Shrouded in snow and adorned with sharp, fat icicles, our house is starting to resemble the Overlook, the isolated Colorado hotel in “The Shining” where Jack Nicholson, sealed up with his family off season, descends into madness.
Encased within the frigid depths of a particularly brutal Philadelphia winter, cooped up too long indoors with three young children during an extended holiday break — prolonged by several bouts of foul weather and cancelled school — I’m starting to identify a little too closely with Nicholson’s character. When I sat down to write, I worried that I might just end up typing “All work and no play makes Courtenay a dull girl,” over and over, like Jack did for weeks instead of polishing his novel.
My own version of winter-induced insanity has been an obsession with The Weather Channel, hoping that the temperatures will have crept up or that the latest approaching storm will have veered off while I momentarily stepped out of the room. When I have the local weather station on instead, my twin first graders sometimes wander in and dance to its jazzy tunes. This can be amusing. But what drives me nuts is when this channel — whose every detail I lately hang onto for dear life — makes a typo, as it did recently, showing 41 degrees instead of the 8 degrees it was actually predicted to be.
Fluffy but deadly
Our first sizeable snow, the one that signaled that this winter would not be for sissies, arrived before the holidays and caught us driving home from the mall. What would normally have been a half-hour journey turned into a three-hour ordeal.
Since our minivan has neither four-wheel nor all-wheel drive, we had to keep moving, albeit slowly, or we would’ve become stuck in the drifts rapidly gathering on the crowded roadways. Approaching each hill, we fretted that the car in front would slide back into us or that we would slide into the vehicle behind. By the time we made it home, miraculously without incident, I had a tension headache the size of Texas.
Then winter vacation commenced for our twins and our preschooler, promising ample together time and limited outdoor activity due to the bitter cold. We did puzzles. We played games. We watched movies and made the rounds of the local museums. Several times, we met friends at parks, play dates that didn’t last very long. So desperate to get out, one day I even took the kids to the Philadelphia Zoo. They kept begging to go inside the reptile house where it was warm.
Too much ‘together time’
Back home, the children degenerated into a cycle of rotating fights, one of the three always the odd one out. Then after one day back at school, classes were cancelled again because of a blizzard.
When I noticed my son playing with his plastic soldiers and humming “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” I realized I wasn’t the only one losing it.
“Peace on earth and mercy mild,” Griffin chanted, bashing his green Army men against each other. “God and sinners reconciled!”
We need to get out, I thought, and took the kids sledding behind the local middle school, where the wind lacerated our cheeks and pre-teens snowboarded down a steep flight of stairs, much to my dismay and my children’s delight. We lasted about 20 minutes until Jane, 3, started crying, “Snow keeps blowing in my face!”
We had more success the next day meeting friends at a gentler hill, for a sunny and invigorating hour of tobogganing. But the next morning we awoke to an ice storm.
In despair, I called a friend to commiserate, but she didn’t pick up because she had been on the way to her Presbyterian church. When she phoned back, she said church had been cancelled because of the ice — something she, a former Chicagoan and Catholic, couldn’t relate to, but that I thought was entirely reasonable given the beastly conditions.
Later in the day, when I couldn’t take being inside one more minute, I skittered out for what I had hoped would be a run, but which ended up being more like a crude parody of Disney on Ice.
“I admire your dedication!” a neighbor called to me as I skated by.
“I’m not dedicated,” I hollered back, “just claustrophobic!”
“I get it,” he cried.
As is always the case in life, things could be worse. We could be living in Minnesota.