By 6:00 a.m. this morning I may or may not have already consumed two homemade chocolate truffles. In the bathtub. If I did (I did), I felt the need for a little pick-me-up. It took every ounce of hot water and chocolate and seven repetitions of Anne Shirley’s mantra (“Today is a new day, with no mistakes in it . . .”) before I could bring myself to unlock the door.
When yesterday’s sun came up it revealed a surprise–a light dusting of snow in the garden behind our flat. This changed my game plan for the morning considerably. Though we did have a snowstorm our first Christmas in Oxford, Norah doesn’t remember it. Her only acquaintance with snow is from books and she has developed an intense interest in it. She listens in awe to tales of my Minnesota childhood and has asked me thousands of times, wistfully, if I thought we might have some snow in England this year.
As I stood in the living room window groggily staring at the green blades of grass poking through the flakes, I was aware of the need to seize the day. One morning about last February I remember spotting a similar dusting–as we were leaving for church on a Sunday morning. By the time we returned, most of the snow had melted. And that was it for the year. You’ve heard the joke about “the weekend that England has summer”? Well, that was the morning that England had her winter. We won’t miss it this time, I determined, as I gave a shout and gathered the troops to point out the white glory on the ground.
“We are all going out there,” I promised rashly, “as soon as we can get ready.” The girls were astonishingly helpful with the morning tidy-up and even waited patiently an extra half-hour because Hugh had just fallen asleep. Just at the minute I usually like it when Hugh sleeps, as it means he is neither eating nor screaming. We did a Christmas craft while we waited. It was tense. Would the snow melt as we stuck angel stickers? It didn’t.
We had an hour before I was due to feed Hugh so I wound the girls in layers of scarves and wedged them into the hallway by the door. Norah sat there patiently, lulled into good behavior by her daydreams of snow. Harriet made the most of the opportunity while I ruthlessly woke Hugh and terrorized the flat. I discovered Hugh (he was now screaming hysterically) had had a massive blowout and needed to be completely scrubbed and changed. I gathered supplies, envisioning us arriving in the yard to find wet grass and no snow. There’s always a tricky second or two between lowering the old diaper and raising the new one. If only he doesn’t . . . he did at the best possible moment and maximum angle. Urine driplets would not faze SuperMom, so I removed the sodden clothing and changing mat and reached for another diaper. It took three seconds. On second two Hugh stopped screaming long enough to make a sound like a balloon with a hole in it. Our bedspread was now covered with infant liqui-poo. (As to why I was changing him on the bed let it be known that changing tables turn out to be astonishingly unnecessary items and the floor leaves him vulnerable to the Affections of his sisters.) At this moment I discovered Harriet had ripped a few dozen wipes out of the package and strewn them about the room. It was providential. I grabbed a handful and manically applied them to Hugh and the bedspread like a crazed cleaning lady. Harriet cried to find her wipes were swiped but Hugh was screaming loud enough to drown it out.
In ten minutes everyone was clean, bundled, and being hustled by CrazyMommy out the door of the flat. Please tell me we haven’t missed the Snow! thought I. Hugh continued screaming. He’ll stop when we get outside, thought I. We ran into the backyard to find a thin frozen crust of snow still on top of some of the grass. Harriet immediately slipped in it and it instantly melted and wet her trousers. She stood in the mud and cried. Hugh cried. Norah touched the snow and it melted, soaking her mitten. “Can we build a snowman now?” she asked. I glanced around, seeing a neighbor or two staring out their windows but not enough snow for a snow cone. Two of three were now hysterical and a cold wind was blowing. “That’s it! We’re going in!” I hustled them all back in, this time Norah crying as well from disappointment. I estimate we were out for just over 90 seconds.
In a moment the entry was a mass of crying children, muddy boots and wet clothing. As I was solemnly promising Norah to take her out for the next snowfall (if there is one), my doorbell rang. I opened it to reveal a lady in a tweed suit and pearls and an elderly gentleman. “This won’t take a minute,” she said, putting a pamphlet with clouds on the front in my hand, “you sound like you are busy.”
“I feel like I am busy, too,” I said.
“We’ve been calling also on some of your neighbors. We’re just here to ask you, have you given much thought to what heaven will be like?”