I wake up this morning and the snow is just starting to fall. I can barely see it, but there’s a haze of white on the ground in small patches, and that winter feel is in the air.
Our plan is to put up the Christmas tree and decorate it today. But first Anthony says we have to disappear the leaf pile that’s in the middle of our back yard. It’s a mighty big leaf pile, so this is going to be a lot of work. Anthony heads out first and I follow, leaving the kids to relax on the sofa with their iPads. While we rake and carry leaves into the woods, we start to hear some high-pitched noises. I think at first that it’s a neighborhood dog. Anthony disagrees.
“I think that’s Nick.”
We stand still for a moment and realize Anthony is right. We can see Nick standing in the living room. We can hear him screaming on and on. Anthony and I stand frozen, staring up at the living room window.
Anthony breaks down first. “Should I go in?”
I don’t offer to go instead.
Anthony disappears into the house and I get back to work. It feels like half an hour passes before I hear someone stomping out to me. I expect to see Anthony but instead it’s Jesse, looking freshly showered.
We sit on a couple stumps side by side.
“Was that Nick screaming earlier?”
“Wanna tell me what happened?”
Jesse gives me the blow-by-blow in an unemotional, matter-of-fact tone, the way you might expect to hear a beat cop presenting facts. “I was kind of teasing Nick on his iPad. Then he started yelling at me. I punched him in the eye. He pulled a bunch of hair out of my head. He kept screaming at me even when I said I was sorry, and I didn’t do anything more to him. Then he coughed on me and vomited snot on top of my head. So I took a shower.”
I let all that sink in for a while as we sit peacefully under the trees.
I remind Jesse that until just a few months ago, she was often really hostile toward Nick. Sometimes she still is. She would punch him in the car when we drove places, cough in his face, spit on him, stick her bare feet on his face. Nick is a patient kid, but he has his limits too. I remind her that when she was really down, we asked Nick to be patient and tolerant, because we were all just waiting for Jesse to feel better. Now I tell Jesse the same thing, as snow lands softly around us. You need to give Nick time to forgive you for those long months. You can be tolerant and patient, just like he was.
Jesse nods in quiet acceptance. I can’t see even a trace of anger or resentment in her.
* * * * *
Everyone ends up outside for a little bit to finish up the leaf pile and take turns on the rope swing, and then we all head in. We’re still thinking about the Christmas tree, but also we’re feeling lazy. Jesse wants to play Monopoly, which she insists on pronouncing “mono” like the virus and “poly” like a roly-poly. Emphasis on “MO” and “PO.”
Anthony and I used to enjoy playing a variety of board games, but then our children were born. I keep hearing stories about how people have fun playing board games with their very young children, and I have to assume these tales are apocryphal. In our house, pulling out a board game is the equivalent of saying, “I’d like my life to suck for the next 15 to 20 minutes until we give up and put this damn game away again.”
But Anthony and I say yes and make Jesse set up the board. Last week when she asked to play, we tried to set it up for her and she went straight to Anxiety Land, tic’ing and twitching and doing lots of annoying things. So this time we let her habituate to all the pieces in her own way while we hang out in the kitchen. It works. We play fast-version, passing out all the property deeds first. Anthony makes a bunch of trades with Jesse straight away, excluding me entirely. He claims he’s being really, really fair. He ends up with two monopoly sets and all four railroads and something like thirteen properties. Jesse ends up with two monopoly sets and eight properties. I get bupkis, because no one is trading with me, and I start whining. Anthony always beats me at Monopoly.
The dice begin to roll in earnest, and the game doesn’t suck this time. Nick is the banker. Jesse takes forever to count out money when she needs to pay up, while Anthony and I stare silently at each other in grim solidarity. Nick runs around and around the table grabbing random things, moving houses here and there, and sneaking money to Jesse. About fifteen minutes in, attention spans have faltered and we leave the board on the table to finish the game later. Jesse wanders over to the sofa, covers herself entirely with a blanket, and promptly falls asleep.
* * * * *
Jesse’s still experiencing random bouts of extreme fatigue every day. We hope it’s the fallout of Lyme disease and that it’ll clear up some time in the next decade or two. I guess it’s possible that it’s something else. Her new meds? Depression? An as-yet-undiagnosed fatigue-inducing illness? Ennui?
Nothing I can do about it today, so Nick and I abandon Jesse and Anthony. Nick’s snow shoes are too small, so I need to take him shopping. As we prepare to leave, he harangues me about Pokemon cards. He wants more. His tenacity on this topic is just too awful for me to spell out for you, but he wins. We head over to Winkies and he buys two foil packs, one for him and one for Jesse.
Next we walk two storefronts down, to the bagel shop. Nick likes bagels and cream cheese, so that’s what he gets. We spend a good half hour poring over all the new Pokemon cards and determining how to divide them between Nick and Jesse most fairly. It’s quiet, relaxed fun with Nick. I recognize that I’m in the eye of the storm.
Unfortunately, I have more stops to make on this outing. I’m a mom and the housekeeper, so I always have errands to run. We drive over the Trader Joes for some basic groceries I need. While I shop, Nick keeps getting way, way too close to human beings he’s never met. I have no explanation.
Next it’s off to the outfitter to buy snow boots. It’s snowing in earnest now, and Nick is starting to act like a strung-out kid who needs to pee, only the emergency is that he needs to get home to play in the snow. “Look at all the snow! We need to go home NOW, mommy! Look at the snoooow!! I gotta go play in it! It’s gonna be so. much. fun!! Snow snow SNOWING!!!” After bizarrely confusing efforts to get him to pick a boot style, he tries on a pair. The guy helping us tells him to walk up a little ramp thing to emulate walking up a hill. Nick does that. Then he does it again. And again. And again. And again. We take the shoes.
Nick won’t stop haranguing me about getting home, even as I try to find him new gloves and a hat. “How much longer will we be here, mommy? We have to go home NOW! It’s snowing! This is so awesome!” He jumps up and down in place, touching me and touching me. It’s slowing everything down and making me miserable.
I seek inspiration. I decide today is a good day to buy a fur-lined hat with ear flaps for myself. I find the most enormous, ridiculous-looking one and don it. I look like I’ve placed a live beaver on my head. This does the trick. Nick runs away in squawking embarrassment and refuses to be seen with me for the rest of the time we’re in the store.
Nick’s in such a rush that I rush too. We rush through checkout, and we rush out to the car. Then he stands there, suddenly peaceful, playing blithely with ice and snow that’s crusted up on the car. He won’t get in the car. I drop into my driver’s seat and roll down the window on his side. “GET IN THE CAR,” I snarl.
Half an hour of being harassed has gotten to me. We hit the road.
* * * * *
I drop Nick off at home, bring in our purchases, and head back out. I still need to go to a second grocery store and the gas station. When I leave the house, Nick is in the living room jumping up and down, arms flapping, keening about the snow and his new boots. Jesse is just rousing from the sofa, having taken a two hour nap.
I buy my last groceries and fill the tank, and then head back home. Snow is falling around me, big sticky flakes that really are lovely. I expect to come home to noisy kids who are fighting with each other, and a grumpy dad. But when I pull up to the house, I see Jesse and Nick making a snowman in our front yard. They barely notice that I’ve pulled in to the driveway. When I get out of the car, I hear their voices — cheerful, silly, cooperative.
They are playing together. They don’t need me.
I’m buoyed up in that moment. I almost cry. The beautiful snow, my beautiful children, that pathetic little snowman. It’s evidence that, at least for now, life without behavior modification therapy is better. Jesse is finding her way to happy, because we’re making room for her to go there.
* * * * *
More things happen for the rest of the day, but it’s all good. We manage to get the tree up in its stand. We watch a couple movies – Frozen and Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Yay. We get the kids to bed.
After Nick falls asleep, I head downstairs. Anthony’s letting the dog out front and he motions for me to come outside. “Have you seen the trees?”
Everything is blanketed in this first sticky snow, each limb of each tree outlined in white. It’s quiet and beautiful.
A good first day of snow in my part of Wisconsin.