There is a sign on my front door—a very pretty sign, with blue glass that catches the winter light—that says Let It Snow. This sign is not on my door because I love snow—though I do think it’s beautiful, though it is fun to play in, when the mood is right. No, this sign is on my door as a reminder: I bought it when I lived in a place that felt foreign, a place where it might snow from late October until early June, a place where snow doesn’t melt easily. I lived in this place—Johnstown, Pennsylvania—during a period in my life in which I felt very limited. My parameters were defined by the bodies of my children, my boundaries etched in snow and cold. Had I been from this area—or one like it—I would no doubt have taken the snow in stride. This, as a southerner, is how I take heat. But months of cold spoke to me differently. Stop, the snow and ice said. Don’t expand your boundaries. So I didn’t.
Why, then, did I buy a sign inviting snow? Did I buy it in despair and defeat, as a final concession to circumstance? Or did I buy it after moving away, as a last laugh? No, and no.
I bought it in recognition: here, for now and maybe ever, was home. I had chosen to live here in support of my husband’s career, and though I didn’t like the cold and snow, I loved the friends I’d made, and I loved my home. It was a good place to raise children, and I had many blessings. So I made my peace with where we were, with the consequences of my choice that I couldn’t control. Let It Snow.
Shortly after I bought that sign, my husband got a new job, and we moved to Virginia—the state where we’d met. The place I’d always called home, no matter how many others I’d given the name. And on my winter door in Virginia hangs my sign. Let It Snow.
What does it mean now?
Snow is not plentiful here, and it melts easily. But when ice and snow and cold arrive, they create a deadlock. Unlike in Pennsylvania, where schools stay open in most weather because the state and its drivers take snow in stride, schools in my town close at the first whiff of snow. There are days, now—sometimes stretching into weeks—when I am snowbound with very little snow, my children with me as I write and read and cook and clean and answer questions and mediate arguments and find lost objects, as they were when they were very small. In the years that have passed between then and now, I have immersed myself in the study of women’s lives. I’ve placed my own life in the context of others—both past and present—and understood that what women need (what I need) is to expand boundaries. To say yes to more, and no to more, in the right measure.
And yet, still there is snow. There are days of cancelled school in which we (the mothers in my generation) balance work and home and home and work, asking ourselves, asking each other: Where is the line? Have I crossed it? I was just expanding my boundaries—should I stop? And if I do, what will that mean—for me, for my children? I’ve already expanded my boundaries, and I’m not going to stop—so how are we going to handle the necessity of our days? What will it mean—for me, for my children?
At the core of these questions, for me—five years ago and now—is power. What power do I have over my own life, my own circumstances, when a combination of motherhood and weather can whittle at my plans so effectively that I might as well not make any? Add this question—which is insidious, unconscious—to the other dilemmas of power that all people face (health, finances, security and insecurity—life is always a balance of what we can control and what we cannot) and to the dilemmas of power that are specific to women in America at this moment in time (our bodies perpetually on display and under scrutiny, our work lives and home lives and sex lives examined in political speeches and toyed with in movies) and what do you get?
A sense that motherhood is a neverending game of Mother-May-I in which our kids’ lives can call “Red Light!” just when we were ready to take off. An unconscious conclusion, just below the surface of juggling schedules and rearranging plans and sacrificing haircuts or exercise or date nights or important meetings, that we just might not be getting anywhere at all, no matter how hard we’re trying. And the foundation to that feeling is this: empowerment only holds as much power as circumstance allows.
Ah, but then there is this: Let It Snow.
The sign on my door was never a concession, never a statement of defeat. It was a willing surrender to what I cannot control, and a promise to myself: I won’t stop, and I won’t wait on circumstance. This promise has expanded, and continues to expand, like asphalt in heat—it is flexible, inevitable. It allows me to find power even when I think I’ve lost it to circumstance—to put my fingers on its pulse and say, there it is. Nothing—and no one—else claims it.
Imagine if every mother—despite the national spotlight on what our boundaries of power should be—was able to find that inner power. Imagine it pulsing beneath our fingers, and imagine the peace it would bring. Then imagine the expanded boundaries—for ourselves and our children.
Here’s my favorite part of this lesson I keep learning, through years of weather and sickness and growth and frustration and love: I didn’t realize, when I bought the sign, that I was promising myself expanded boundaries.
I thought I was just coming to terms with circumstance.