Cold Memories

By Leah Bassoff
Web Exclusive – January 1, 2007

boy licking icicleOne of the biggest changes I experienced after having children is that it ended my sense of chronological time as I’d once known it. As I watch my children playing, I find myself cast back to my own childhood, find myself reliving my own childhood memories of the snow and the cold in a sensory, visceral way.

Watching my son Kevin tunnel his mitten-clad fist into the snow, I can remember what it was like to eat snow off of my mittens, that delectable taste of crushed ice, dirt, and wooly mitten fuzz. As Kevin’s mittens get tossed aside, and I see his turnip-red, frozen finger tips, I can remember the agonizing, but exhilarating, pin-needle pain of my own exposed digits when, just like my son, I was too stubborn to keep my hat and mittens on.

When I am with my three-year-old and five-year-old son and we have no plans for the morning, time turns into a piece of taffy, getting stretched almost endlessly. I am invited into my children’s world where their morning consists of dragging a stick through the snow or fervently kicking chunks of ice, loosing them from their surrounding piles of snow.

As a child, I remember analyzing the quality of the snow like it was a fine pastry; using the toe of my boot, I could tell whether the snow was light and fluffy or, better yet, was that thrilling hard crusty snow that would let me magically walk on top of it for just a moment before my feet crashed through. On mornings where the snow reflected the sun glinting off of it, I used to imagine that those glimmers of light were actual diamonds but ones that somehow constantly eluded my grasping fingers. Ice that cracked under my feet used to give me shivers of pleasure. Snow so wet and slushy that it soaked right through my boots felt illicit and irresistible. Later, I knew I would get chastised for my wet socks, but oh the glorious feeling of the cold that seeped across my toes.

Perhaps I find myself entertaining past memories, reliving these childhood sensations, because life is slow now, because I am outside hunching my shoulders against the chilly air simply watching two little boys play. Perhaps the cold awakens in me memories long dead, like frozen fingers that, once you run them under cold water, come back to life.

It is because I have time on my hands that my mind starts wandering, sometimes inappropriately, sometimes bizarrely, so that all of a sudden I am thinking about an old boyfriend, about a cold evening in the mountains where we sat on a rock and made-out by the headlights of the car, convinced we needed to stay outside but shivering so hard, our hands so icy, that we could hardly bear to touch each other. Then, just as quickly, I’m remembering standing at the bus stop as my mother came running down the block—her hair flying wildly out from under her cap—to tell me that school had been cancelled because of the snow. “Come back home,” she called out to me, her voice half-swallowed by the wind.

Yet just as I am cast back into my past, I find myself simultaneously trying to glance into the future, like I’m standing on tip toes trying to peek over a tall fence. I am trying to imagine my sons, these two little bundles of coats and hats with just a little circle of face poking through—their noses crusty from winter snot and dirt—as grown men with jobs, responsibilities or even wives of their own. This imagined thought seems painful, thrilling and unbelievable all at the same time, especially since right now they are both small enough that they occasionally get stuck in the shin-high snow drifts, heartbreakingly vulnerable and unable to move until I haul them out of the thick snow onto higher grounds, sending them off and running again.

With my hands stuck halfway into my coat pockets—halfway because the zippers on both pockets are stuck and only my fingertips will fit into them and because, after trying to find matches for little mittens, I was too lazy to find some for myself—I stand in the cold, a passive spectator watching my two boys play as my life spins forward and backwards—my past and my sons’ futures mixing together in a strange soupy mélange.

Then, for no apparent reason, I find my eyes zooming in on my son Kevin, like a camera going in for a close-up. I watch as he reaches up and breaks off one long, perfect icicle from a bush; I see how the ice hangs out of his bare hand, cold and promising, see the eagerness on his face as he slowly lifts it towards his mouth, and suddenly time stops spinning around, standing–like the icicle itself—perfectly still and frozen.

Life is this moment of pure anticipation, of cold delight, and my son’s whole world is the here and now: an icicle and a tongue about to lick it.

Leah Bassoff is a former editor for Penguin Publishing, a former high school English teacher and is currently a full-time mother and writer. She writes a regular column for www.babycenter.com and www.sanity central.com. Her book Hoochy Mama, a collection of essays on motherhood, is currently being represented by The Elaine Koster Literary Agency.