Yesterday the flakes were falling. The hipster teen in his hipster shoes created his hipster version of sledding while standing up. Ethan and a neighborhood soccer buddy were giggling as they attempted to launch Matchbox cars down the driveway. Mark was clicking away at his computer. I had some pop music, a Diet Coke, hand-picked storm recipes and a kitchen full of ingredients.

It was an obnoxiously perfect day, and one that I had been hoping for all week. Since Mark moved back to DC a year and a half ago, I have obsessively checked the Capital Weather Gang in the winter, wishing for one snow-in. One weekend where the whole family plays board games, builds snowmen, constructs Legos and eats enough food to begin our bear-like winter fat storage.

Or I mostly I want to have countless days where everyone has to listen to me talk with no escape route. Suckers.

I wasn’t always like this. Rewind to December 2009. A snowstorm was headed toward DC. As the forecast got clearer and the snowfall estimates got higher, my angst reached epic, on fleek, no bae for days, teen levels.

To keep the story short, here was the breakdown of December 19:

  • Number of people: One 28-year-old woman. One 2-year-old boy.
  • Days lived alone since physical separation: 49
  • Rooms in my condo: 2
  • Number of new neighbors I had met: 0
  • Quantity of Diet Coke: An entire refrigerator shelf full, but decreasing at rates faster than the speed of light.
  • Number of flashlights: One small “Cars” themed light (Hey, it could make cool Lightening McQueen shadows on the wall.)
  • Inches of snow: About 17
  • Number of parking spots that needed to be shoveled: 2
  • Number of floors between my condo and the parking spots: 3
  • Chances I could leave boy alone while shoveling: 0
  • Size of my arm muscles: So miniscule that the measurements can’t even pick up a number
  • Amount of power: 0
  • Measurement of sanity on a scale of 1 to 10 after days of being stuck indoors with aforementioned 2-year-old: -22

Basically it was every unathletic extrovert’s nightmare.

I honestly don’t remember much about that long, long weekend. I know I had a shelf of children’s books that took five minutes to read through. There was no TV, although the lack of Dora the Explorer was admittedly not my top concern. My cell phone died. My friends were just a touch too far. And Ethan at 2 didn’t appear to want to have a debate with me about world news. Under-freaking-achiever.

I do remember staring out at the snow, trying to figure out what to do with Ethan while I had to shovel. With three floors between my condo and my spots, I knew I couldn’t leave him alone for that long. The knives were just a touch too accessible. But I also knew I had about 10 minutes before his hands would be too cold and he’d want to go inside. Maybe I’d make a game out of this! Who can make the biggest pile? Ethan with his dustpan, me with my shovel. Yeah, that didn’t work.

I got one shovel full of snow as Ethan lost his first glove. “It’s cold!” I put the glove back on. I turned back to my shovel. The second glove came off. The first glove came off again as I put the first glove on. This was not the game I had in mind. By now, I had decided that I was going to die in the snow with tiny gloves in hand, but not on a hand.

Then a neighbor that I’d never spoken to came outside. “Hey, why don’t you go play with your son? I’ll shovel you out. I’m from Connecticut. This is easy.” Was that a halo I see over your head?

Somewhere in the middle of his shoveling, my ex wandered from his nearby townhouse to help shovel. It was my first snowstorm alone, and while I knew he was coming from a place of genuine kindness, I won’t lie, to be able to say I don’t need your help, was huge. I didn’t need it. I didn’t want it. I can figure this out on my own. I am fine. Maybe I was saying it more for myself than to Adam.

As my ex walked back, I went back to playing with Ethan. We threw snowballs and made snow angels. We had 10 solid minutes of snowy bliss. Then Ethan said his hands were too cold, so we left my neighbor to the shoveling.

There were two more big storms that winter, and each time I’d wake up to two perfectly shoveled spots. In the years to come, my neighbor moved, but by then, I knew I could manage it on my own. In those early days of separation, I learned quite a bit about myself. I learned how to be alone and not just in a snowstorm. I learned that figuring out how to do things on your own didn’t mean having to do it yourself. I later learned to accept Adam’s kindness, that it wasn’t a sign of weakness. I did not, however, ever learn how to keep gloves on a kid.