I stood there next to him at four in the morning looking out the window watching the snow fall. The moonlight reflecting off his little face was so bright it almost seemed unnatural. The smile on his face was big and genuine giving away the pure excitement bubbling up inside him. As I soaked up the happiness radiating from him, I was caught off guard that for the first time since I could remember I too was excited for winter.
Winters in Canada can be long and brutal. Just going from the car into the store is a production. Compound that with sludge and muck and three months of wet feet and you have one long season. To me, Winter in Canada means getting your car buried by a snowplough. It means trying to load your kids in the car in sub-zero temperatures with your doors frozen shut. It means you can’t use your stroller anymore, so you’re forced to kill your back pulling your kids in the sled down the sidewalk. Winter means ice storms and power outages, terrible drivers and cooped up children. Don’t get me wrong, I love a white Christmas. But by December 26th, I’m ready for the white to go away.
I always say that I should’ve been born in the tropics, somewhere like Hawaii or Florida. I’m a lover of the ocean, the beach, scuba diving and temperatures over 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Arctic temperatures are not what I was built for. But last winter I learned that while I am not built for arctic temperatures, I was clearly capable of producing human beings that were. I have never met a child who loves winter more than my oldest son.
We made the discovery last year when my husband decided to try him on skis. At three years old I thought this was insane. But as any good Canadian can tell you, up here skis and skates are usually strapped to a child’s feet as soon as they can walk. My little boy was no exception. It’s funny how you hear stories where a child has a natural inclination for a certain sport. Like when you put a basketball in a kids hand and he knows how to shoot with perfect form. Such was the experience with my little boy and skis.
First of all I was totally convinced he’d freak out over the boots. Dystonia has made my son finicky about anything on his feet. But the minute we put him in ski boots, something magical happened. He giggled as he tried to walk and simply said, “I walk funny in these. I think I’m gonna need some skis.” So, we got him some skis and put him on the mountain. I can honestly say that there have been few things I’ve enjoyed more than watching my husband teach my son to ski. My husband, with his own dystonia, was able to read my son’s body language and posture. He knew how to instruct and guide him to minimize the cramps. It was truly amazing to watch.
By the end of the season, my oldest was going down blue runs on his own. The ways he used his muscles skiing didn’t seem to aggravate his dystonia as badly as other sports. And the cold, frigid, subzero air seemed to have the effect of an ice pack on his sore burning lungs. He laughed and clapped all the way down the hill and I constantly found myself standing outside in the frigid cold at the bottom of the mountain just to watch him come down. He had been through so much and to see him do something that brought him so much joy made me forget about the cold. I loved that for a few simple hours a day, he didn’t have to worry about his dystonia or his cough. Winter gave him the gift of “normal” and that really did make it seem magical.
On the last day of the ski season our little boy was so disappointed he cried. During the summer, when we asked him what he wanted to do, all he would ask is, “Can we go skiing?” We would promise him every time, “When the snow comes.” So now, he waits for the first snowfall with great anticipation.
Tonight, in the middle of the night, my little boy woke me up in pain. After I got him all settled, and the pain in his feet had subsided, I walked down the hall to use the bathroom. The room at the end of the hall had its blinds open and the sparkling rooftop of the house across the street was impossible to miss. I walked up to the window and looked outside to get a closer look. Sure enough, we had received our first snowfall of the year. And it was a big one. Everything was white, not a speck of color to be seen. “Hey buddy!” I called down the hallway, “Come here, you have to see this.” My little boy got out of bed and came looking for me. As he reached the doorway of the room he could see it too, and he gasped. It warmed my heart. It was the perfect reaction. He went to the window and just stared. He was too excited to speak. I smiled at him, nudged him with my elbow and asked “Do you want to build a snowman?” He giggled nodding yes and said, “And ski!” I laughed and promised, “Soon buddy, we can ski soon.” He could barely contain himself, his eyes were wide and he was happy. “Mamma, I’m so excited!” he said in a loud whisper, “It’s winter!”
I felt happy that the pain that woke him was far from his memory and had been replaced by the anticipation of fun, adventure and the magic of winter. I put my arm around my little boy and was consumed by the joy radiating from him. I wondered if his exuberance for the cold would rub off on his little brother. The thought of the two of them together on skis made me smile. “I’m excited for winter too,” I said. And for the first time in my life, I really was.