Around four o’clock yesterday I was polishing the silver, as I do. The kids were somewhere. My wife was outside gathering sticks for a decorative mantle idea she had, which is the same idea she has every year: put a bunch of sticks in a glass vase. The sticks definitely have a sculptural quality, but as an object d’art, it just puts me in the mind of the kind of shitty arts and crafts project disadvantaged children do at summer camp because it’s free. Does my wife go to school for interior design? She does. She’s in their special ed program.
Anyway, she was out there a long time, to the point where I was starting to worry that maybe something had happened to her. After all, we have a lot of wildlife where we live, and while deer don’t normally eat people, you never know how desperate they are for food in winter. Also I had recently set a bunch of bear traps out there and forgot to tell anybody. (We don’t have any bears in our area, but I got a great deal on them on Ebay, and it seemed stupid to buy all those traps and then not use them.)
My biggest fear was that she was out there caught in a bear trap trying to chew off her own foot, which I just knew she would never let me hear the end of. Just as I was about to put down the flatware and rustle up a search party, my wife comes in, all cute and apple-cheeked from the cold and says, “Did you hear me?”
Uh-oh, I thought, was she screaming for me to help her? I surreptitiously looked down to make sure she had both of her feet. She did. “No,” I said. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“I was sledding. It was great.”
We have a pretty good sledding hill beside our house. Nothing huge, but big enough that the kids can pick up some good speed and get in a decent run. Earlier in the weekend, my son invited a friend over and they spent a few hours out there on the sledding hill. My wife, having gathered her sticks, must have seen their abandoned sleds and had a go. I found the notion of my aged wife out there sledding by herself charming. But I didn’t want to tell her that because I thought she might call me a faggot.
“Do you want to come out?” she asked.
My immediate impulse was to say no because I was making good progress on the dinner forks and could easily envision myself getting all the way through the salad forks before it was time for bed, but before the words “get the fuck out of my face” could escape my lips, I had another thought. Isn’t this exactly the kind of situation my therapist was describing when she said I sometimes have “counter-productive impulses?” Wasn’t this exactly the kind of moment that could be the catalyst for one of those happy family memories I’d read about in certain descriptions of television programs on the Hallmark Channel? I thought to myself, I want to be like Jim Carrey in that terrible-looking new movie of his. Only instead of co-starring with Zooey Deschanel, who is a movie star and indie rock musician, my co-star thinks that sticks are art.
So I said yes. Not only because I wanted to do something to preserve our faltering marriage, but because the fumes from the silver polish were starting to make me nauseous.
“C’mon kids!” I yelled. “We’re going outside!”
They scurried out from wherever they were hiding and we spent the next forty minutes buckling them into snowpants and snowsuits and looking for missing mittens and yelling at them to stand still so we could get their boots on and breaking up a fight about who would get to wear Daddy’s new chinchilla muff (Daddy got to wear it). Finally the kids were ready. Then my wife and I put on our matching Louis Vitton outerwear, and we headed into the cold.
We’d had about eight inches of fresh snow over the past few days, which then formed a slick icy crust, so the sledding conditions were close to ideal. I should point out that, while the hill is modest, it ends at the forest edge. There are only a couple trees to dodge, but if you go too far you could find yourself in a huge sticker bush. Even though my wife had already safely tried out the hill, I wanted to see for myself where the sleds were likely to stop, so I put my daughter on one and sent her down. As suspected, she ended up in the sticker bush. Thank God for all that winter padding or she would have done a more damage to herself than the huge gash she got across her cheek. Will it scar? Only time will tell. But the way I see it, scars are great conversation starters anyway.
We moved our little sledding party about thirty feet to the left, taking turns on the flashy new sleds my mom sent the kids for Chanukah (she does not know they are Catholic because I lie to her). We went down solo, we went down in pairs, we went down on our tummies and backs and knees. It was terrific fun! The whole family played out in the snow together until the sun fell behind the trees and we could barely see where we were sledding. If you’ve ever been outside with children in the snow, you know how quickly things can turn sour: either snow gets into their boots or their mittens, or else somebody has to pee, or somebody collapses a lung and has to be airlifted out of there. None of that happened. The happy family memory I’d read about in those program descriptions was actually coming true! The only thing that would have made it perfect was a mug of steaming hot cocoa with little marshmallows.
“Does anybody want hot cocoa?” my wife asked in the dark.
“YES!” we all screamed. Yes, by God, yes!
She went inside to put on the kettle and pop up a batch of fresh popcorn while the kids and I took our final runs on the hill. My son wanted me to push him, which I did. I gave him a big rocket push which sent him tumbling face first into the snow. One thing I have learned with children is, when they appear hurt, never ask if they are hurt. Because if you ask, they will start crying and tell you how hurt they are. At the same time, once they are prone on the ground for more than a couple minutes without speaking or moving, they might be dead or close to death, and that valuable time might be better spent clearing their airway. So after he took his faceplant into the ground, I waited a while until I heard him start to cry.
Again, the strategy is not to get as worked up as they are because they might just be crying for your benefit so as to get extra dessert or something later on. So I clambered down the hill to where he was sitting. “Are you okay?” I asked.
In between sobs, he described to me how he had tumbled off his sled and his face went into the snow, and his face was now freezing cold, and his Batman hat was lost. I pointed out that the Batman hat was right behind him, and then I pointed out that I had found the hat in world record time, which made me the champion of the world, but he didn’t want to hear it and continued to let me know in his pitiable way just how cold and pained he was. (In truth, I don’t think there is any such thing as a world record in hat-finding anyway, but he didn’t know that, which made his dismissal of my alleged world record all the more upsetting.)
I picked up my boy and carried him back into the house, my daughter bringing up the rear. When we got inside, I wiggled them out of their heavy winter things and we made our way into the kitchen where there was a big bowl of popcorn and three mugs of hot cocoa waiting for us. Perfect. Plus my wife was wearing her Christmas present, a lightly-used French maid outfit I found on Ebay. We all sat around in the kitchen enjoying our snacks while I played grabby-ass with my lady under the table. It was a great ending to our afternoon. And best of all, my wife found a bag of little marshmallows I didn’t even know we had.