By J. Shelleby
Decades from now, there will be a youthful graduate student researching pharmaceutical trends. She will notice a sudden, jarring spike in anti-depressant prescriptions in the early months of 2014. “What could have caused this anomaly?” she will ask, she herself still years from motherhood, she herself still yet ever hopeful that an unexpected day at home with her children will be always welcome, always a source of joy. Only if she stumbles upon an old timer, a mother who has lived long enough to recall it, will she hear the truth. This is the story she will hear.
Once upon a time, there was a killer winter.
It was not the treacherous roads or bone-chilling cold that brought calamity. It was not the lack of food, or the inaccessibility of water that birthed tragedy.
In fact, as winter began, it seemed so innocuous. It even seemed friendly at first. With every falling flake of snow, it whispered promises of hours of spontaneous delight, of sweet life-long memories, of unrivaled outdoor beauty. It said: Embrace me, I am only here for a moment; love me, for soon I will be gone.
And so, many of them did. They loved the killer. They embraced it. They shouted for joy in the streets, on their FaceBook pages and in their texts: “A snow day! What joy! What beauty!” The most foolish of them (once, dear reader, this was me; once upon a time I was the most foolish of them all) literally sang their way through those first snow days, bundling their young children head to toe, bundling themselves from head to toe, traipsing through the inches of snow with shovels and sleds, snapping photos and recording videos to set to music, to mark this moment, to preserve this fleeting season, because, they believed (foolishly, blindly), “This snow day may be the last.”
The winter lulled them with its promises, lured them deeper into its lair. Then, in mid-January, it began to show its true colors. What should have been a 3-day weekend honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. became 5 days off, due to snow. Even the most foolish of them began to see clearly. They could sense now what was happening, and fear set in.
But it was too late to escape.
Finally, in the darkness of February—somehow the shortest and longest month of every year—the killer pounced.
Monday: Snow day!
Tuesday: 2-hour delay!
Wednesday: School canceled due to ice storm!
Thursday: School canceled due to widespread loss of power due to ice storm!
Friday: School canceled due to use of schools as shelters due to widespread loss of power due to ice storm!
Even the children begged to return to school. But their pleas went unheard.
For those without power, the pain went ever deeper. No television or Internet to placate the bored children. No fresh snow to send them out into. No hot water to run bubble baths or ovens in which to bake cookies. Perhaps the worst of all: no coffee.
And then: the threat of another storm coming over the weekend, the guarantee of more snow, of more time off from school.
A wail went up from the Northeast, a cry went up from every mother. Like Chinese water torture, the thought of even one more day off began to make the mothers weep. Please, God, they prayed, take my children back to school. I love them, I do, but I need my routine! I need my quiet!
The Extroverts wept because they could not attend their playdates and coffee hours. The Introverts wept because they were never. Ever. Alone.
For it was different, somehow, than the planned time off at Christmas, or Easter, or summer. Spontaneous time off in the middle of winter was like a deep-fried egg roll: one or two was quite delightful, but five or six, and you began to feel sick. More than that, and you descended into insanity. You practically died.
That was how it happened.
That was the winter that nearly killed all of the moms.