, I want them in my life; I need them in my life.
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Decked out in our matching night kayaking jackets…

Sometimes, the right choice is talking things out. Other times, the right choice is taking a knee. This time, we knelt.

It’s hard to draw a direct line between the awesomeness of our our trip and my taking a break from contemplating politics, but there’s no doubt that it played a significant role. How magnificent it was to not be consumed by fear and anxiety, to not fight the urge to check the New York Times homepage or refresh my Twitter feed – to just be, to enjoy the moments.

How delightful to savor my daughters running in the surf; my dad knocking on our patio door just to say hello; my stepmom being the first to brave the ziplines, despite her fear of heights; my husband being pooped on by a seagull (<– maybe savor is a strong word).

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IMG_0684Zipline-ready!

I ignored my timeline updates and instead presented my dad with his birthday video, discussing it for days thereafter. There was no news, no politics, getting in the way of hearing Ella’s delighted gasp as she dipped her hand in the glowing lagoon of the bioluminescent bay.

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I was able to revel in Annie holding an enormous, rainbow-colored conch during our night snorkeling adventure.

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Night snorkeling: awesome. Also: TERRIFYING.

I gave no thought to the latest headlines when Nick and I took everyone to our favorite restaurant in the world, our hopes high that they would enjoy it too, nerves dancing as we waited for them to take their first bites… followed by relief and glee (and ridiculously full stomachs) as they agreed with our assessment.
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It mattered not what the president was Tweeting when my dad and I got ridiculously tiny (but delicious) coffees at an Old San Juan cafe. I didn’t care what the pundits were saying as I immersed myself in Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography.

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There was no newsfeed calling my attention away from watching the girls make memories with their grandparents: laughing as they sat on bubbling jets in the pool; splashing each other in the ocean; sharing dessert (or sometimes not sharing; hey – it’s dessert); exploring 400 year-old fortresses; .
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Instead of my pre-bedtime ritual of scanning the day’s Top Stories, I sat with my legs in the plunge pool, the ocean 25 yards away, listening to the omnipresent chirping coquis.

I can’t remember the last time I truly missed being on vacation; I’m always bummed to leave, but usually the relief of being in my own bed and returning to routine makes the trip a happy memory. This time, I actively missed it. I’d awaken in the night and think I was back in the hotel, feeling the crushing weight of disappointment when I remembered where I was. It took me several days to even want to look at our photos and videos; I was too sad that we were no longer there.

Looking back, I can easily pinpoint the reason for this: pure. joy. Remarkably, I enjoyed every single minute with my family, my dad and Meg. We had no arguments. No disagreements. For six whole days, we relished one another’s company. The entire trip! (Seriously, what were the chances?) What an absolute gift it was to be able to spend time with these people who I love so fiercely and cherish every moment of it.

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I know that experiences like this are few; next time, the girls may not want to look at us, much less have fun with us. So I’m appreciating the heck out of this one.

Maybe some of that was coincidental. Maybe some of it was luck. But maybe a lot of it had to do with making the conscious decision to tune out and tune in. Yes, it’s a luxury to be able to do so; I know many people cannot afford to turn off politics… which makes me so grateful that I can, and so glad that I did. (Plus, now I feel far more energized to continue persisting and resisting. WIN-WIN.)

In the end, I missed nothing – it was all waiting for me when we returned, believe me – but what we all gained by focusing in instead of out is immeasurable.

Yes, we’ll always have Puerto Rico… but even more than that, no matter what, we have each other. Muy delicioso, indeed.

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