“Why are you crying, mommy?” my 2-year-old called from her car seat as I blubbered on the phone about nothing specific to my husband.
“Sometimes mommies just feel sad,” I said, swabbing my snotty nose with my parka sleeve and pulling myself back together.
“Why?” Jane asked, cracking a smile.
I smiled back, but I couldn’t rightly answer. We were parked outside Trader Joe’s at 9:15 a.m. on a Monday, a working credit card in my purse ready to pay for our groceries. My three children were healthy, and although driving me crazy, nonetheless thriving. We weren’t suffering in a soggy tent in frigid temperatures like the Syrian refugees I’d been staring at all weekend in the newspaper.
In reality, I had no reason for feeling sad beyond well, SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a self-diagnosed affliction that pays me a prolonged visit each year about the time we stop having to mow our lawn. I find that when I start needing to run the furnace full time and cease being able to throw open the back door for our children to flow freely in and out of the yard, I find it hard to exercise, hard to get a good night’s sleep, hard to resist chocolate. I enjoy an occasional bright crisp winter day; it’s the long parade of cloudy, cold, windy ones I cannot bear. Even the warmer winter days, like the murky, Seattleish ones we’ve lately been having, seem to burrow me deeper into my hole. I hate night collapsing in on us at 5 o’clock in the evening and awaking in morning in the dark.
And for the past several weeks, I’ve found myself periodically heaving in tears, like Holly Hunter in “Broadcast News,” in the scenes where she unhooks her phone first thing each day for a cathartic bawl before stepping out to cover world events.
“I just don’t know when I’ll feel better,” I wailed to my husband on the phone the other morning.
“I do,” he said. “In about two or three months.”
Though I realize that many others feel as oppressed as I do this time of year, I find myself envying—and even sometimes loathing—those who don’t seem to mind or who even enjoy winter. For instance, when my neighbor called the other day for our tree guy’s number, I asked her how she’d been handling the season thus far. “I really can’t complain,” she said.
Well, I can, enough for our whole block. I get so in a slump that I can’t even appreciate the slight gifts that mother nature—or rather that global warming—tosses us. The past several days have been unseasonably mild for winter in Philadelphia, temperatures hitting the mid-50s. But even though my kids have been able to run around our yard again, I had to pick up a month-and-a-half’s worth of dog poop before they could do so and found their high spirits as they frolicked in the foggy soup hard to fathom.
“I thought the sun was supposed to come out today,” another mother observed at a park Sunday afternoon, our kids scampering about, seemingly unaffected by their soggy trousers and having to cry out to their playmates through a dank smog. The sun never did show its face that day before it was time to set again around 5 p.m.
Often when it’s so cold that we cannot remain outside for prolonged periods, we wind up at the Academy of Natural Sciences. But my husband and I find that its somber colors and bone collections compound rather than alleviate our already morbid outlook. We can only visit the Please Touch Museum so many times before risking contraction of some modern plague. So a couple of Sundays ago, we tried the Philadelphia Art Museum instead, hoping its capacious rooms and vibrant portraits would send our spirits soaring.
“I want to see that naked baby,” Jane said, tugging me toward one of the many infant Jesuses in the Renaissance gallery.
“Is that a griffin?” our 6-year-old son of the same name asked, gazing at some beast in a tapestry.
“It looks like part bear and part something with a long tail,” I said, clueless.
“Kangaroo?” Griffin's twin sister offered.
So we did get a few chuckles, despite the fact that we had to keep chiding our children to “step away from the glass” and to stop purposely dropping their metal admission tags—“kerplink!”—on the parquet floors. We even left with a free Winslow Homer poster that our twins fought over during the return minivan ride.
When we reached home, I unfurled Homer's “The Life Line,” a harrowing depiction of a man rescuing a woman from death by storm-tossed seas. “Griffin can have that,” Georgia said. But he didn't want it either. And as I sat rolling the poster back in on itself and gazing out the window at the lowering skies, the leafless trees bowing to each other in the wind, I wondered when someone was going to throw me a life line and pull me out of this tomb called winter.