Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg intentionally fumbled the Blizzard of 2010 to teach New Yorkers a lesson in sucking things up. It certainly was just that for my kids, who got a tiny glimpse of what life might be like if they weren’t so coddled.
I never thought it would happen, even as the weather forecasts predicted the worst. One piece of the fearlessness I try to model for my children is a lack of concern for weather reports (often false) and parking dilemmas (often overblown). Life is too short to try to predict and control either of these things, so, I figure, one must forge forward.
My bravery on my little boys’ behalf has me boldly drive right to the front of my destination and assume the Universe will provide a space. It often does. But this time, the Universe offered up a lesson rarely available to us Upper Middle Class folk except at great cost when we go to grand locations: it offered up adventure of the slightly scary kind, the kind that necessitates doing something unplanned and unwished-for.
We were driving back to Brooklyn from a weekend ski trip when it began to sink in that the storm warnings we had gotten from neighbors were, in fact, valid. Streets had not been plowed. We drove slowly along Columbia Street turning as usual onto Union Street before getting stuck behind a disabled vehicle. We got going again and drove around the block only to get stuck behind another. I saw a street off to our left that was clear, of cars at least. Sure it was going the wrong way, but in emergencies, regular rules don’t apply (not that I follow the regular rules anyway).
“Go this way!” I directed the Big G. He started to protest, but he quickly reacted anyway and started down narrow Cheever Street. As he attempted to forge forward, though, we began to skid, seemingly straight toward one or the other row of parked cars staring straight at us. The kids began to whimper in the back seat, picking up on the vibe that things had, suddenly, spun slightly out of control.
“Slow down!” I yelled, but the Big G was in survival mode. Something about the mountains of snow ahead of us kicked him into Superhero Dad, or at least Speed Racer, and, as I watched in fascination, he gripped the wheel tighter with both hands and, jaws clenched, shook his head.
“No,” he said, calm as a killer in the moment before the kill. “You have to go faster, you have to get speed.”
I was speechless, paralyzed, pretty amazed, really, not in an entirely bad way, that Big G was about to hurdle us straight toward a two-foot snow bank at breakneck speed. Like I do during bad airplane turbulence, I just closed my eyes and got calm. We started to fly forward and then, all of a sudden, we were stopped. I opened my eyes and there we were, smack dab in the middle of probably the last open parking space in all of Brownstone Brooklyn. It didn’t seem to matter at all that the space was a mile or two from home or turned the wrong way on a one-way street.
I started laughing and gathered my things from the floor nonchalantly.
“Well, then, we’re here,” I said. In that moment, I was giddy. We were in one piece. Nothing else mattered. Not the car, not our stuff, not the fact that everyone had to go to the bathroom. We were safe. It was a moment of pure appreciation of personal safety that I rarely get a glimpse of, that my children rarely see, because we take so much for granted.
From the back seat, confusion reigned. “What do you mean? We’re nowhere near home!” Eli whined. Oscar started to cry. “Where are we? How are we going to get home?”
“It’s fine,” I said. “Grab your puppies [stuffed ones] and we’ll take a few things, leave our bags. We can walk, or find the train.”
I shuttled the boys onto the sidewalk as Big G attempted to pull in a bit closer to the curb. Standing there forlornly, Oscar in tears still, scared, it occurred to me that this was a good thing, a lesson of the kind you wouldn’t choose to teach, you wouldn’t manufacture on purpose to freak out your kids, but that is crucial just the same.
“We’re going to be fine,” I said smiling, wiping Oscar’s tears. “This is an adventure. We can’t always pull up right in front of our apartment and have things be so easy. Sometimes things are hard. That’s OK. We can handle it, you can handle it.”
Big G and I each grabbed one of our two L.L. Bean canvas bags embroidered The Thompsons, leaving behind our suitcases and Subaru with only the slightest trepidation. And we began to trudge.
“Do you even know where we are?” Oscar asked, wiping at the tears streaming down his sad face, trying to be brave in the face of his fear.
We really weren’t that far — and he eventually realized it himself. We were just right off Smith Street, mere blocks from the Carroll Street stop on the F train. This was hardly the Death March. But, to the boys, we might as well have been in a war zone. Creature comforts had been cast aside, belongings abandoned in favor of braving the elements, climbing the mountains of snow blocking intersections where moving trucks were inexplicably unloading in the middle of the street. The boys were not their usual rambunctious selves. As our car, our safe harbor, receded into the distance, they seemed to understand that this was serious. This was about taking care of yourself, taking stock of what was important and moving forward fearlessly.
The train, after a pit stop at an Italian restaurant, seemed hardly a savior. It felt more like life as depicted in films of Soviet Russia, the long, worried faces of passengers offering up an indication of what the city had suffered in the few days since we’d been gone. Stories started to unfold of people getting stuck places, on trains and planes, in their cars. By the time we got home, the boys were downright giddy. They smiled happily as we stepped over our threshold, savoring the warmth and light of their home, savoring their safety.
So to whomever is responsible for messing up the storm clean-up, I offer my thanks. You provided a crucial window into what’s really important, into what we think we need to get through life that we really, really don’t.