a wintry imagination
This December, so far, has been permeated by the spirit of winter endurance rather than Christmas. Jeff’s schedule has the frightful power to convert Saturdays and Sundays into faux weekdays. Home by myself with Esme so often, I feel the confines of our tiny apartment much more intensely. When we go to Christmas parties at the homes of friends or professors, I feel as if I’m in a royal palace– so solid, colorful, and generous are the walls, ceilings, and floors of these houses. In houses, there are sensible mud rooms for dropping off coats, scarves, and soggy shoes. The furniture is not from Ikea. There are basements for storing things.
Not so in our apartment. All who enter must tumble directly into the kitchen with their mud and slush and throw their coats and shoes where ever they may; our assemble-yourself bookshelves wobble; our closets are bricked in with storage boxes for lack of space; our improperly installed (by me) curtain rods are chewing into the patched over dry wall and have begun sagging; the bathroom grout is permanently gray from the decades of graduate families who preceded us in this seventies-built structure. I am ever-aware of each foot thudding, laundry spinning, pot banging, and how it all must sound to our downstairs neighbors, who I imagine must hate us by now.
The entire day with a toddler feels much longer when you remove playgrounds and stroller rides from the list of afternoon options. Mornings are o.k. There is coffee, there is momentum. Afternoons stretch and darken and drag.
Today was one of those endurance days. We woke up to nearly a foot of bright and beautiful snow, which prevented us from attempting the drive to church. Jeff delayed his exit much longer than usual, but eventually had to go to the library to work on an impending paper– another weekend day degraded into a travesty of a Monday. It can’t be helped.
I have been observing something interesting in Esme and how she can adapt to these winter days. She inevitably reaches a fussy, clingy point, in which it would be very tempting to put her in front of a DVD just to make a quick end to her boredom. But if I wait and let her push past it, she usually finds a way out on her own. One day she found a zippered toiletry pouch and began putting small objects in and out, in and out, for a long time. Today, she stayed occupied by climbing on and off the futon, holding a cluster of animal magnets, spreading them out, looking, picking them up again, then repeating the sequence. She was making lots of happy sounds all the while. I’m not sure what was so interesting about all of this, but I could tell by peeking in on her that she was somehow absorbed in it on the level of imagination. As small as she is, she will sometimes revert to her board books too. When this happens, I can look at her and tell that she has reached some mental plateau– her mind is plugged in somewhere, engaged and self-propelled.
Maybe this is just her personality. I know that some toddlers are simply more raucous. But there might be something basically human in this. It must be possible, however difficult, to push past the anger and languishing brought on by a winter day, and achieve meaningful engagement with the overlooked world.