We sat at the dining room table last night, eating an appropriately collegiate dinner of burritos, and watched a winter scene unfold through our townhouse windows. Out our back window, I watched quarter-sized snowflakes fall straight down in the black night, sticking to snow stacks in the trees, lending their wet weight to already laden branches. My husband, with a view out the opposite window, watched college students laugh and throw snowballs in the picturesque park out front, kids again in the newly fallen snow. Our own kids’ snow gear dripped in our entryway, in the warmth inside our home.
“I feel like we’re in a Norman Rockwell painting,” I said.
“I don’t want to move from here,” said my husband.
We finished our dinner quietly, enjoying winter’s arrival. Just that morning it had been messy and wet out, loud rain splatting the windows, incessant liquid sounds that made me gloomy. The snow, though. The snow was silent. Light. Peaceful.
After dinner, the kids scattered to the basement, and my husband started shoveling while the snow was fresh. “Those plow piles will be solid chunks of ice in the morning.”
I washed dishes in contented solitude, smiling at the life-sized snowman in the park. The sudsy water was warm on my hands, and it felt good.
My husband came in, stomping snow off his boots, his face fresh from shoveling, his eyes merry. “Who wants to go for a walk?”
It was 8 o’clock at this point. Dark out.
There are three things that our kids will almost always say yes to – swimming in the summer, sledding in the winter, and walking at night. Any time of year.
“I do!!!” We all shouted.
We brought nothing with us. We just bundled up in coats and snow boots and walked out the door. The plows had gotten to the roads, but the sidewalks were buried in six inches of snow. We squeaked through the fresh fall, the kids and their dad laughing and throwing snowballs at each other as we walked, our son taking every opportunity to fall into the soft, untouched fluff. Wet poofs fell out of the trees onto our sleeves, into the necks of our coats.
When the sky opened above us as the trees thinned out, I was awed by the scene and wondered, “Why don’t we walk more at night?” The upper atmosphere scowled an ominous grey, but the lower clouds reflected the brightness of the snow – fluffy, powder grey clouds contrasted against a charcoal night. Twiggy trees coated in white snow stood stark against the dark sky, scratched into the landscape like branched etchings on black metal.
We walked toward the neighborhood duck pond, and heard the distant sounds of laughter and sleds swooshing downhill. The hills! We had commented all summer, as we walked around the duck pond nestled in the bowl of surrounding hills, “Those would be great sledding hills in the winter.” And sure enough, as we approached, we saw the dark hills dotted with young people, their gleeful squeals drifting over the snow.
I loved their youth. The fact that they were sledding at night. “I wish we would have brought our sleds,” my husband said. I did too. My mother-in-law, who lives in Sarasota, has commented several times that she feels like she started aging before her time there. Her community is filled with her elders, few of her contemporaries, and even fewer youth. Businesses, services, ads in the paper all cater to the senior population, and she is reminded every day of what is coming in life – broken hips, Alzheimer’s, nursing homes. The slow, stooped grocery store shuffle. The inevitable progression towards death.
Here, in this college town, I feel the opposite. I relish the vibrance of these young, eager college students. They are full of energy and ideas, passion and vitality. I remember what it was like to be that age, and how full an age it is. Full of friends and laughter, wildness and freedom. Full of life and living. Watching them, listening to them, I feel their vigor. I wouldn’t trade my age for theirs – I relish the lessons I’ve learned, I savor peace and quiet – but their youth makes me feel young and fresh, and I love this town for that.
I looked around and saw another group of students standing around a massive snowball that was as tall as they were. It had a huge patch of dirt on one side, where they had rolled it to gather more sticky snow, and had pulled up some turf along with it. A twenty-something woman stood on top of the snow ball, laughing, before she jumped down and they all started pushing it down the hill. “Look kids,” I said, and pointed. I expected it to “snowball” just like in the cartoons, and maybe it would have if the hill had been bigger. As it was, it was too heavy and just stalled out.
I moved away from the merrymaking, the voices and laughter quickly muffled by the snow I put between us, and I stood by the duck pond, listening. The edges were beginning to ice up. I heard crackling, and burbling, and could not place the sounds. Was water gurgling into the pond? Or was the ice crackling as ripples washed under it? The dark made it more mysterious, and I liked the wintry sound regardless of its source. I smiled at our kids as they tried to listen, too.
As we walked home, trudging up a hill, kicking snow and watching it catch the light of the streetlamps as it flew out in front of us, the kids still throwing snow balls at Dad, our son still “falling” into the soft fluff, a young man came flying downhill on a bicycle, sliding sideways through slush piles in the street, barely staying upright as he navigated a steep, slippery bend in the road. He grinned like a maniac, or maybe like a kid, laughing with each treacherous slip of his wheels, riding his bicycle at night.
Life in a college town. With Kids. is a piece I wrote when we first moved to Blacksburg, and I unknowingly took our kids out to eat at a bar. No booster seats, no kid menus. But plenty of beer and bar food.