As we near the end of the year, I am reminded of my worst parenting experience. Two years ago on December 29th, after hearing that the road going up to our highest point on the island – Mt Constitution – was closed due to snow, I decided to take the kids up that way. Seeing as we only have a few snow days each year here at sea level, I was excited to do some adventuring.
We drove up to the road closure, parked the car, and began walking the long road up the mountain. I had no plan; my main aim was to expose the boys to snow. There was no snow when we began, so the boys and I were curious to watch the progression happen along the way.
Keep in mind, we tend to walk where we need to go all the time because we live near town. We walk to school. We walk to different beaches. We walk to church. We walk to the store and the library. We walk in the day and we walk home if it’s night. Our kids are very used to getting places on foot.
So up we walked. After about half an hour, droplets of water on the side-of-the-road foliage were almost icicles. Water on the guardrail was morphing into ice. The boys were giddy, and our pace was fairly slow in all the elation of discovery.
About 45 minutes farther along, we rounded a hairpin curve heading steeply up to another bend. In that tiny transition period, we went from clear air and concrete to light snow and a white road. We were walking fairly leisurely, even stopping to search for my younger son’s tiny stormtrooper gun that fell somewhere in the snow.
At about that place, the road continues up some steep switchbacks and within no time we were trudging in about three inches of powder. As it began to level out, the boys dropped down to make snow angels and then proceeded to dart to and fro like arctic hares through the quiet white bliss. Back and forth across the fluffy road they romped with endless energy.
It was at about that point that I decided we should push ourselves and go for the top. You know how things you are fairly familiar with look completely unfamiliar when blanketed in thick snow? I’ve driven to the top of this mountain many times in the summer, but never had I walked up it; and never in winter snow. We couldn’t have too far to go.
I was getting concerned that my older son was not really outfitted for snow. He had opted not to wear a thick jacket over his sweatshirt down at the car, and since he was sweating like crazy from all the activity, the last thing on his mind was extra layers. But it was very much on my mind. My younger son had on thin-ish pants and both boys were wearing running shoes and low socks. At this point, they had snow caked on their backsides and in their hair.
On we went. And on. And…on. As we continued up the road, their exuberance began to wane. The destination had been altered in favor of a farther journey. My mind was fixed on walking to the summit rather than playing in snow and turning around. Moms, you know how it feels to give up all your own desires in order to do what your kids need all the time? Well, this unusually snowy day was not going to get past me. I wanted to see that mountaintop. And I was sure my kids could do it.
We continued up. The boys asked now and then if we were close and I explained how I thought we were.
About an hour and a half more of walking and we saw the most lovely sight – the final stretch to the top. Oh, what a relief. There were some power line workers just leaving the thick snowy parking lot, and they were some of the only people we had seen the whole day.
We walked up the tower at the summit and looked out across the eerily lonely landscape. The wind up there was howling and my stoic 10-year-old mildly mentioned that he was getting cold. My 5-year-old then mentioned that he felt tired. I thought, Uh oh. We’re only halfway through our adventure. We still have to go back. And the snow they had angel-ed had now melted and soaked into their waterproof-less garments.
We all looked out across the huge open expanse down the mountain and across the ocean. The striking beauty was something I had never seen in this season, but knowing we were the only ones up there gave me an intensely hollow feeling. This is usually a place that dozens or hundreds of tourists visit every day in the summer. So to feel alone up here, knowing I was the only savior for my children, was deeply alarming.
Just then, there was a very unusual and physically palpable shift in light. It was as if someone had draped a thin cloth over the sky and caused it to go a few shades grayer all at once. Some atmospheric changes also started to happen. I asked my older boy what time it was. 3:40. What???! 3:40?? You mean we had been walking up this mountain for four hours? And it gets dark in the winter here at 4:10, so we have half an hour before total darkness? I had been in such snow la-la-land that I had no idea so much time had passed!
I pulled both boys in a position to look right at me. I explained to them that we needed to go immediately and that we had no choice but to run down the mountain. I also explained that they could not fall and chance getting hurt. They would have to run in such a way as to land with each foot straight on the snow and not at any slipping kind of angle. I was almost shaking inside of myself with the fear that I had possibly gotten my children into a terrible situation. As you can see, all photography ended abruptly.
We began running. Only a few steps. It was then that I realized my younger son could go no further. His little 5-year-old body had used up all the energy it had to get to the top. He was almost falling asleep standing up. I scooped him up, wrapped my arms tightly around him so he wouldn’t bounce, and held his face into my neck for warmth and stability. Then my older boy and I ran like the wind, the light lessening with every bend in the road, the head of my sleeping boy gently bumping along my collarbone. I tried to cover the cold, exposed parts of his lower legs with my hands as we ran.
We ran. And we ran. After 25 minutes, we reached the part of the road that transitioned slowly back into concrete. The sky was almost completely dark and the road was a slick half-inch of ice. We could just barely make out the areas that lacked ice – they were black rather than slightly reflective. We navigated through until all we had was road between us and our car down below. It was now 4:20 and we walked the rest of the way in a deep sense of relief. Our feelings turned to serenity, as though we were floating in the blackness. But I’ll tell you, the car never looked so good when we saw it.
When we walked in the sliding door at home, it was 5:40. I asked my husband if he would have called 911 if we had been out any later. He said yes, he was planning to call at 6:00. “Oh, I’m so glad!” I said. “We might have needed it!”
The next day, drawn by that snow, I went back up by myself and made the journey to the top again and back. A few days after that, not wanting the boys to link the idea of snow with misery, we went up as a family with the plan of stopping where the thick powder started, playing a nice long time, then walking leisurely back in the light of day together. A do-over. With ample clothing on. Thanks to that, the boys still love the snow. Shwoo.