Surviving Winters

Yesterday was The Day Before here in Minneapolis. Our panic-mongering weather people peppered us with maps and tweets and facebook updates, warning us that OUR FIRST SNOWFALL was imminent and hooo boy is was gonna be a doozy. Reports claimed anywhere from 5 to 15 inches, and woe unto you if you had to travel ANYWHERE.

Since most of us are dyed-in-the-wool Minnesota natives, we handled it like we always do: all of us, every single person who had ears and eyes and had heard of Snowpocalypse, went grocery shopping. Me included.

I dragged myself from the couch, where I'd been perched all day watching chick-flicky rom coms (dear God I sobbed at the end of Knocked Up all over again), and headed to SuperTarget to get provisions for my ever-decreasing brood. Molly had also asked for another Dorm Room Care Package, so I figured I was killing two birds with one Red Card.

The parking lot looked like it was December 23rd instead of November 9th. Throngs of people were flowing into and out of the Bullseye Palace, looks of panic and horror worn on their faces like cheap Halloween masks. I clenched my jaw, grabbed a cart, and found my spot in the river of humanity.

Of course I hadn't bothered to make a list. I had Molly's requests lined up in my brain, a foggy deck of cards that kept slipping out of order:

Stridex pads
Reese's peanut butter cups
A mug
A measuring cup
Paper bowls  and
"other snacks because I'm freaking starving" per her text

I'd taken a quick inventory of the cupboards and fridge before leaving home, and therefore had a vague picture of what we were running low on and what we were completely out of. Since our fridge is the perfect size for a family of American Girl dolls, we never have as much as I think is necessary. The freezer is crammed tight, a Jenga-tower of meat packs and bags of veggies and maybe a giant bottle of Prairie Vodka. (hey, you don't get to judge me just because I like my martinis super cold, okay? We all handle being stuck in Minnesota our own way, folks.).

My giant red cart filled up in no time, ground turkey and beef and chicken thighs and breasts providing a thick, chilly landing pad for the buns and oatmeal and cans of soup. I moved up and down the aisles with purpose, exchanging all-knowing nods of grim acknowledgment with my fellow shoppers.

I've lived in Minnesota for 46 years. Winter, like shit, happens here with an amazing regularity. Like clockwork, almost. And yet it seems to be such an alarming affront every single year. Like, we think that maybe this will be the year it skips us. "Al Gore warned us that winters would start becoming more mild, ya know". 

I used to look forward to the first snow with glee. Childlike, innocent glee. And then, not so much. I can't pinpoint exactly when this change happened, but I know it became serious when I stopped driving a giant truck and switched to a Starkist Tuna can with Hot Wheel tires. Driving in this crap used to be a nuisance, now it has become a duel to the death between me and the roads. Where most people live, "white-knuckle driving" means you're gripping the steering wheel pretty tight. Here in Minnesota, it means the bones of your hands actually pop out because you are hopped up on cortisol and believe with every fiber of your being that death is imminent any time you drive farther than a block.

So back at Target, I finished up my shopping with a very unnatural efficiency. I didn't even stop at a single clearance end cap, or visit the Big Girl rack to see if they'd gotten any new sweater burkas in stock. No, this wasn't a time for my usual Target trip, whereupon I maybe get a coffee at Starbucks and wander aimlessly through the rows of moderately-priced semi-essentials. There was no "oh maybe I should look at throw pillows" or "gee didn't Henry mention he'd like that giant Ninja Turtle onsie pajama thing for Christmas" train of thought during this venture. No, this was all business and business-like is how I handled it. I was Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, except I had a shirt on and I wasn't vacuuming.

My cart was at capacity and my feet were getting tired so I decided that whatever I had grabbed was going to have to be enough to tide us over. I made my way to the checkout lanes and found one which wasn't 20 people long. I found out, momentarily, that the reason it was so short was because one of those super couponing cuckoos was waged in an all-out war with the teenage cashier over an expired coupon. "What the hell" I thought, and parked there, knowing that one of the uber-efficient Target managers would be over soon, keychain jingling and face set in a kind-but-firm smile/grimace ready to calm everyone down and get that lane moving. It happened just as I thought, the manager deciding to give the woman her 25 cents off and the woman giving the cashier a smug "I WON" look before finally paying and moving on her way.

I decided I would be the ray of sunshine in this poor young cashier's day, so I was pleasant and chit chatty. We discussed ADD and coupons and snow and I discovered she attends school with my son Henry and his homies. We then discussed how hard it is to be a teenager and bullying and I made a mental note to talk to Henry and his homies about being nice and not being dicks. I wanted to grab that oh so beautifully awkward girl, take her home, make her some cocoa and tell her that yes, it sucks now but someday she'll be in her 40's and none of that crap will matter...but that would have been kidnapping so instead I just smiled at her and told her "Some day all of this will be just a tiny sliver of your past, my friend. Hang in there."

So I had some tears in my eyes when I rolled my cart, now full of neatly bagged foodstuffs, out to my tuna-can car and loaded it up. I thought about how we are all so ensconced in our own bubbles of worry and fret that we forget about all of the other bubbles floating around us. It took a young Target cashier struggling with being, in her words, "a bully magnet" to not-so-gently shake me out of my fugue. Snow comes, snow melts. It's inconvenient and yes, driving in it scares the bejeesus out of me. But I imagined what it was like to be 17 again, 17 and not cookie-cutter cute or a jock or one of the cool smart chicks. I remembered what it was like, and as I drove home, enjoying what was most likely my last non-white-knuckle drive for a while, I said a little prayer for that Target cashier and for all the other kids like her. I prayed that her winter, that cold, awful season some of us call high school, would pass quickly and painlessly and that she'd soon be looking back at it with a sigh of relief and a new-found appreciation of spring.

Also, I forgot Molly's Stridex pads. So I'll be heading out again today. Knuckles, armed and ready. I think I can handle this.


  1. You have a strong sense of compassion for teens that only comes from having teens of your own. I can relate, and empathize with the cashier. By the way, in New Jersey, it is no different. It snows here every year, some years more than others, but the way people react it's like they will never see the light of day again!

  2. I love this post so super much. It really reminds me to try to get out of my bubble, too.

    Your snow day preparation sounds pretty much exactly like our Hurricane day preparation. Every Halloween we all get drunk in celebration that we made it through another damn Hurricane season. We get drunk when Hurricanes are coming, too. I guess we just get drunk all the time. Whatevs.

  3. This is so great, I love this post! Very entertaining and I'm so glad you're back in full form.

  4. Yes, the bubbles.
    Again, such a lovely post, so evocative.

    And goodness, super target? It sounds like heaven!

  5. I know that feeling of heading out the day before the storm - which is why I am in Arizona right now - but heading back to the NE soon! (boo!)! Just be sure to stay safe! And you most definitely would make an awesome teacher with the kindness & compassion you showed that cashier! Way to go, girlfriend! (high five!)

  6. I love every post you write. Seriously, why are we surprised by the snow every year? EVERY FREAKING YEAR!? I know I am. I have spent the entire week hoping it will melt so I can stop wearing my snow boots. I seem to be in some kind of deep denial. I did not get to target before the snow, only the day after when kids' boots were mostly GONE. (The boys' ones at least.)

    You are so sweet to think about kidnapping that nice girl. ;)

  7. Pittsburghers act the same way - as though winter really should skip us this year. I'm from northern Michigan and I love winter, but here nobody dresses for it or really prepares and then it's all complain, complain, complain. But really, I wanted to say what a lovely post - I had tears in my eyes near the end. I was one of the freaks who actually enjoyed high school and it is awful how much of a struggle that time of life can be for some people. Of course, my mid-thirties are knocking me for a loop, so...

  8. This sounds all too familiar! I'm so glad the snow wasn't as bad as predicted (at least where I am, not sure where you are). The first forecast of snow always cracks me up - everyone freaks out like they've never lived through a MN winter before.

  9. Totally off topic-ish. I had no clue that Minnesotans had accents. Then I saw a movie (with Reese Witherspoon in it, I think?) set in Minnesota. There was definitely winter. And the people who lived there had accents. As in, "Minna-SEEUW-ta." It threw me. So, you learn something new every day. I thought the South had the corner on accents.

    But yes, your post does help us remember those years of a certain kind of struggle, one that perhaps strengthened and enlightened us so that when it was replaced with new and different struggles, we knew we could meet them, too. I love that line in the Ya Ya Sisterhood about how it's not what we own or accomplish, but "how tender we can bear to be with each other." Wishing you, and all your readers, warmth. I promise to spread warmth around where I am. Let's all do.

  10. Very interesting post.. thanks for sharing!

    My kids love the snow, but I can only handle just a little bit of it.


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