Rearing a young winter-lover.
Underneath the oversized parka that I got from the thrift store, a chest sling wraps my young daughter against my ribs like a second heart. Her earflaps snuggle cheek-pudge. She doesn’t look happy. She was born in late July. I walk beyond town, down a dirt road where old sunflowers shed seed husks on snow. Wind bruises my cheeks and hers, both of us tearing. My palm cups her face toward the envelope of breath beneath my chin. Our walks become daily duty. Every outing hardwires a circuit through her, flesh and bone: winter is life just like summer is life. Now take a nap. She sucks air like a stovepipe.
Soon I crave forest, for her. I know what my body can handle. I don’t push for glory; I snowshoe steady steps as she swells in the sling, then outgrows it. I bite the bullet on a backpack, but I miss her balled heat against me. I cram adhesive heat packs into her boot toes, nurse her if she needs it, hold her bare butt over snow, see if she’ll pee. Then stuff, zip, velcro, buckle, cinch. She’s secured; I’m sweating. All winter we eat up trail miles.
Souped-up on coffee, I’m the brawniest mom there is. But delusion will land me in trouble if I don’t heed the weather, terrain, and my abilities to meet them. My brawn must match risk to my cargo.
I’m breathless every day I make it happen. Driving home, eyes glued to road slush, I plot a nap, a bowl of ice cream on the couch that never happens before I drape gloves and gaiters over the forced air vent, then set my daughter on linoleum with crayons while I rustle up supper. I chop onions at the counter, fingers thawing, calves throbbing, and remind myself: she watched a woodpecker chink ice off an aspen.
I was not born loving January. When cold air taps my blood, I suit up for frostbite or mishap or meltdown. I’m packing precious cargo. She can poop or puke in a snowsuit. My daughter will froth snot and spur my kidneys if she doesn’t like the tassel on my hat. I rocket from gentle to witchy, and we tramp on. Scream, child! Fill your lungs! Exchange your blood for winter.
My husband wants to ski. We score a secondhand, tow-behind ski trailer. We learn: a ski trailer trawls deep powder. A sour spouse should not tow the trailer uphill. The trailer will snag and capsize on a detour coerced by a spouse who swears mountain-bike singletrack is the best route back to the car.
I get good at skiing my daughter to sleep. When she balks at her trail nap, I flinch. I’ve released our simple sling walks, her skin where I can smell it, but I feel strangely maternal towing her slumbering over snow. In the hopes that she’ll come back around, I rent a Forest Service cabin. My husband loads his expedition pack: sleeping bags, snow boots. Giant pillows from our bed. A down blanket. An emergency heat blanket. A giant tarp. He straps crap on the outside: a bag of jumbo marshmallows. A plastic sled.
I pack socks for our daughter, the code for the cabin. Souped-up on coffee, I’m the brawniest mom there is. But delusion will land me in trouble if I don’t heed the weather, terrain, and my abilities to meet them. My brawn must match risk to my cargo.
The trail is a shin-deep ice luge. I’m shouldering my pack. And I’m towing my daughter. So I packed more than just her socks. My snowshoes catch; the trailer careens. We hit blow-down. My husband, in skis, wearing his pack, hefts the trailer hip-high, our daughter ensconced inside it. He crow-foots and grunts while I pitch and swear and try eight ways to straddle three trunks, still pulling the trailer. Three miles of blow-down. The sun sinks as the trailer runs cockeyed. One snowshoe swivels off my heel. I’m stumbling, starving, sweating, silent, my hips rubbed raw. I dig in; my daughter needs me. From the trailer she chirps:
“I don’t like your pants much.”
We make the cabin at nightfall. My husband lights a fire in the woodstove. Our daughter rips off her socks and for three days she catapults over snow on her plastic sled, without me, face smeared with soot and mustard and marshmallow.
At home, I repair hardware as snow melts. But I’m not ready to give it up yet.