We’re about to get anywhere from 18-24 inches of snow in the New York Metropolitan Area over the next two days. Have you ever noticed how snowfall is measured the same way toddlers are? It’s never two-and-a-half feet or two-and-a-half years; it’s always 19.6 inches or months or something like that. I’m sure there’s a reason why we equate snow and children mathematically, although I am not going to attempt it à la Alan Turing. I will take a creative turn at bat, though, and say that snow and children are related through the snow sled. The two go, as it were, hand in glove.
I have wonderful memories of sledding down hills and icy streets as a kid on Staten Island. We’d spend hours at it, my buddies and I, even in the dark when the threat of being plowed under by a passing car was very real. My Flexible Flyer consisted of wooden slats, rusted metal runners, and a crossbar for steering that you could turn with your hand or a rope. We’d return home spent and frozen, leaning our sleds up against the wall in the garage or the side of the house.
Once inside, we’d pretty much forget about the sled, which is why I never heard of a kid polishing the wood or greasing the runners. These weren’t surfboards and we weren’t too concerned with how we looked. I suppose when you’re all bundled up it doesn’t matter anyway.
Recently, I saw an advertisement online for a snow sled–admittedly top of the line–on sale for $430. It had been reduced by $100 and was available while supplies last, which made me think they still had a lot of them. At that price, I wasn’t surprised. But I wondered who spent that kind of money on a sled?
I got my answer not long after when I heard a radio spot for a educational program that prepared preschoolers for the rigors of kindergarten. This program promised to prepare your child for the entrance exam “and beyond.” The ad was aimed at families that had a child in 2014 and would be entering the “admissions process” in the next four years. Of course, I could have gotten that wrong. Maybe it was for kids in the 24-36 month age range. It reminded me of my oldest daughter and how the school made her repeat kindergarten, because she couldn’t draw feet, only balls and circles. The shame.
The ad also reminded me of Citizen Kane. I don’t consider myself a huge Orson Welles fan, having worked at Paul Masson Winery in California when he was the company’s pitchman and did those absurd commercials in which he claimed that Paul Masson never sold a wine “before its time” (they sold plenty after). But you don’t have to approve of the artist to appreciate the art, and I certainly count Citizen Kane as one of my favorite movies along with Harold and Maude and As Good As It Gets.
Anyway, after having clawed, scratched, and cheated his way to the top, the thing that Charles Foster Kane (Welles) remembers on his deathbed is “Rosebud.” In fact, the entire movie is a quest for Rosebud. And what is Rosebud? The sled that Kane played with as an impoverished boy in Colorado. He never forgot it, since it represented the happiest–and simplest– time of his life.
Apparently, we still haven’t learned that lesson. There’s still a need for top of the line sleds and educational programs to produce a better human being. But the lesson from Citizen Kane is that we don’t need better human beings. We need more compassionate ones. Charles Foster Kane died alone and unhappy, longing for that time when he really felt at “home.” And isn’t that what we all want–to go home?
The snow is falling already. I figure about 2.4 inches.