The Atonement of Snow

About a month before the new year began, the liturgical year commenced with the first Sunday in Advent. I remember the shift, because the following day, the temperature plummeted.

After taking my oldest to pre-school that morning, I biked onward with the baby toward the lake. The fields were white with frost, and the sky hung high as a dome of unfettered blue.  I rode around the lake for an hour, wondering how the water fowl kept warm. The farm we always pass had sold pumpkins at Halloween, but was now no longer advertizing. Its hay bales lay hidden under a stiff green tarp.

It was time, thus, to pull out all the stops. When the three of us had finished lunch later that afternoon, I filled hot water bottles to warm the buggy seats.  A toddler’s toilet trip and a new diaper later, I bundled the girls up in multiple layers, missing the simplicity of summer.

“Stick your hands out, like this. Keep your fingers stiff. No, that doesn’t help. Come on, you know where the thumb needs to go.”

The baby fell over like Humpty Dumpty, and then cried because she was too layered to hoist herself up again. With rampant strands of hair dangling in my flushed face, I hurried the girls to the garage, where the heated buggy waited.

During the walk downtown, they both fell asleep.  On any other day, this would have been a great opportunity for a latte, pen and book, but I had work to do.

The first stop was the shoe store. Hovered into a corner as far as possible from the speakers generating muzak, I fitted fleece-lined boots onto dozing feet. As usual, half of Holland gawked at the girth of the double buggy.  Then onward to the baby store for booties, the only place in the mall where I don’t feel like a freak show for my entourage.  Mothers with two in tow warrant respect in a store that sells maternity clothing, breast pumps, and Tommy Tubs.

On the way to the HEMA, the girls came to life. The store was swarming with people hovering around the winter aisles, searching for a way to warm their hands. Women wordlessly crowded elbow to elbow with strangers, poised in front of the display of purple, black and mahogany leather hands.  My girls picked out mittens with polka dots, stripes and fewer fingers. I grabbed the first pair of thermal gloves that fit, failing to notice they were men’s gloves, with room at my fingertips to spare.

Guarded against the cold, I looked at my watch.  Time had not been of the essence.  I had been on a mission for warmth, and had let the clock slide. It was time for the girls to eat.  It would take me a least a half an hour to walk home, then another to cook.

We raced down the promenade, past the shoe store I’d already patronized, further up and further in, ending at McDonald’s.  It was the only place open that I could afford, and that was, relatively speaking, child-friendly.  In my mind, I began to justify this decision to my husband, who was due to be home in about an hour an a half.

It turned out that my little women loved French fries and chicken nuggets.  In my pre-parenting days, I once balked in silent disgust at other parents who took their babies to Mickie D’s.  Now I sat next to my high-chair harnessed ten-month old as she munched away, one French fry at a time, gazing at her finger-held treat in total bliss. Across the table, my toddler fiddled with the toy that had come with her Happy Meal.  I stole a nugget, then sipped from my steaming cup of house coffee.

“Mama,” my toddler said, her voice strangely low.

“Yeah, sweets.”

“I have to poop.”  She was almost whispering, her chin pressed to chest, her hands frozen in half-play, her whole frame bracing to deliver.

“Okay.”  My mind raced.  Of all moments, her bowels had to go for this one. “That’s okay.  Let’s see.”

I turned around to survey the premises.  The bathrooms were probably up that distant flight of funicular stairs.  They probably had those kinds of locks on the doors which required coins for opening.  They were probably littered with graffiti and paper strewn on the floor.  Even if I wanted to venture into that potentially unhygienic territory with two kids, one still crawling, I could not. Our double buggy stood between a table and the entrance, stuffed to the nines with bags, snack bags, thermoses, purchases and shed winter wear.

“Okay, babe.  You know what we’re going to do?  There’s no bathroom here, so you’re going to come over to me, and you’re going borrow one of your sister’s diapers.  And then you can just poop in that.  Because there’s no bathroom here.  Is that okay with you?”

She nodded seriously, her eyes wide.

“Good girl.” She trotted over to me, and I hid her from view between myself and the mammoth pile on the buggy.  I pulled her pants down, stuffed a diaper a size too small between her little legs, and pulled her pants back up again.

“Okay, now you can poop.  It’s okay.  And when we’re done here, we will find a bathroom at the grocery store down the street and clean you up.  Okay?”

“I can poop in my sister’s diaper.”

“Absolutely. Because there is no bathroom here. So don’t worry.”
With that, she climbed back into her seat, sat balanced on her haunches, and pooped. Every now and then, she took a drink from her water and another bite from her chicken nugget.

Meanwhile, I mentally planned the route back via the closest bathroom opportunity.  Thankfully,  Albert Heijn XL, my Dutch version of Costco, was still open.  This would delay our homecoming even more, maybe make us later than my husband.  But I had to let that go.  They’d eaten, right?  As soon as we were home, they could sleep.

Through all of this, the baby nibbled away, one French fry at a time.

“Mama, look!”

My toddler pointed out the window into the nearly night-cloaked promenade.  I couldn’t believe my eyes. Big, white, flowery, powdery flakes were fluttering down and spinning around in the dark dusk. The entire view beyond McDonald windows was a breezy, wheezy, winter wonderland.

“It’s snowing, Mama! Look!”

The snow even stayed.  It covered the ground, the sign posts, the people walking around outside.  We rolled our way through it later, warmed by new mittens, blankets and lukewarm water bottles.

The girls silently peered out from inside the rain cover, watching flakes fall onto the clear plastic sheet as short-lived stars and clumps lighter than cotton.

© 2011 Anastasia Hacopian. All rights reserved.

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