Tuesday, December 29, 2009

We were snowed in for Christmas

We were snowed in for Christmas. Three days earlier, freezing rain had slowed down the city, keeping shoppers out of malls and sick people from going to the doctors. Later that day, a gentle snowfall began. The meteorologists came on television, predicting dire consequences to anyone who dared to travel for the holiday. By evening, we had a few inches. My husband and I laughed at the weather predictions that had resulted in such a tiny amount of snow. The gentle fall continued, accompanied by a whipping wind, and by mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve, there were deep drifts in the street. Christmas Eve dinner at my sister-in-law’s was canceled. And the gentle snow continued to fall. On Christmas morning, the snow was almost up to my knee, with some drifts past my waist. Christmas dinner at Grandma’s was cancelled.
But we had a wonderful Christmas day. The snow continued to fall. Our two-year old discovered why children love Christmas. She and her one-year old brother opened a Fisher Price Farm, a doll house, a guitar, maracas, books, doll clothes, regular clothes, music, and a wooden alligator. My husband and I lazed around, drinking coffee, listening to Christmas music, and smiling. Our Christmas tree twinkled, a beacon of warmth and happiness, throughout the day. And the snow continued to fall. I shoveled off the back porch and make a pathway for our dog. Shoveling a path was more like making a tunnel. It was much warmer out than I’d expected. I didn’t want to come inside. I wanted to build snow forts. My husband bundled our daughter up in her snow suit and I made turns in my tunnel so that she and I could play hide-and-seek. I cut a seat into the snow, and watched my daughter’s thrill as she sat in her snow seat. The snow was higher than her head.
Back inside, I showed my rosy-cheeked daughter how to put her wet mittens on the heat register to dry. There was more playing, then lunch, the naptime. Just as we were readying the kids for bed, I said to my husband, “It feels cold in here.” Our thermostat showed that it was about four degrees colder than it should be. I switched it on and off, and the furnace kicked in. As the air blew up through the registers, my daughter said, “Furnace blow heat house!”
When we came downstairs from putting the kids to bed, the furnace was off again. This time, we couldn’t get it to start. We took the panel off the furnace and studied the wires. We could see the fan turning, but the blower was not coming on. I got a fix-it book out while my husband checked the fuses and circuit box. Nothing worked. Finally, we gave up and agreed that we needed a plumber, and that we weren’t going to get upset about the cost. It would still be easier than digging out and trying to get to a hotel. I dialed the number of our regular place. Even if I could find someone on Christmas Day, how could they get here, with the streets unplowed? The snow had forced even Christmas services to be canceled at most churches. I was actually surprised when a woman answered. “I wasn’t sure you’d be open,” I said.
“We’re not.” She must have forwarded the calls to her home. When I told her our furnace was broken, she said, “It will cost you double-time.”
“Okay.” What other option did I have?
“And I’m not even sure anyone’s in town to come fix it. Let me make some calls.”
Five minutes later, the plumber called. “I’m out and about anyway,” he said. “I’ll be there in thirty minutes.” He was at our home in twenty. My husband was making dinner in the kitchen. I was painting in the upstairs studio. The plumber’s tall, four-door pick-up easily cleared the snow. My husband met him at the door so the bell didn’t wake the kids. Within minutes of arriving, he was leaving. I watched him from my upstairs window as he trekked through the snow in our driveway to get a shovel from the back of the pick-up. He had three identical shovels back there.
“What’s he doing?” I whispered down to my husband.
“He’s shoveling away the snow around our outdoor furnace vent,” he said. Immediately, I heard the furnace come alive down in the basement. Relief and embarrassment flooded me. Relief that we had heat, and that we couldn’t have too big of a bill, after only ten minutes. Embarrassment that we hadn’t known to clear the snow ourselves. “Well, at least we still get naptime,” I said. As the parents of a one- and two-year old, we cherish naptime as our only free-time during the day. I went back upstairs. The plumber came back inside. But he didn’t leave. He was still down in the basement thirty minutes later, yakking away to my husband. I could hear him through the vents. Eventually, he was down there alone, as my husband had come back up to finish prepping a roast for dinner. I stopped painting and went downstairs.
“What is he doing?” I whispered. “The furnace is fixed.”
“He’s just checking a bunch of little things to make sure there’s no other problem.” So we waited. Finally, after nearly an hour, he came back upstairs. He was a young, strapping man. He seemed happy as a clam to be out fixing furnaces on Christmas Day. I wondered if he was married.
“Thank you for coming on Christmas Day,” I said. “I wish we had some Christmas cookies to give you.” All we had, by way of treats in the house, was a box of apple candies my brother had sent.
The plumber rubbed his belly. “I’ve had my fill of Christmas treats,” he told us. He chatted about the other calls he’d had today. He told us about his hybrid pick-up truck, and why we should get rid of the washable air filter we had in the furnace. Through the baby monitor, I heard my daughter stir. Voices in our front hall carry well to her bedroom. There goes naptime, I thought. The plumber pulled out the bill. “I’m just going to charge a standard fee for this visit, instead of holiday time. But I want you guys to get a service contract. OK?” We wrote him a check for $118, thanked him, and promised to buy a service contract. As he tromped through our snowy yard to his truck, our daughter settled back down, and I couldn’t believe our good fortune. We’d found a plumber on Christmas Day, who came before the house got really cold. He didn’t charge us an arm and a leg, and we still had at least an hour left of naptime to ourselves! What a glorious, beautiful, wonderful day!
When the kids woke, we played some more. We shoveled some snow. We ate a great meal. We checked on our neighbor, an elderly woman, who was doing fine and needed nothing. We shoveled her walk and steps. The kids went to bed and we settled in to watch our Netflix movie. (A Streetcar Named Desire – which turned out to be a terrible choice for Christmas.) The next morning, snow was still falling. The big family Christmas party was canceled. The plows were out, but didn’t come down our street. Both of us wanted to shovel, to get some fresh air and exercise. We compromised. I shoveled and my husband walked several miles to the grocery store for milk. The snow was so deep that I shoveled in three layers: top, middle, and finally the bottom. My daughter helped with a little dustpan she used as a shovel. While the kids napped, we shoveled the waist deep snow away from our truck and cleared off our car. Next door, you could see grass peeping through the snow in my neighbor’s yard. The wind had blown it all over to our side. We watched car after car attempt to drive down our street and get stuck. Three guys set to work shoveling out the alley behind our house so that they could get their cars in. Later in the evening, a plow finally came down our street. My husband went out to shovel the plow debris from our driveway. My daughter helped with her dustpan. When she went to bed that night, she said, “When Aggie wake up, Aggie play outside in snow.”
“Yes,” we told her. “The snow will be waiting for you.” All in all, we were snowbound for three days, but stayed in the fourth day by choice. After the hectic pace we’d been keeping since Thanksgiving, it felt like nothing short of a miracle to have an enforced, four-day break from the world. I didn’t want it to end. But of course, it did. On Monday, I went back to work. My daughter wouldn’t kiss me goodbye, because she’s too little to understand that I didn’t want to leave any more than she wanted me to. My husband was back to taking care of the kids solo, and working at his job during naptime. I came home in the dark, my husband had dinner going, the kids were playing nicely, and I almost felt like the previous four days hadn’t happened. The tree was still there, but we had turned off the Christmas music. “You sang two verses of Jingle Bells last night,” my husband told me, over dinner.
“In your sleep. Last night. You sang two entire verses.”
“Jingle bells!” said the two-year old.
“Dee-dee dog!” said the one-year old.
So the magic continues on. And more snow is due on Wednesday. Maybe we’ll be snowed in again for New Years.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My husband is home with the kids.

My husband is home with the kids. Pros: he is home with the kids. He called today to tell me that my son had walked across the living room. While my son was taking his first steps, I was doing a hearing test on a three year old with otitis media. While I am fitting hearing aids, testing hearing, and writing reports, my children are growing, changing, bonding with their dad. They are learning to pound their chests like gorillas and saying amazing things, like, “Daddy, look Aggie in the eye when you talk” and “Hello Seeky-dog, how are you today?”
My husband is home with the kids. Cons: Day in and day out, five days a week, he follows the same routine, a routine that is simultaneously awesome and tedious. Breakfast: Oatmeal with raisins AND blueberries/Mush. Wipe faces. Clean hands. Playtime: blocks, dancing, singing, books. Some days he spends almost every moment redirecting the 11-month old from his quest of emptying all the drawers in the changing table or putting our 2-year old in time out for taking things from her brother. Common phrases: Don’t push your brother. Don’t take things from him. Do you need to sit on the potty? You’re in time out. You can come out of time out. Do you want a story? Inside voices!” Lunchtime: Peanut butter or cheese sandwich, grape or apple, celery or carrots. Then it’s Pottytime and Naptime. When they both actually sleep, he spends his downtime in the office, working (he works part-time from home). Then it’s diaper changes. Kids repeat playtime while he cooks dinner, running between stirring things on the stove and monitoring their play in the living room. Some days, when I call him, there is so much screaming going on that I can barely hear him.
I work full-time. Cons: I’m not around my kids as much as I think that parents should be around their kids. My daughter often won’t hug me hello, or even say hi when I get home. She’s sometimes in tears on the floor because I’ve done something just a little different from the way it’s “supposed” to be done. I’m sometimes nervous dealing with my children on my own, because I’m not used to it. Sometimes I’ll excitedly tell my husband a new skill that one of the kids has learned and he’ll say, “Oh yeah. That’s been going on for weeks.” By the time I get home at the end of the day, I’m exhausted. The kids are exhausted. So my interaction with them is laced with short nerves and quick frustration on both sides.
I work full-time. Pros: I can sit in my office and listen to quiet. Not silence, but no ear splitting screaming. I can have five (or even ten or fifteen) minutes to myself to think.
At the end of it all, my husband and I both have it easy and hard. As soon as I’m home, we sit down to dinner and within twenty minutes he has gone upstairs to keep working, while I clean up, play, and eventually get the kids ready for bed with diapers, changing into PJs, and brushing teeth. We are lucky we can live cheaply enough to have one parent home full-time. But I don’t like this set-up. I really, really, don’t like the way we’ve arranged our lives. It’s better than it could be, and probably it’s the best that it can be. But it’s not what I would like. I want us both to work, part-time. Part time at home, part time away. But even if we could manage financially on even less money, we could never pay for health insurance for our family. Fifteen years ago, when I was in my late twenties, I got a horoscope that I liked enough to cut out and save. I used to have it posted above my computer screen at work. Now, worn and yellowed, it’s in my desk drawer. It reads, in part, “When you come to a fork in the road, find a third way…soon your experimental rambling will have to come to an end, and you’ll be called on to commit yourself to a specific path with heart. Be open to the possibility that the best choice will only be visible if you look out of the corners of your eyes.” I suppose that, after 15 years, the birth of my children has finally brought me to that fork. My days of doing anything I like are over, and it’s time to grow up and do the job of providing for my family. But I’m going to continue to peer at things sideways, in case I find a way to have it all. I kind of think I will.