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The Mother Lode: Surviving the squall

February 6, 2019

OK, so what the heck is a squall?

Merriam-Webster breaks it down like this: \ ˈskwȯl \

intransitive verb: to cry out raucously: SCREAM

transitive verb: to utter in a strident voice

squall noun: (1) a raucous cry

squall noun (2) 1: a sudden violent wind often with rain or snow 2: a short-lived commotion

Which bring me to last Wednesday.

Public schools in Greenwich had one of those mysterious Professional Learning and Development Days, which basically means one thing to me: no school. My 7-year-old son George and 9-year-old daughter Selma attend Parkway School, and the PTA set up a day of skiing at Thunder Ridge Ski Area to help counter mid-winter iPad addiction.

My 10-year-old son Louie attends the Southport School, which (of course) has a completely different schedule than Parkway. I awoke at 6 a.m. to drive Louie to school and then raced back to pack up our ski gear. My husband, Ian, would pick up Louie, and I would take Selma and George skiing. No Professional Learning and Development Day would defeat our family! We had a plan.

Extricating two children from the house with bags of ski gear is not for the faint of heart. But after a not-so-short-lived commotion, we got into the car, while the kids let out “raucous” cries as well as “screams” and “violence.”

We were already two hours late.

“Where are you guys? Charlie has been waiting for George all morning,” my son’s best friend texted.

“Coming,” I spoke into my phone, using the voice-to-text function. “Do you hope for an X-ray helmet?” (which was supposed to read “Do you happen to have an extra helmet?”)

“Mom, you realize the only reason Charlie wants to ski with George is to show him how much better he is,” Selma scoffed.

“He is NOT better than me,” George screamed from the back seat. George proving he was better at anything physical usually means one thing: a visit to the emergency room.

We got to Thunder Ridge in 45 minutes, which was pretty good timing. I was feeling on top of my game. I had cleared my work schedule, we were skiing midweek, no iPads in sight: I was THAT mom.

We trundled up the steps from the parking lot with all our gear when I got a call from Louie’s school back in Southport.

“Claire, I wanted to make sure you knew that we just called a half-day,” Louie’s adviser informed me.

I dropped the ski gear.

“Why?!” I hollered into the phone.

“There’s supposed to be a squall,” he responded calmly.

“A WHAT?!” I answered incredulously.

“MOM, my ski boots are too tight!” George screamed raucously.

Another Parkway Mom locked eyes with me in sympathy.

“My son’s school just called a half-day,” I told her in a state of shock.

“Yeah there’s a squall coming. We are going to race home at three to avoid the whiteout,” she said.

Was this some kind of Squall Conspiracy? Why did everyone know about this except me?

George trotted off to the ski lift with Charlie as I wrestled with Selma’s ski boot, all the while panic-dialing sitters to pick up Louie. I found one who could drop Louie off at our house but couldn’t stay. That meant Louie would be home alone until Ian got home from New York.

Louie is almost 11, and Ian was coming back early. But this was a first.

“You will be fine,” I assured Louie on the phone.

But I was not fine. One disaster barely averted, and my cortisol levels were rising. Now we had the squall to deal with.

I barged into the ski lodge like some kind of Maternal Yeti and grabbed the first person I saw from Parkway.

“TELL ME about this squall,” I demanded.

“Sam just helped himself to something called Dipping Dots from the cafeteria,” my friend Angelica shot back in her British accent. “What are Dipping Dots? And what the hell is a squall?”

Thank God for Angelica.

We got the Dipping Dots under control and caucused with other parents in the lodge. Everyone was confused about the squall; I mean the sky was bright blue! And what exactly was a squall and why did we equate the word with pirates?

And then I got the text from Ian. “Can’t get home, there is a squall” it read.

Minutes later Louie called.

“Mom the stove is making funny sounds and there are flames coming out of it. I sent you a video on Instagram,” he informed me, in a suspiciously calm tone of voice.

Unaware you could send videos on Instagram, I freaked out and called three neighbors, none of whom were home. I started to call Louie back.

“Mom! I just saw George dangling from the ski lift,” Selma hollered as she burst into the ski lodge. Dangling.

Please keep in mind, we had arrived less than an hour ago.

What followed is hard to describe. Imagine a woman with no gloves, snow pants meant for an 8-year-old on a chair lift while analyzing an Instagram video with her 10-year-old son on speaker phone.

Then the sky started to darken. The squall.

We did end up surviving. We pulled over on 684 and watched as an apocalyptic whiteout squall passed over us in a mere 20 minutes. And then, like some kind of miracle, there was sun.

And there I sat, exhausted and full of wonder. What just happened here? Sudden commotion, violent storm out of nowhere, raucous crying, strident uttering and screaming? I can tell you exactly what a squall is. It’s parenthood.

So embrace the squall, folks. Remember how quickly it comes upon you and how suddenly it can end.

And eat Dipping Dots; they help.

Claire Tisne Haft is a former publishing and film executive, raising her family in Greenwich while working on a freelance basis on books and films.

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