It is the last day of your vacation but you are tired. It was supposed to be a long, restful vacation but instead it was filled with sickness and chest colds and waking up at 2 AM with your mind racing because in these tumultuous times there is much to worry about.
Your usually adorable 4 kids have decided to re-enact the entire first and second seasons of the Tom and Jerry TV show, inventing entirely new and spectacular ways to injure each other. And they are loud. Oh so loud. When one isn’t screaming another one is perfecting a new form of singing that involves chortling “You Are So Beautiful” at the top of their lungs.
It isn’t pretty. But then, inspiration strikes.
You tell the 4 kids that they are going for a walk but to bundle up first. You don’t tell them where you are really going because you want to leave that for a surprise, because you remember the day when your parents loaded you up into the car for a Sunday drive to nowhere and an hour later rolled up in front of an amusement park (Rye Playland, but it might as well have been Disney Land). You remember THAT moment of realization as you peaked out the window and saw whirling, spinning, flying machines stretching across the horizon. Yes, miracles do happen… and even the smallest of things pass for miracles in the eyes of a child.
In a fury of sound and motion (“Luke is eating my glove” and “Can I wear my storm trooper helmet instead of a hat?”), you spend almost 30 minutes trying to jam all manner of gloves and hats and snow pants on their various appendages in some semblance of correctness. You decide to forego the usual rules in favor of expediency. This isn’t a time for rules. This is a time to fly! And while it would be nice to have matching gloves and snow pants that fit, life is too short for that.
With four children in tow, you charge out into the cold winter air like some kind of prehistoric gang of cavemen in search of their next feeding. The cool, winter air fills your lungs and raises your spirits. This is what it means to be alive: to leave the hot, stale air of a stuffy house and stride forth into Winter's icy expanse.
You search frantically for the answer to your prayers, the one thing that can turn an interminably long day into wonder and magic. You find it sitting there in the shed, which is in and of itself a minor miracle, since the shed isn’t so much a place for storing things as a holding tank for items that the children plan to eviscerate in some sort of bizarre weekly ritual. You remember the pitching net that you placed there just last summer and the horrible mess that it became – all horribly twisted and mangled and nothing like its former self. You are glad that this item did not suffer the same fate.
The kids suddenly realize what it is you’ve been looking for and their squeals of excitement are a welcome contrast against the cold winter afternoon.
“The sled.” they cry. “The sled!”
You realize suddenly that this is the very first time you have ever taken your children sledding, that you have been too busy worrying about upcoming business meetings and paying the bills and this or that thing to focus on the simple pleasures of whirring down a hill on a piece of plastic. You feel that sense of parental guilt that wells up from time to time. You wonder quietly to yourself what other “firsts” have you neglected or missed when you were stuck at the office tending to some business emergency, when the real emergency was that your children were growing up and you were too busy to notice? Sometimes it hurts to think this way.
You are quickly snapped out of your parental funk by the realization that your 3 year old (Luke) has decided to ride his tricycle in the snow. Ordinarily this would seem like a crazy idea but somehow, much to your amazement, he is actually able to make it work. You are about to tell him that riding your tricycle in the snow is a crazy idea but then something stops you. Maybe it's the smile on his face. Or maybe it's the realization that the world needs more, and not less, 3 year olds riding their tricycles in the snow while adults like me think of all the reasons not to. After all, the best thing about 3 year olds is that they have the conviction of their ideas and absolutely no way to tell a good one from a bad one. Who am I to take that away from him?
The tricycle slows you down a bit, but it only takes 5 minutes trudging down the road until you reach the hill. The very same hill you’ve driven by countless times on your way to the office, or to catch a plane or to attend to some faraway crisis and always too busy to stop. A couple of times times you even thought to yourself, “Hey, this would be a perfect place to go sledding” but then the thought was quickly submerged behind a million other cares and worries never to see the light of day… until now.
You watch each of them take turns sledding down the hill and you are both happy and sad at the same time. Happy because you found this time and place before it was too late, before they were too grownup or too cranky or too much like teenagers to enjoy this moment with you. Sad because it shouldn't have taken this long. And you have to admit that it is all a little overwhelming, for it is right here that the unforgettable things happen, that the memories are made.
You watch Declan, in his own world, choosing to lie head first on the sled and to look up at the afternoon sky as he slides down the hill. He is talking to himself, totally oblivious to where he is going and to what is brothers and sister are up to. You wonder to yourself if Declan will always be like that, off by himself, always choosing to do things a little differently just because that's his way. As he slides down the hill, you can see the world reflected in his crystal blue eyes.
You watch your son Sean stand on the sled and ride it like a surfboard down the hill and just as you are about to tell him all of the reasons why he should know better, you realize that you used to do the exact same thing when you were his age. Only, in Sean's case, he is actually able to pull it off without falling flat on his face like you did so many times. You watch as the sled comes to a gentle stop at the bottom of the hill and you don't know why but you are suddenly proud of him for every part of the boy he is and the man he wants to become. When he comes back up the hill, you hug him for no other reason that he is your boy and you love him.
Then there is MaryKate, the oldest. You are glad that for her it isn't too late, that she is still able to enjoy this time with the eyes of a child. You know that at ten years old she is on the verge of trying too hard to grow up, urged on by this crazy society where the innocence of a child is a marketing opportunity. But you are glad that somehow, miraculously, she is still your little MaryKate, if only for a time. You hope she will always be this way - so happy, so filled with a passion for life and so ready to charge to the bottom of the hill on a little piece of plastic. As you watch her flying down the hill, her long hair a tangled mess of snow and ice, you silently wish to yourself that life could just slow down, so you could take the time to say Goodbye to the child you knew before she grows up.
While the other three are off on their own, little Luke, on the other hand, still needs you. He it too scared to go down the hill on his own, and it is nice to be needed. You climb on the sled and pull him on to your lap. As the sled picks up speed and he begins to laugh in only that way that a three year old can do, you hug him tightly against your chest. You hug him tighter than you need to because he will only be three for so long, because one day his little body will no longer fit so perfectly against your chest and because a time will come when he won't want to sit on your lap anymore. But for at least a little while longer, he is still your's. And so, you hold on to him for dear life.
You tell yourself to remember this moment. You try to take a mental picture in your mind and hold it there. You try to notice everything. The way the sun slices across the afternoon sky with its golden hues, the sound of the sled cutting through the snow, the way their laughter rings out across the valley and most of all for how much you love each one of them at this very moment.
And then, you all decide to pile on the sled together, a jumble of arms and legs and scarves, of memories past and adventures future, and off you go down the hill in one last grand ride before heading home. There it is, really: the reason why we go through all of the pain and the sadness and the tears, the payoff that makes it all worth it, the inspiration that gets us up in the morning and that carries us through whatever life may throw our way.
For it is in these moments that we find our Joy. Surrounded by those we love, wanting nothing more than just to be with them. Feeling the warmth of their bodies and the nearness of their souls. Experiencing the world through their eyes. And realizing that there is nothing more important in all the world than taking the time to truly love them before it's too late.