Joco Diversions

An clean blanket of snow is an invitation to make first steps

A boy and his dog make new tracks in the fresh snow.
A boy and his dog make new tracks in the fresh snow. Special to The Star

The latest big news I got excited about was the word that came recently about NASA safely dropping its latest robot onto Mars.

It’s a little silly to get worked up about something like that, though. I mean, if any of us around here wanted to get a good look at a desolate frozen landscape, all we had to do was open the door during that last snowstorm and start walking.

Only someone short on common sense would have actually done that, of course. And that may explain how I found myself trudging through a hard, snowy wind for more than hour during the worst of the storm alongside my 10-year-old boy and our dog.

I know that as the only adult in our foolish pack, I have to take the blame. But it’s hard to say no when a kid runs up as full of hope as he was to launch into such a ludicrous adventure while the dog is jumping around because he heard the word “walk.”

When we looked out the window and saw the empty street covered with untrodden snow, it was settled.

Someone was going to make the first footsteps out there. We figured it may as well be us.

Right away, the boy looked like he understood the thrill that Neil Armstrong must have felt laying the first track on a new frontier. I saw it as soon as he started plowing through the smooth snow just past the front door.

It was way too cold for man or beast, so after a few minutes I asked him if he was ready to turn around, even though I already knew his answer: Nope, we were just getting started.

At a little park a few blocks from the house, the boy collapsed into a deep drift. I thought that meant he’d finally had enough, but it turned out he only wanted to stop to make a kid-shaped hole in the snow.

He wouldn’t hear of turning back so soon. There was a lake just a mile farther down the road that he wanted to venture out to and the dog’s tail hadn’t stopped wagging.

At the lake we found two boys off the trail sledding down a little hill that sloped away from the water, but my kid wasn’t interested in going back for his sled to join them. It was exciting enough just to be putting down new footprints.

It’s excitement that’s contagious. A big part of what makes parenthood worth all the headache and heartache is that chance to tag along as our kids make their first excursions into uncharted territory — uncharted by them, at least.

It was a strong enough pull a couple weeks ago to have my wife, who’s rarely tempted by pastry, happily baking a giant ring of sugar and dough that we’d ordinarily never have in the house. The kid wanted to learn how to bake, and the chance to be kneading dough while watching him work his own was too good for her to pass up.

Last night the boy came to me right at his bedtime to show me that he’d finally finished two pages of math homework that had been twisting his brain into knots.

I pointed out as gently as I could that he’d gotten almost half the answers wrong and then I reminded him how to attack the problems the right way. He sat down next to me, erased lines and lines of work, and trudged forward on what was for him an unblazed trail toward a brand new skill.

This morning he ran up to me first thing with a high-five, thrilled that he’d mastered long division and turned what would have been an “F” into a solid “A” on his homework.

It seems like there would be better ways to fill an evening than slogging through fourth-grade math. But tagging along as a kid ventures into a new frontier and makes it his own? That’s about as satisfying as it gets.

Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at