It seemed like a good idea. Watching the pearly fluffs of snow fall quietly from the kitchen window it was hard to resist the tug of the luminescence calling us outside. It is a Spring snow, afterall, and possibly the last of the year. But it is only moments later, standing in the basement with the Littlest clamped between my legs, wrangling the Middlest into her gloves, that I am questioning my sanity.
It is a battle I know too well, one that is more physically demanding than I ever think it will be. On the surface it doesn’t sound that hard: Ok, kids, grab a jacket, and let’s head outside. But the reality is much grittier. The basement, our point of departure, is full of all the things that a basement should be full of, including a furnace and water heater, and flotsam of former stages of life. All this is naturally inviting for any explorer worth his salt, and this Littlest of mine is no exception. His speed isn’t hampered until I get his boots on, and then he can barely stand upright anymore. The bigger two kids are surprisingly helpful at finding jackets and hats, gloves and boots, but even their fortified desires for self-reliance crumbles at the thought of snow eeking into a potentially exposed crevice at the wrists.
Snow pants, boots, jackets, hats, gloves: check. I shooed the big kids outside, promising to meet them momentarily.
Though I don’t even have my jacket on yet, my body temperature has risen, and with it my blood pressure. I’m frustrated at myself for being so frustrated. I’m ready to cancel the whole endeavor, because I’m already sunk in the task of making it outside, and I can’t even begin to see how, once we’re out there, it’ll be any different. Every 0.35 seconds I’ve scooped the Littlest away from untold danger and he’s using every morsel of strength he has to fight against putting his arm into his jacket. After practically dislocating numerous joints, both his and mine, we head outside, desperately seeking that cold blast of air to cool me down.
And then the magic happens. It’s like stepping through the back of the wardrobe into another realm entirely. The brightness of the still-falling snow is almost blinding, and the corners of my mouth turn upwards instinctively. My shoulders sink back away from my ears, releasing a tension I didn’t even know I was carrying. The kids are spinning circles, dizzying themselves with their heads thrown back and pink tongues thrust out and lined with white dots of snow. Any disappointment they had when I came out without the sleds has faded away and they have created a new game, rolling themselves like hot dogs down the hill. Popping up out of the snow when they reach the bottom, the snow shakes off of their heads and their shoulders, and I’m struck by the sturdiness of their bodies racing each other back up the hill. Layered up like a miniature abominably snowman, the Littlest can hardly stand in balance, let alone take carefully calculated steps, but he is content enough to make a snow angel or two. Then, hoisted onto to my hip, he points me all around the yard as I become the battleship he steers, his voyage a mission to explore this white land.
The magic is there until it isn’t anymore. The Middlest’s gloves just won’t stay on anymore, and now her wrists are cold and sticky-wet. The Littlest has commanded this mother-ship around and around again, and is only frustrated that he can’t command his own body in the same way. Now it’s the tug from the other pole: the hot chocolate and dry comfort that draws us back inside. The wet mess of shedding layers is an exacting mirror of our earlier struggles to piece it all together.
And what I see is this: I see this pattern of sweat and struggle interspersed with beauty and magic in large and small ways. The magic of life’s beautiful moments may be fleeting, but in order to see it at all, you have to be there. You’ll never get the magic if you don’t show up. Those few moments of pure joy, for both the kids and I, in the snow, showered by today’s sparkle, was hard-won. It could’ve been easy, halfway into the hide-and-seek of mismatched gloves, to abandon the program all together. But in pressing on, we had our hands open, palms up, the magic lighting on us the way the snow illuminated their tongues. And it’s these glimpses of beauty that keep me pressing on, day after day. Because so much of it is a struggle: it’s a struggle for bedtime, at the end of the day, each at the end of our shortening ropes, with the clock ticking off a world of crazy when all I’m seeking is quiet. It’s the hard work of listening through the whining, the tears, and the tantrums to seek out what is underneath it all. It’s a struggle to find time – carve it out, really, chiseling in to one thing or another – for all that is important. It’s a struggle to learn, again and again, to love each other and do it well.
And this is what I need to remember, when I break out in a full body sweat in the middle of the struggle. It’s effort; it’s work. But that is where the magic is found. This is the whisper that I want to sink deep into the wrinkles of my brain. Right there, in the middle of the struggle, there are moments of beauty – the magic of sleeping bodies, hearts and souls that connect, joy for joy’s sake, and laughter snorted through tears. I only need to step out into the snow to see it.