Faith Gong: On February, and the search for home

After a fairly lackluster winter, we had our first big snowstorm yesterday.

Today, the world beyond my windows is gorgeous. Because the snow was preceded by ice, the tree branches bend low and glitter in the sunlight as if they’re encased in glass. Temperatures have yet to rise above freezing, so the snow still lies heavy on the evergreens. I’m unsure of the total accumulation – I’d estimate somewhere between 8 to 12 inches – but the fields are blanketed white, and the remaining hay bales in our neighbor’s field look like marshmallows tipped on their sides. The sun came out today, in a bright blue sky broken by puffy white clouds. To step outside is to experience “the white way of delight,” as my daughters say, quoting from Anne of Green Gables.

Last week, my eldest daughter asked me to send her to boarding school in Florida.

She was joking, I think. But then again, it’s February. Apparently it’s not easy to be a Vermont kid in February.

Her sisters, my three younger daughters, handle late winter somewhat better. They are birders, tree climbers, pond splashers, adventurers unburdened as yet with 12-year-old concerns like getting their shoes mussed.

All the same, they will tell you that they long for summer. Reminding them that by late summer they were pining for winter does little to change their perspective.

They will tell you that they’re bored. Reminding them that they live in a house full of books and games with a wide winter wonderland just outside their door does nothing to placate them at four o’clock in the afternoon.

They will request a snow day from school immediately upon spotting the first flakes of snow. Reminding them that they’re homeschooled, and thus every day is essentially a snow day for them falls on deaf ears. (After nearly five years of homeschooling, they’ve only just stopped requesting recess.)

“I hate winter!” they take turns moaning. “It should become spring right after Christmas!”

Our son is the only one who doesn’t complain about the seasons; he’s three months old.

“I just want to go somewhere! I want to do something!” complains our eldest daughter. “I want to travel!”

I remember being her. When I was growing up, my parents told me that every morning my first words were: “What are we going to DO today? Where are we going to GO?” I recall the burning desire to go somewhere – anywhere that wasn’t home. Then again, I was an only child, and the gorgeous snowfalls that occur regularly in Vermont were a rarity in my Virginia hometown.

“Do you ever miss Virginia?” a friend asked me recently.

My immediate response was, “No, never.”

This isn’t meant to demean my very happy childhood, it’s simply that Virginia as a place seemed to have very little to do with that childhood. I never felt like I was actually from Virginia. I wasn’t born there, and neither were my parents; we were there, like most of my friends’ families, because of a job. We lived in a large suburb that was aesthetically unremarkable, unless your taste runs to neat housing developments. Virginia never struck me as anything other than a place to grow up until I went away to college.

Between Virginia and Vermont I lived in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and California. I traveled, too: Europe and Africa, the South Pacific and Russia.

And here’s what I want to tell my daughters: Wherever you go, February is hard. Virginia Februarys are bleak, too, just with less snow. In New York City, I’d be so Vitamin D deficient and blue by March that my husband and I took to finding cheap flights so that we could spend a few days in Florida each year. Even in sunny California, February and March are the rainy season, when we’d watch sheets of water pour from the sky and flood the street outside our house – much less fun than snow. Even in the Southern Hemisphere, where February is summer, I’m certain that there’s some season that’s the equivalent of February.

It wasn’t until we moved to Vermont that I felt a sense of home. After Vermont, I stopped asking where I was going to go and what I was going to do; instead, I took pride in my green license plates and my response when people asked where I lived. At the moment, I have no desire to travel. This could be due to the difficulty of getting anywhere from Vermont, or the further difficulty of getting anywhere with five children in tow and numerous animals back at home.

But I think there’s an additional explanation: I think that with age and experience, if we’re fortunate, we can begin to take a quiet joy in the place where we’ve landed. I am learning to be content in the quiet march of the days, to find beauty in the familiarity of our house and land, and to appreciate each season as it comes – from the warm glow of summer evenings to the frozen jewelbox of February.

I hope that my children will get to travel someday. But even more, I hope that they will find a place — whether it’s Vermont or elsewhere (okay, preferably Vermont) — where they feel truly at home. It’s a great gift to be satisfied right where you are, to feel the desire to set down roots, to be content to watch the seasons change outside your windows (including February).

I’m not sure that many parents wish this sort of rootedness for their children. Our cultural values seem to favor restless striving, the endless search for “something more.” I defy you to find a single Disney heroine or protagonist of children’s literature who’s happy where they are. That’s because feeling settled and satisfied doesn’t usually make for a good story — but it does make for a happy life.

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, five children, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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