A winter walk through Astoria Park

I was taking my dog for a walk through the park last weekend. There was still a ton of snow on the ground, snow that’s become a fixture in my head of what I think of when I imagine the outside world. It hadn’t even snowed in like a week, but there was still so much. Even if it were warm out starting today, and I guarantee there’d still be piles of it everywhere, snow that’s fallen, partially melted, frozen, remelted, all resulting in these giant piles of weird sno-cone like slush.

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I kind of got used to seeing the snow mostly confined to the huge piles alongside the sides of the streets. But here in the park it was everywhere. None of the paved paths had been cleared off, and so I kept dancing this way and that, hopping from clean piece of ground to the next, regretting my decision to wear sneakers instead of snow boots.

This winter has been a cold one, and even though I tell myself that I like being outside during the winter, that I enjoy the brisk temperature, I’ve definitely recoiled somewhat. There haven’t been as many outdoor runs as there were last year. And just looking out across Astoria Park, it was giving me the same feeling that I got as a little kid after returning home from a weeklong vacation, everything was familiar, but oddly out of place. It became obvious that feeling that I hadn’t been here in a while.

As I walked along one of the paths, I came across these two parents and their very small children. There was a stroller to the side, so clearly they hadn’t made the little kids walk all the way here. But they were all crouched down around a somewhat clean pile of snow. The little kids had plastic buckets and shovels and it was hard to really describe what they were doing. Is that how little kids play? They just kind of shovel stuff and dump it into buckets?

The whole scene struck as me as crazy, but in a cool way. Like I couldn’t even get myself outside much this winter. But these parents had two kids. That’s got to be a lot more difficult than just forcing yourself to leave the house. You’ve got to get their coats and their boots and make sure that they both go to the bathroom before they leave. And this one kid, the younger one, he definitely had to have been in diapers. What if he decided to pee? Would you have to change him right there in the freezing cold? Or would the diaper freeze against his skin?

And then I’m picturing myself, if I had kids, I’d be standing and watching them just playing with the granular snow. Would I be bored? I mean, I never just go outside and play in the snow. And while there’s that idea that it would be nice to get in touch with my inner child, to go out there and get dirty and make snow castles or whatever, I can’t really see it happening. I’d much rather stay inside on the Internet. But maybe if you have your own kids you like watching them enjoy it, I don’t know.

But then I saw the daughter, she had her bucket overflowing with snow, she threw down the shovel and she grabbed the bucket with both hands. She opened her mouth and slowly brought the bucket up. The mom stopped it from happening, she put her hands on top of the bucket and said, “No. Don’t lick it. OK. No. Don’t.” And the girl put the bucket down and her mom backed off. And then two seconds later that little girl was back at it, she brought it up faster this time, hoping to avoid her mom from stopping her. But no, adults are always faster than little kids, and so I heard that voice as we walked past the family outing now receding in view, “No, honey, don’t eat the snow. OK. We don’t eat the snow. Honey. Baby. OK? No.”

I’m just left with the sounds and images of this world totally foreign to me. What if I have kids and I’m not paying attention and they eat something gross off of the floor? I’ll take them to the hospital after days of violent illness, the doctor will be like, “Did junior here eat anything funny?” And I’ll be like, “Uh … I don’t know.” And the doctor will be like, “Well, it looks like a fair amount of dirt has been ingested. I’ll treat the child while you have a conversation with the social worker about negligence.”

How did we get this far as a species? Why do little kids want to put stuff in their mouths? When is all of this snow going to melt?

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