I love the childlike excitement a snowstorm elicits as I watch it from my window. Big fat flakes blowing wildly, framed by arching branches of an evergreen. I love the giddy feeling in my gut before the reality of adulthood kicks in… The sidewalk and driveway that T will shovel in shifts between sharing in the care of V, teenaged for but one more week, and Ruby, the beloved decrepit family pet who is 98 in dog years. This is not quite the sandwich generation as it is commonly defined: people in their 30’s to 40’s with young children and aging parents to care for (I’m blessed that my 93 year old father is in great shape) but a variant of a high needs household. Call it a pandemic panini.
In dreams begin responsibilities, so goes a line from a Yeats poem that is the title of Delmore Schwartz’s best known short story, a near perfect seven page tale of love and regret. [https://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7500&context=iowareview] Conversely, with responsibilities dreams can languish, laying dormant for long periods of time. Yet they still remain alive inside of us. People withstand things all the time, it is a current that runs through the course of history; we go from victim to protagonist once our stories are told, a player on that great stage Shakespeare and thousands of others have portrayed so well, for in our stories come dignity. Snow slows everything down to a pace and place where I feel there’s still time to catch up.
It is after 9 and V is still asleep on the morning of the snowstorm. T has already taken Ruby out, carrying her down the steps as we need to do now, but once she is on firm ground all the problems of the past year – her bad knee, joints, and balance – vanish as she prances in the snow, dashing with a speed she has not shown for awhile. It is hard to remember there was a time when her excitement and curiosity would practically pull me down the street, that there were years when V, Ruby and I all could go at relatively the same pace. V still says, “Walk Ruby” when he wants to go out for a stroll.
Lately that has been a challenge. Since he refuses to zip up his jacket he needs to put on layers in the right order: shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, and an anorak ( a pullover down sweater of sorts) on top to hold it all together. He needs his favorite crocs hidden so he’ll wear the boots, and sweatpants he hopefully won’t roll up to his knees. Then there is the issue of refusing to wear gloves – not as limiting as the refusal to wear a mask, but a close second in winter time – which may limit our walk given the temperature and how soon his hands will get unbearably cold. But once he is out, like Ruby, his joy is palpable. What they lack in verbal skills they make up for in their keen sense of their outside surroundings.
Mostly we stay inside. V has become screen averse: no iPad or TV or even a sound box. So we spend hours singing, songs from a range of genres and generations. Music emerges from a different part of the brain than speech so like an older person with cognitive challenges, V can access a whole world of familiar tunes. We sing and cook and eat and repeat. V’s new sleep medication, which has slowed him down while increasing his appetite, has resulted in a weight gain that makes him not skinny for the first time since he was a toddler. He’s not heavy, just a bit rounder and softer, no longer the angular teen he long had been.
Ruby on the other hand eats more than ever yet has lost weight in the way at life’s end many beings waste away. Yet her spirit remains strong, her hound dog snout as sharp as ever. V has music, she has scents. Both aroused by the senses most dear to them, their singular talents that keep them firmly in this world. Together we sit safe and dry on a blustery snowy day.