“Hey, kids, I bought some snowshoes!”
“Yay! Let’s go snowshoeing!”
“Okay, well, you’ll have to take turns. I only bought one pair.”
I admit that buying one pair of snowshoes for two children is rather a tease, but one pair is what I scored through the local Facebook swap group so one pair is going to have to work for now. This pair is intended for my son. My daughter is at the upper weight for their 16″ size, so I will try to find her a pair of 19″ just as soon as I can. But not today. Today they will have to share.
“Those are mine! They are boy snowshoes,” says my son, who has noted the boyish color of the goods and decided that’s the best angle for the fight.
“You have to share,” says his sister. “Mom said so. Besides, I already have my snowpants on.” I’m intrigued by my girl’s strategy of playing to my impatience and hatred of waiting for children to get their winter gear on. Also, good hustle.
“No, no, I’m getting mine on! See!” Good hustle there, yourself, boy.
“Boots!” I yell. “Boots on now or nobody’s going!”
I herd them out of the house still fighting while I explain that we are only going to the woods out back and there’s plenty of time for both of them to have a try. I’ve learned that while my children will fight over anything–in one notable instance, a six-inch piece of string–their stamina isn’t good and one of them will burn out sooner or later. This time, it’s my daughter.
“Fine. He can go first,” she says. “I’ll go work on my ice house.” She heads up to where she’d begun constructing an igloo-like structure out of chucks of ice that fell off the playhouse roof.
I give her a thumbs up for her generous spirit and begin the process of strapping another human being’s feet into snowshoes. This is a challenging endeavor with a kid who still has questionable motor skills (“No, forward. Forward. Push your toes forward. FORWARD.”) and my fingers are numb by the time I get him settled. I jam my feet into my snowshoes and lift him up the two feet from our packed down paths onto the snow.
Well, sort of. He immediately trips over his snowshoes and falls on his face. I pick him up. “Keep your feet wider.” He trips again. I pick him up again. “Lift your feet straight up. Like this.” I demonstrate.
“Ooh, like marching.”
“Yes! Like marching.”
“Got it.” He does.
We head away from the house and he starts to get his groove as we cross into the woods.
“Yeah?” I beam back at him, my little outdoorsman.
“I have to go potty.”
I’m disappointed with myself for making such a rookie mistake.
We walk back down across the yard, past my daughter (“Where are you guys going? Is it my turn yet?”), and back to the house. I take off his snowshoes and wait for him to open the door. He can’t open the door. I take off my snowshoes, let him into the house, help him off with his snowsuit, then wait. He comes out of the bathroom, I put his snowsuit back on, we go outside, I put his snowshoes back on, I put my snowshoes back on, I lift him back onto the snowpack. He doesn’t trip.
We’re off! Again!
We head back up across the yard, back past my daughter (“I thought it was my turn now?!”), back into the woods.
“What are we looking for?” he asks.
“Well, I like to look for animal tracks. I saw a bunch up here the other day.” I scan the ground. He copies my intense squint. Suddenly his face lights up.
“Hey, what’s that?”
“What do you think they are?”
“Coyote tracks!” he yells. “Or maybe WOLF.” I’ve never been able to convince him that there are no wolves living in our backwoods.
“Coyote, buddy.” I say. “And yes. Want to follow them?”
“Yeah!” As we head out I hear muffled grunting behind me and realize my daughter is following us. She’s light, but not that light, and every three steps a foot breaks through the crust and she sinks in 6-12 inches. It’s quite a slog. She’s a one-kid public service announcement for snowshoes.
“You just couldn’t wait, could you?” I ask.
She grins at me. “What are you guys looking at?”
We follow the tracks for a bit, which isn’t as easy with two kids as it is by myself–“Stay out of the tracks, guys. Stay out of the tracks. I can’t see where they are going when you stomp through them like that. Walk alongside the tracks. Guys. Stay out of the tracks”–and eventually we lose them in a confusion of tangled up spruce and 16″ snowshoe imprints.
I’m looking to see if there’s any value in following them the other way when I hear. “Um, Mom? Help.”
My daughter has stumbled into the crustless snow next to a tree and managed to sink all the way down to her hips. As I watch, she tries to shift her legs, but they aren’t moving. She’s thoroughly stuck, but she’s laughing about it, so that’s something. I maneuver as close to her as my showshoes allow and try to haul her out by her hands. The angle is wrong and her boot is acting like an anchor dug into mud. I worry about pulling too hard and hurting her. I walk around behind her, slide my hands under her armpits, and lift. She slides out and we both take a second to catch our breath. Suddenly I realize we’re missing someone.
“Wait, where did he go? HELLO?”
A voice yells back from the direction of the house, “I’m going home.”
“Okay, well you need to tell me. Wait up.” I trudge after him and my daughter after me, sinking in with a groan every step. Finally she once again sinks down to mid-thigh and collapses sprawling on the snow.
“You okay, kiddo?”
“I’m fine.” She waves me off weakly. “Go on without me.”
“I’ll bring back the snowshoes.”
She lays down on the snow like a doomed character from a Jack London story and I hurry off after my son. I get the snowshoes off his feet (“Back. Back. Push your heel back. BACK.”), haul a sled out so he can do some driveway sledding, notify my husband–who is attempting to do some work on our house–that he’s now in charge of a kid, and head back up into the woods, snowshoes in hand.
She’s still sprawled out staring at the sky when I get there, but she perks up once I haul her out of the snow again and get the snowshoes onto her feet. She’s worn snowshoes before and adjusts to the odd gait quicker than her brother did.
We follow the coyote tracks the other direction for a bit until we see more intriguing ones: big hollow drags punctuated by smaller, deeper holes. The tracks are very old, windblown and obscured, but we follow them.
She asks what they are. “You know what animal this is,” I tell her. “Think. What animal is heavy enough to sink all the way down but has little feet?”
She stares blankly.
“Long thin legs?”
“Let’s follow them a bit.”
We walk alongside the tracks. I point out the deep holes. I mention the belly drag. She’s not getting it. I finally spot a hole a little less weather-worn than the others and point. “Look way down in there. What do you see?”
“Way down. Inside. At the bottom.”
She peers down in. “Hoof marks. Deer! It’s a deer.” Thank heavens.
We follow the deer trail for a while, but it starts curving too close to a neighbor’s house. We spot what looks like the tracks of a squirrel skittering from tree to tree in a clearing and go to check them out.
The sun is bright here and I finally feel like the adventure has become what I’d hoped. We stand in the clearing and listen to a faraway crow caw while the branches over our heads creak quietly in the cold. The air is fresh and clean. It’s really a perfect winter day.
“I’m bored. Let’s go home.”
You can’t win them all. I let her go ahead of me and take one last look around the snowy wonderland. As I turn to go, I neglect to march properly and my foot twists out of my snowshoe. My right leg sinks up to mid-thigh in crusty snow. Ice chunks fall down inside my boot. I stare down at my leg. I look at my daughter. I look at my leg. I sigh.
“Mom? You okay?”
“I’m fine. I’m fine. Just…go on without me.”
I lay down in the snow.
I’m fine right here. Everything’s fine. Right here.