These are the rules stated in the Snowman Manual:
1) The snowman must possess a nose, absolutely one made of carrot.
2) The snowman must possess eyes, charcoal is the nonnegotiable choice.
3) The snowman must possess a hat, one belonging to your mama or papa ideally.
4) The snowman must possess arms. Sticks, of any size and with many small branches.
Here’s the thing, though. I’ve never seen a snowman manual. I’m not convinced a snowman manual even exists!…and still, somehow, someway, this child of mine, who was born into an immediate family who unconsciously downplays all things traditional, including the practice of making snowmen on warmish winter days, has a very precise and fiercely accurate knowledge of these regulations.
Friday was one such warmish winter day. The sun was a balm on all it touched. We hearty, northern folk could be seen outside without coats, mittens and in my case, toward early evening, on a walk without pants over my long underwear. (Long underwear are a habit upon getting out of bed. A warm day simply means you don’t have to put jeans over the top!) The wood stove loafed lazily in its corner, offering a few BTU’s here and there but generally enjoying not having to earn its keep. And Sparrow, apparently armed at birth with the knowledge of all things snowman, made the connection in her brilliant three year old mind that all that sun streaming in through the window meant the snow would be ripe for the making.
“It’s the right weather, mama,” she said over her quickly disappearing bowl of oatmeal garnished with coconut oil, maple syrup and cream. “The right weather for what, Sparrow?” replied I, shoveling poached egg and toast into my mouth before she could finish her breakfast and start eyeing mine, as she usually does. “For making snowmens of course!”
Of course. Of course she knew that. Who teaches her these things? What e-course did she take while in my womb? Does the Creator, upon conception, whisper into the forming ear buds of every fetus: “You are My beloved, My heart, My joy. Oh, and warmish winter days are great for making snowmen.”
At any length, I couldn’t argue and so, breakfast complete, we prepared to embark on Sparrow’s first snowman-making adventure. She had incredibly high hopes. She had it planned down to the letter, the letter of the law, apparently. And she spared no detail in her description of what and how this would all go down. By the time her coat was zipped, I had been briefed in the exact itinerary of the activity at hand. She was the girl with all the instructions and I was the girl crawling around the snow in off-white long underwear, rolling giant balls to their designated locations.
We made a mama, a papa, a sister, three baby brothers of varying ages, a grandpa and a really tiny grandma.
All was going accordingly until I came back from my carrot errand with shriveled and rather small carrots, the very last of the fall’s harvest. I was feeling quite smug and proud that even these almost-moldy carrots had a purpose and were about to be used up–No waste in this family! But she was mostly annoyed. And to top it off, I only had four carrots while she had eight nose-less snowmen.
This is when I had to start forcing her to bend the rules. This is when her idyllic snowman-making adventure began to slip from her grasp, becoming less and less a reality with each emphatic statement from me that indeed, we had no more carrots. And this is when she began to rise to the changing occasion.
We settled on kumquats. And, admitted by her after the fact, they were really quite perfect.
The eyes were next on the agenda. She knew exactly where the charcoal was and retrieved it without discussion. We lost a few heads in attempts to implant the eyes but that was easily repaired. Sadly, though, the impossibly small faces mentioned above were never meant to contain two lumpy pieces of charcoal. We tried but the ratio of head size to eye size was not lining up. When I produced turtle beans from the house, two for each eye, her sigh of disappointment lasted only a fraction of a second. Had it been cold enough, the puff of her breath seen hanging in the air would have dissipated almost as quickly as it was formed. She was okay with it, she was even good with it. She even joked and said “Its better than green dog treats, right mama?”
To follow, as all you snowmen experts know, came the arms. Now, Sparrow, in all her infinite wisdom, has no concept of proportions (as evidenced by the large-eye/small-head scenario) and picked the largest, gnarliest tree limbs for arms. She even attempted a deer antler for one and was, understandly, quite upset when the weight of the horn pulled the snowman’s body right over. The other problem with large sticks-for-arms is that the large poop-for-brains hound dog we pal around with believes all sticks in the great outdoors are his. Upon grabbing a stick and taking off through the yard, he did not realize he was dismembering a snow creature. Sparrow did, of course, and she let him know it. But then, when he’s got stick-in-mouth, he doesn’t listen to her or me, for that matter so we lost arm after arm, fast as we could replace them until we finally gave up. Three of the snowmen had intact arms and that was good enough for the unflappable Sparrow Grace.
And last, the hats. Well, I got the giant parent fail award for that one. I could only produce ONE hat. In all my years of collected winter gear, we’re down to one extra hat. Just one. She gave it to the papa and slowly patted the other heads with her mittened hand. “You’ll be okay, its warm today,” she said. Bless her flexible little heart.
Back inside, while eating buttered toast dipped in hot chocolate (one of the rare, winter activity traditions I absolutely hold in high regard), she spoke about her snowmen. She got down from her chair frequently to peer out the door at the rag-tag family settling into their new home in our yard. She reviewed the details of the process, remarking how well it had all turned out. We had accomplished the task at hand and she had endured a lesson in rolling with the punches. I truly believe if there had been a manual, she would have tossed it in the fire of the barely-breathing wood stove and said something like, “We don’t need no stinking manual!”
I was one proud mama in that moment, staring at my chocolate covered daughter. I was so proud of her for making the best of what she had, for turning kumquats into perky little noses and turtle beans into deep, striking eyes, so to speak. She had made right by what she had been given and she had stood by those incredibly awkward, less than beautiful snowmen and grinned like a fool. She talked to them like they were prized and perfect. She kissed each one and told them they were beautiful. Because they were.
It is one thing to take what you have and make do. It is an entirely different, more difficult but altogether more stunning thing to take what you have and make beautiful.
And, of course, every day, every time, every less-than-perfect scenario life presents to us, the choice is ours. Lucky us.