It’s 7 a.m. My mom comes in to see if I am up. Instead of handing me warm clothes from the dryer or that had been laid on the heating vent, she tells me to look outside. I see the gentle white flakes falling on the trees. It’s raining cotton candy dreams. I gaze in wonder and fall into a snowy trance until my mom asks if I want to go back to sleep or have breakfast. Breakfast. Always.
Snow days are the best. My mom gets to stay home with me, because she works at a school, too. She makes sure kids like me don’t go hungry during the day. Sometimes, she even gets to bring some special treats home from work, like Puppy Chow, that I am sure to find in the fridge later. Now that I think of it, Puppy Chow kind of looks like crumbly snow that’s been pushed to the side by a shovel. Weird. Mom is in the kitchen starting breakfast, smells like banana pancakes and love. I wait eagerly in my chair at the dining table with some chocolate milk in a frozen mug while watching “Clifford” on PBS on the foot-by-foot, antennae box TV. This is the best. My mom is the best. Banana pancakes are the best.
After breakfast, we cuddle up on the couch together and tell stories and watch Christmas movies like the old Rudolph one. Mom-time makes me happy. I feel so warm and loved that I drift off to sleep once more, only having been in bed a couple hours before. Cuddly cat naps are a snow day must.
Yet again, I wake up, this time full of energy. I ask my mom if I can go outside and play for a bit. She will not let me out of the house until I have my coat on…and seven other layers. When she is done with me, I don’t even look like myself, rather a version of the little biscuit man on the pop tubes. But I don’t care. I get to go play in the angel dust, the unicorn sparkles, the “Christmas-came-early” miracle before me.
I play outside for about an hour and manage to build a mediocre snowman. I run inside for the finishing touch, but all mom has for me is a bag of minis. His carrot nose is equal to his stature, but in my mind he might as well be Frosty. My nose is pink and tears of ice roll down my face. I’m plum-tuckered out, so I head to the garage to peel off my wet layers of dough. Once inside, I find a mug of steamy, hot cocoa just for me. Mom’s recipe. Complete with a mound of mini marshmallows. Mom makes me giggle when she says, “Marshmallows are just snowman boogers, and the only boogers we can eat.” Weird. I don’t know if that’s true, but they are the best boogers I’ve ever had. All there’s left to do is wait for Dad to get home to tell him all the cool things we did on this magical day, and ask him if he thinks Frosty will come to life overnight, too.
“I’m going to Hannah’s. I don’t know. I will call if I eat dinner there. Love you, Mama.”
Ten inches. No school. Home alone. Snow day. I call my best friend. All set. Hannah’s dad picks me up, and we drive the two minutes to Grandma Wanda’s house. Her backyard is our own winter wonderland. It slopes down into a steep, steep hill leading to a plot of field that ends at a line of trees concealing a creek bed. Perfect for sledding and winter adventures.
Hannah and I are two peas-in-a-pod. We have done everything together since kindergarten. We sled using the usual bowl and toboggan sleds for about an hour. I made the decision to switch to the deep-snow sled. I end up sliding the slide to trump all slides, speeding toward the tree line and the creek. I have to frantically stick my foot out as a brake before an icy accident happens. I catch my breath and yell for Hannah to come down. Her sled only makes it halfway across the field, and she has to walk the rest of the way. I tell her what happened, and we promptly stop our sledding for the day.
Being next to the creek, our curiosities get the best of us. I am left wondering if I would have broken through the ice or not if I had made it past the trees. The creek looks frozen solid, but we can hear babbling water in the distance. We crawl down the small ledge and onto the rocks at the edge of the creek. Once there, we explore the frozen wasteland that gave us so much joy the summer before. We even spot our rock city, built from imagination and boredom of Barbies. The ice is enticing, even though we are in heavy clothing that weighs us down. Hannah clings to a massive tree root growing in and out of the ledge of the field. Safe and sturdy. Being the little daredevil I am, I want to see if I can make it across the creek to the woods on the other side. I take the first step. Everything is fine. I take a second step. A crackle sounds. Nothing major or visible in the ice. Do I dare keep going?
I do. I take a couple more steps until I step into the center of the creek crossing. I take my final step. Hannah is nervous. As she is about to let go of her safety net and join me, the ice starts to crackle and snap and crackle some more beneath me. I panic, but run, or rather slide, as fast and as lightly as I can to Hannah and the branch that she is clinging to for dear life.
I make it. We both take a deep breath in like we have been holding our last breath for hours. We stare at each other in disbelief and utter shock. Then, we hear, “Girls! Girls, where are you? Hot chocolate and cookies are ready!” Grandma Wanda calls us out of our adventure world. We crawl out of the creek bed and make it up the hill to the house. Our secret.
Lying on the warm orange and brown shag carpeting of grandma’s living room that sits above the furnace in the basement below, we sip our hot chocolate. We look each other in the eyes, reading the other’s mind, swearing that our adventure would be ours, never letting anyone know what almost happened or didn't
happen. We mischievously smile at one another, giggling at the chocolate mustaches
that conceal our invincible outlook. Snow days are for adventures and wonder and best friends.
It’s 10 p.m. on a Thursday. I just got home from school two hours ago. From early bird to the regular school day to Drama Club, I am utterly exhausted. Showered and fed, I sit perched in front of the television set watching Channel 4 news. Anxiously, I wait for the bottom of the screen to get to the Ws, wondering what it’s like to be a kid that goes to Augustana High School. As the screen finally rolls through the As to the Bs, I think about the paper I have to write for English Honors and the test that I need to study for in Algebra II Honors. The pressure is on. If “WCUSD #5--Closed” flips onto the TV screen, I am free and have the whole weekend to finish that paper, study, and recharge. If not, both have to be done by 6 a.m. tomorrow. The screen gets to the Ss that last an eternity. There are so many Catholic high schools in the area, so many saints’ names rolling on by. I pray for my school district’s name. Finally, the Ws. It’s there. I gasp with relief. My phone blows up. My friends cannot wait to sleep in tomorrow. We’ll make plans then.
I rise at noon. Homework will still be there Sunday. I flip on The Holiday with Jude Law and Cameron Diaz, a movie I’ve seen at least twenty times, and watch the snow from my window, cuddling Pebbles, my Jack Russell Terrier. Halfway through the movie , I get a Skype call on my computer from my friend, Maclain. I click “Accept.” Andrew and Megan are with him. They’d decided to get snowed in together last night. Formalities are exchanged, then we agree to venture out. Grover, Maclain’s car, has been through it all. Today is no exception. Today, we ride.
We drive Bluff Road, the longest back road in the county. We pull off at a family farm, where Grover
can do tricks. Donuts and zigzags have us giggling and laughing in a field in the middle of nowhere. Today is perfect. Today is composed of moments, not minutes. That unstoppable feeling creeps back, heavier than in the creek bed with Hannah. Grover gets stuck in the snow and mud, so we stop and get out. Instead of immediately pushing him free, someone throws a snowball. It’s all over now. We have a snowball fight until the sun starts setting. In this moment, I have never felt more free, more alive, or more frozen in time. A day to remember. A snow day to cherish. Stress-free. Worry-free. Fun.
I roll over in my dark dorm room. My roommate, Shea, is snoring. I guess she missed her 8 a.m., again. I check the clock, 9:10 a.m. I have 20 minutes to make my way-too-sweet coffee, get fully dressed, and get to dreary Alumni Hall. It’s almost finals time. No one will notice or care if I roll into class in snow boots, pajama pants, and a messy bun. I guarantee I won’t be the only one. Reaching for my phone, I take a minute to check social media and realize that class might be cancelled. Doubtful. This is college. This is the real world. This is adulthood. Joy.
The campus is fully closed. I am bewildered that my wish came true this morning. It’s a miracle! I go back to sleep, having never physically left my bed. The day goes by. When I wake up, I peruse the halls, travelling from door-to-door in the Scholar’s 1 North Focused-Interest Community, seeing what everyone is up to and searching for a way out of my boring and small four cream-colored walls. Most are playing video games or binging Netflix alone; others are making popcorn and Easy Mac in the social lounge. No one wants to be bothered beyond small talk. Our first college finals week is hanging in the balance like the cold, grey day outside, spreading anxiety and uneasiness across the dimly lit halls and empty sidewalks.
Two cups of cocoa, self-made, not mom-made with the extra love and marshmallows, and one season on Netflix later, Shea comes into our room and asks if I want to talk and watch the snow. It’s 8 p.m., and my eyes are tired of watching a screen that’s been placed too close to my face all day. I agree, and we leave our tiny room wrapped as blanket burritos. The study lounge is dark at the end of the hall. It has the best window view of the snow, so we park it there. We each sit across from each other on the tabletops, virtually mimicking sitting in a window sill. We talk of snow days past and how growing up is hard. We make claims like, “Everything is business now,” “I have to think about what my next meal will be, which is weird,” “How do you even make a budget? I think I spend way too much on iced coffee,” and “Isn’t it weird to think about the fact that our parents had to figure this stuff out before we existed?” The conversation goes from dark humor to reality to existential crisis.
Eventually, the conversation trails off, and we just continue to sit in the quiet safety of the empty study lounge, wrapped in fluffy blankets as we watch the snow. Then, something incredible happens. We notice a couple of people from our hall venture outside with laundry baskets to sled. One of them is Kevin, a kid from the South who has presumably never seen real amounts of snow. We watch as he runs out ahead of the others on the sidewalk, wiping out on the ice, never realizing the threat was there to begin with. He gets himself up and proceeds to do it yet again. Concealed in the comfort of the study lounge, Shea and I bust out laughing. We continue to watch as Kevin slips and slides on the sidewalk and sleds down the hill nearby in his laundry basket, making us feel a certain way. No one becomes an adult overnight. Maybe eighteen-year-olds are just kids finding their way. Maybe adulthood is much like Kevin slipping on the ice, running full force into the unknown, being betrayed a couple times, but still getting up and persevering. We continue to sit in awe and joy, silently wishing we had joined them and wondering why the threat of the cold and worries of adulthood stopped us from enjoying the type of happiness that only a snow day, or apparently a Kevin, could bring.
At least ten inches expected between today and tomorrow. It’s senior year of my undergraduate career with a paid internship. I sit contemplating my future--where I will live, if I should go to graduate school, what career path I want to take. It is a lot, and I cannot even fathom the inconvenience of a snow day. If there is not a snow day, I still have to go to work and class. This means waking up earlier, shoveling the driveway, and scraping the snow and ice off of my car. It means more traffic due to drivers not understanding how to drive in any weather other than sunshine. And it means being cold all day because the lab has minimal central heating capabilities. If we get the snow day, work still persists, and the classwork will roll over to Thanksgiving break. It is a lose-lose situation.
It snows. Plenty. No snow day, but professors still cancel. No one wants to be responsible for commuter accidents. My boss calls and says I can work from home. Thank God. I shower and start brewing coffee. I sit on the couch, more stressed than ever. I open my laptop, beginning my new pile of homework and paperwork. While it reboots, I look up. It’s still snowing. I take a second to breathe it in, the beauty, the silence of it all.
Across the street, my neighbors, a woman with her daughter, are building a snowman. I think back to when I was six. So pure, so perfect, so paradisiacal. It makes me wonder when our wonder stops. Why do we stop enjoying snow days? Why does being an adult take the magic out of the snow? Wishing upon unicorn sparkles, adventure time, hot cocoa, donut spins, and laundry baskets, I sit and type away at my computer, typing as fast as I can to have time to build a Frosty for my front lawn, to feed my soul a little magic, a little moment, and a little love in this snow daze.
Kaleigh Dickneite is in her final year at SIUE. She is working toward the completion of her Master's degree in Health Communication, following her Bachelor's degree in English and Applied Communication Studies. Nostalgia and temporality tend to guide her writing. She hopes her gumption can take her creatively far and wide post-graduation. Kaleigh wants to give sincere thanks to the English Department for helping her grow as a writer and person. She misses you all.