Saturday we decided to take the kids to the “snowy mountain.” We would snowshoe, pulling the kids in a sled and stop periodically to build snowmen, have snowball fights, look for reindeer and so on. It seems that there have been excessive deaths in the Oregon snow this season, so it’s hard to contemplate a trip like that without thinking about the tragedies of James Kim, the three climbers that were lost last month and never found or the skier who was ran into by a snowboarder and left to die (a snowboarder somewhere is having a Dostoyevsky experience – no one knows who it was because he/she didn’t stop).
So my husband is always drilling me about survival science (because he digs that sort of thing), “If you’re lost in the cold, you always go downhill, if you see a road, you always follow the road… downhill!”
(Sometimes I bother to point out that I would never, ever, ever be anywhere near snow if he hadn’t dragged me there. Never. But anyway... it's good to be prepared and have knowledge just in case.)
And he was gathering everything we would need should we get stranded. He looks so strong and cute and manly when he’s doing that, I was just about ready to put the kids in front of the TV and take him back to bed, when he came in from the garage with a camouflage backpack. “What the hell is that thing?!” I asked.
“The pack for our survival gear,” he said, and then sensing my disgust he added, “I can’t find another one right now. Are you too good to be seen with it or what?”
And, yes, I think I am actually, but I said, “No… it’s fine I guess, but seeing you with that thing does not make me want to rip your clothes off… you know, FYI.”
But he knows that already – we’ve been married a long time. He knows that I suffer from an irrational fear that my cute, smart husband could just suddenly turn into something out of Deliverance by even touching anything camouflage.
I should have known the day would be interesting when as we pulled out of the driveway the “check engine” light came on in the van, like an angel warning, “Don’t go! Don’t go!” But my husband checked everything and said he couldn’t find anything wrong with the van except that the light was on. “I’m willing to go anyway, if you are,” he said.
(This is funny to me because I often drive the car all over and then later say, “Yeah, it was doing this weird thing the whole day and blah blah blah…” and he’s always annoyed that I ignore things that are wrong with the car, potentially making them worse in the process. He usually calls it a dumb thing to do – I call it having a “can do” attitude. But I digress.)
“Okay,” I said, “but if we get stranded it’s going to be biting cold.”
(For those who are alarmed, we were only traveling an hour from home and no part of the drive is very far from civilization.)
“If we go, you have to be on board with it, because if we get stranded I’m not going to have you all pissed off at me for making us go,” he said.
And I thought to myself, the worst case scenario is the kids and I are stuck hanging out in the van eating peanuts and Hershey bars with the heat going full blast while my husband freezes his ass off taking care of things, so if he wants to go, why not?
And off we went. We’re so adventurous… or maybe stupid… whichever.
But we made it to the mountain. We bundled everyone up, put on our snowshoes and started up the hill. After about three-quarters of a mile, the Little One started crying, whining, crabbing and so forth. But to be honest, he’s kind of a whiner generally, so I didn’t think much of it. Finally, my husband said, “Let’s just stop here and let J play and then we should go back, because the Little One is miserable.”
So as we were playing with J, the Little One bawled and bawled, and I thought maybe he could use a nap or a snack (because he’s very much a “get’s cranky when he hasn’t eaten in a while” type), so he laid down in the sled and then he ate some peanuts. Finally, my husband looked alarmed and said, “I think we need to get him out of here, being willing to just lay down and give up is a symptom of hypothermia.”
At this point I thought it was just typical 3-year-old crabbiness and tiredness, but we entertained the idea that he could be too cold and then decided there was no way that could be it. He was wearing socks, waterproof lined boots, fleece pants under water-proof pants, a long sleeve t-shirt, under a sweatshirt, under a big winter coat, snow mittens, a snug hat, under a sweatshirt hood, under a winter coat hood, how could he not be warm enough? Besides we felt his neck and his body was very warm.
But we started back down the mountain anyway, because when Little One is crabby, Mama gets crabby too. Little One cried and cried and then he made a movement that indicated his coordination was off, and suddenly I looked at him and it just hit me, something is really wrong. I didn’t know what it was, but I became frightened.
So I told my husband (who is faster and stronger than me) to sit with him on the sled in order to haul ass down the mountain, run pulling the sled when on flat ground and just get Little One to the van as fast as he could so we could figure out what’s the matter. As he did that I continued to meander down with J (who is a snowy mountaineer).
When I got to the van my husband had already discovered that the Little One was freezing (literally) from his knees to his toes, as well as his hands. I sent my husband out to play with J while I snuggled the Little One into me with the heat blowing on us and used all of my body heat to warm up his feet and legs, all the while praying that God wouldn’t punish my baby for my stupidity.
It took a full half hour for his body temperature to go back to normal – a very long half hour. And then in retrospect my husband and I determined how he could have gotten so cold despite how warm we thought we’d dressed him. He napped on me for an hour or so, warmed up and then ate dinner like he hadn’t eaten in a week. When we came home he was his normal rambunctious self, and I tucked him into bed, apologizing for letting him get too cold, and promised I would make sure he was warm enough next time we went to the snowy mountain. He forgave me I think.
But later that night when he was sleeping I had an overwhelming urge to just bundle him up, hold him close to me and keep him warm. I lamented to my husband that we’d been negligent and that my tendency to assume he’s just being a complainer almost killed him. And my husband promised that we weren’t negligent, that we’d simply made a mistake and hurried to correct it as soon as we realized. But the vision of my baby nearly freezing to death (even if it was due to an error in judgment rather than negligence) will haunt me forever. And I thank God today that we're not another tragic statistic this season.