Two year ago, my children and I read “The Long Winter,” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This book is part of the famous “Little House on the Prairie” series, and features the adventures of a family settling the American frontier in the nineteenth century. We had read all the other books in the series and were pretty used to marveling at the trials this family experienced as they settled the west – but nothing prepared me for “The Long Winter.”
In this book, the Ingalls family finds themselves stranded in a small frontier town during an exceptionally horrific winter. There are snowstorms constantly, and the snow creeps up higher than their windows. No trains can get into the area, and by February they run out of almost all their supplies. They begin to starve. They have to resort to making logs out of twisted straw to keep themselves warm and they nearly freeze to death.
So often as I read that book I would say out loud: “When will this ever end for them?” The Long Winter seemed like a never ending season of suffering for this little family.
Sometimes during this winter of 2021, I think of “The Long Winter.” Sometimes I think: “I am whining so much when I’m shut in my house and we have heat and internet and grocery delivery. What is wrong with me?” I have wished for the tenacity of Ma Ingalls, who seemed to cope better with two books to read and straw logs than I do with remote schooling and a hot tub. It’s hard not to compare our Long Winters and feel I come up short. Yet, even as I do, I remind myself: Long Winters are hard.
During Long Winters we long for the light days of spring, and despair that they may never come. During Long Winters, we feel boxed in, restrained, and isolated. During Long Winters, we feel that the hard days will never end.
Winter 2021 is not my first Long Winter. I have had two other Long Winters in my life, one in 2007 and one in 2010 – when I was pregnant with my two children.
Pregnancy was not kind to me. I had a condition called hyperemesis which made me very sick for nine months straight. Each of my babies came in the summer, so the winters of my pregnancy were the times that my illness was at its very worst.
I spent some days in hospitals. I spent some days in bed. I spent some days lying on a bathroom floor. The rest I spent lying on my couch, cut off from the world. I could so rarely go outside. I could not engage with other people. I could do few of the things I was once able to do. I felt so desperately lonely. Even in times when I was with other people, I was so not-myself that I still felt disconnected.
All of that was hard. But worst of all was wondering if it would ever end. When you’re in a Long Winter, you start to forget what spring can be like. It starts to feel like what we are living is all there is. We see only the cloudy skies, the dreary days and the shut doors.
There were so many days when I was pregnant that I would say out loud: “I don’t think I’m going to make it.” In January, I didn’t see how I could make it to February. In February, I didn’t see how I would make it to March. Most days, I didn’t see how I would get to the next week. I was so sick. The days were so long. And things never changed. I woke up feeling one day the way I had the day before. I forgot what normal felt like.
Long Winters, for whatever reason they come – be it snow storms or surgeries, pandemics or pregnancies, grief or grievances – are a lot to manage. (Sometimes, Long Winters don’t even come in the winter).
This Long Winter has also been hard. I feel isolated -again. I am tired of being stuck in my house – again. I despair that this winter will never end – again.
Which is why I need to regularly remind myself what I learned my other Long Winters:
Long Winters End.
I know it seems obvious, but it is easy to forget. No matter how hard they are, Long Winters do not last forever. One day, even the Ingalls family saw the snow melt. One day they left their house. One day they ate the Christmas dinner that finally arrived on the train for which they had waited for six months. And one day, I had my babies, and my Long Winters were over.
That is what got me through the long winters before – I knew, deep down, that the months were passing. I knew the season of pregnancy did not last forever. I knew that when summer came, things would be different.
Of course, I would not return to normal. My life would never look the same when My Long Winters of pregnancy ended. After the Long Winter, I would be a mother. I was never going back to the life I lived before. It would not be easy – but it would not be Winter.
This is what I remember now, and may you remember it, too. Spring comes. Summer comes. Things will look different on the other side. But on the other side there is also new life. It’s coming. It always does.