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Winter's ugly scene takes charm out of snow

| Saturday, Jan. 20, 2001

Every morning on our drive to school, my son and I pass a heap of snow about the size of a bus. It was pushed into that shape, of course, in the hours of earnest bulldozing that followed the big snowstorm that hit the East Coast around New Year's.

After the last flake settled, and we dug out for that first drive to school, my son noticed the snow mountain and proclaimed it Awesome! , vowing to return with his bike to conquer it. Now, he barely notices. For me, the hill grows uglier and more depressing with each passing day.

This week the mountain is frosted in black soot, like Oreo crumbs on a dish of vanilla ice cream. On warmer days, raindrops push lacy holes into the crown, a description far more attractive than the reality looming there.

That hill is an hourglass, its billions of stubborn snowflakes like grains of sand that refuse to move through the slender channel of glass and push time forward. The snow mountain is so large, so dense, that when it melts and has disappeared, it may finally be spring - which is all I really want out of life at this point.

All the charm has gone out of the snow. Growing up in western Pennsylvania, I so loved the snow that this dragging mood never showed up until the end of February, and by then all I had to do was hold on through the fickle stops and starts of March before landing in the almost certain spring of April. Now, I'm not so patient. OK, the snow was pretty. The kids loved it, but enough! I'm ready to move on.

I'd have thought the mere presence of snow-loving children in my household would hold me aloft during the winter uglies, but the kids are not helping much. While still inclined to play outdoors rather than in, my son has taken to whining about the 'stepped-on' landscape of the front yard. As every child knows, the best time to play in snow is when it's still an unbroken skin, awaiting the command of snowmen and angels and footprints in the shape of big hearts.


Now our yard looks like one of my son's fingerpaintings, and the snow fort in the back yard is sagging and lonely. Snowmen around the neighborhood have become noseless amputees, the victims of winter doldrums, neglect, and the occasional day in the 40s.

My first indication of my son's ennui came the day he decided not to take his sled to school for the first time in weeks. The night of the big snowstorm, his kindergarten teacher e-mailed us, inviting my boy to bring his sled. That first day, all 17 of his classmates huddled at the top of the hill behind the school, and took turns sailing his red flier to the bottom.

The next day, half the students in his class brought their sleds.

Afternoon pickup came to look like a re-enactment of 'Snow White,' with all those dwarves just back from a day at the mines, trudging along in their droopy stocking caps and big boots, lugging sleds behind them.

'What, are you nuts ?' I wanted to ask the teacher. All those sleds meant the children were going outside for every recess. And the only thing worse than having to help 18 5-year-olds in or out of their boots, hats, snow pants, gloves and jackets two times every day, is to have to do that four times every day. (Another elementary school in our district has a different approach to snowy weather: the children say indoors. Cruel, I thought at first. But now, exhausted from the Great Mitten Hunt that occurs in our hall closet every morning, I'm beginning to understand the thinking.)

After two weeks of after-lunch sledding, my son decided one morning not take his red flier to school. That afternoon, his teacher thanked me, a profound look of relief on her face. I totally understand.

What I see outside my kitchen window is not a winter wonderland any more. It's stale and soggy and charmless. I took my toddler daughter to the side yard for a ride in her baby sled; she toppled over, got soaked, screamed, and ran toward the front door. In deference to my stir-crazy son and his friends, I'm lifting the ban on wheeled vehicles in the house.

And it's not even February yet. I probably need to stop whining about this right now. Even if the Groundhog has a good morning, I'm not getting any relief for at least 50 more days. And that big mountain of vanilla ice cream isn't going anywhere for a long time.

A month from now, it will still be making me hungry for vanilla ice cream.

So I'm going to do the only thing that might bring some relief. Dare I say it• I'm wishing for some fresh snow.

Beth Dolinar is a former investigative reporter for WTAE-TV who now stays home to raise her son and daughter. She and her husband live in Ben Avon and Connecticut. She can be contacted at cootiej@aol.com .

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