The house door softly clicked shut behind me. I took a deep breath of the frosty night air. An inch of fresh snow lay on the deck. Shuffling my feet in the fluffy ice crystals, I looked around and saw by the yard light that more snow was falling steadily on our already white farm yard.
Smiling, I held out my arms and tipped my head back to allow the flakes tickle my face as they landed. I felt small in a big world. Inside the house behind me were my four and eight year-old children, in the barn before me was my husband waiting for my help.
In the center of the yard, I stopped to look around at the beauty of white snow and dark shadows. Not a breath of wind made the trees by the house rustle or sigh. In the silence, I held my breath to see if I could hear the large snow flakes fall. My jacket and boots were warm and cozy. As I noisily exhaled a white mist, a chugging motor turned on in the barn and a cow mooed.
My husband Arnie was in the milkhouse when I stepped into the warm, cow-scented barn. He greeted me happily from the doorway, “Are you going to throw straw down for me tonight?”
I nodded and asked, “Did you want me to throw bales of hay down, too?”
He said, “That’d be a big help.” Motioning for me to follow, he led me to the calf pen. “We have a new baby. It’s Annabelle’s.” The small animal’s black and white hair looked soft and clean. I gave him a scratch behind the ears. He stuck out his tongue and tried to suck on my fingers. His mother mooed loudly from the other end of the barn.
“I’ve finished cleaning the gutters.” Arnie said. “The cows just came back in from the feed yard. I’ll throw fresh bedding under them as you throw it down.”
I climbed up a ladder nailed to the barn wall and stepped onto the hay mow floor. Only a few anemic lights illuminated the cold upper barn. I nervously looked around at all the shadows. The place didn’t feel as friendly as it did on a warm summer day. Climbing to the straw storage area, I pulled the trap door open and grabbed a pitch fork. Before long I’d pulled out layers of golden straw and pushed it down the opening. Arnie yelled, “OK” when he had enough.
Standing above the trapdoor I’d used to climb into the mow, I yelled, “How many bales of hay do you want tonight?” Once I knew what was needed, I went to work pushing bales off the pile and dragging them over to shove them though the opening.
Once my work in the barn was done, I didn’t stop to admire the snow on my way back to the house. My children had been alone long enough. Happily, I found them sitting on the living room floor playing quietly. I said, “Put your toys away now. As soon as I’ve cleaned up, it’s bedtime for you.”
When Niki and Tammie had donned their night gowns and were tucked in the bed they shared, I sat down on the edge to read a night-time story. Since Christmas was coming soon, they only wanted to hear about the holiday. Yawning, Niki said, “I’m thirsty.”
Remembering that I had a bottle of ginger ale in the house, I thought, “The girls have been so good tonight, I’ll give them a treat.” In the kitchen I poured the ale into two glasses and plopped a couple frozen berries into each cup.
The girls sat up in bed with big smiles when they saw the festive drinks. I said, “This is a very special Christmas treat for two good little girls.”
I’ve heard young mothers wonder how to start new traditions for their own families. If they have young children, it is incredibly easy. All you have to do is let your child know that what you are doing is special. After doing it one time, it will be hard-wired in their brains as though you’ve done it forever.
One night a year later, my older daughter, now nine years old, asked, “When will we get our special Christmas drink?” When I looked at her with a confused look on my face, she prompted, “It’s a tradition.”