One winter, a number of years ago, my parents encountered a snow squall as they were driving home from my sister’s place. Squalls weren’t uncommon at that time of year and the particular stretch of highway they were travelling was notoriously bad. One minute, things would be clear. The next, you’d be faced with blinding white chaos on the other side of the windshield.
“The snow came out of nowhere,” my mother told me. “Even your father was scared.”
This was an important point for her to make – my father’s fear – because I might not have otherwise taken her very seriously. My mother has always made a big deal about weather; in particular, the bad kind. This is a woman who watches The Weather Network as though it’s a dramatic television series. The tinny music playing over the local forecast has become the soundtrack of family gatherings. And even though she has never driven a car on the highway, that has absolutely no bearing on her authority to dictate what constitutes safe driving conditions. Since I live two hours away from her, I’m on the receiving end of this authority every time a family visit is planned.
Mind you, bad weather does happen and when it does, you won’t catch me driving. Not if I can help it. I’m not one of those “weather, what weather?” people, barreling down ice-crusted roads. I can deal with bad weather. But it’s the risk of bad weather, the worrying over it, that weighs on me.
I grew up in a family at the mercy of weather. There were some things you could challenge in life, but the weather wasn’t one of them. At the first sign of snow, we’d wave the white flag and call off plans. Sure, erring on the side of caution meant we were all safe and sound. But it also meant we were making decisions based on fear. On a lack of confidence. We considered ourselves lucky people who knew better than to push that luck. Years later, I had a thought. Hundreds of thousands of people are on the highway at any given time of day, the vast majority of whom will safely arrive at their destinations, regardless of the weather. Why were all those other drivers better than me? Why was I the one marked to die in a heap of twisted metal and broken glass? People were climbing mountains, for god’s sake; I just needed to tackle a stretch of the 401.
No doubt there are mothers everywhere telling their kids to stay home on account of the weather. But when it’s yours, you feel like the only one. I often hang up the phone feeling frustrated and powerless. Do I defy my mother and set out, knowing she’ll be on edge the entire day? Or do I give in and take the easy way out? Only it’s never really the easy way because every time I cancel a trip, it affects me. The weather – and worry – have won. Again.
I once asked my mother why she worried about weather so much.
“I don’t know,” she said. “When you’re out driving, I can’t settle out. My mind goes a mile a minute.”
“If you don’t worry,” I said, “Do you think something bad will happen?”
“I hadn’t thought of it like that,” she said. “Maybe.”
In that moment, I understood my mother’s worry. It’s her power; her talisman. In her mile-a-minute mind filled with the sounds of screams and screeching brakes, she’s protecting her children. She believes that her worry creates a force field, a glowing barricade. No harm will come to her children because worry is her insurance.
My mother, just like all mothers, knows there’s only so much she controls in this world. There are diseases. Acts of senseless violence. Car accidents happen every day. And, in spite of best efforts, children sometimes die. But if something tragic were to happen, at least my mother could say she tried to stop it; that she did her best, in her very small, human way, to prevent us from dying. And this might, in the end, provide some level of comfort. Better to have been the mother who tried to block the door than the one who threw it wide open.
My parents made it through the squall. A snow plough appeared in front of them and they followed it. My mother talks about it to this day: the suddenness of the snow, its blinding blanket, the plough materializing in the distance, its blinking lights leading them home.
“Someone was watching over us,” she’ll say.