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The Young One
by Andrew L. McFarlane

On Christmas Eve our second child, James Ferguson McFarlane, entered the world.

He was two weeks late, born at home and right after his first cry his mother looked at me and said: "Never again".

That story is probably material for another piece.

His joining of the family has changed things, turning our comfortable family triad into a strange and (at times) difficult foursome. At the dawn of this new year, my thoughts turn to how we long for the new and then oftentimes, when it finally comes, wish for the old.

I look out upon the brown and green carpet of this strange and difficult winter of '98. Another young one, the much-hyped El Niño, is wreaking havok upon our comfortable understanding of the way winters in Northern Michigan are supposed to behave. Yesterday the mercury climbed above 50 degrees, rendering the landscape and the faces of those who came north to ski bleak. My brother works at Sugar Loaf Mountain Resort and reports that a fair number of the guests seem seething with a barely understood anger. They don't know who to blame, but they cannot accept what is happening to them.

I feel that I share a bond with them. Our young one has chosen his awake time to be from the hours of 5 and 8 AM. I can't blame him, he couldn't have known that that was my time before he barged upon the scene. Like an organic alarm clock, he wakes, wets and demands to be held. As I wander him around the dark and quiet house, pausing here at the Christmas tree (wondering "Can he see those lights? Do they look as magical to him as to me?") there to rock for a bit in the chair (wondering "Will he go to sleep? Why is early morning TV so bad?").

Finally, he will fall back into the slumber of the newly born and I will hurry to get my morning things done before he stirs again, feeling vaguely resentful that the coffee has lost its freshly brewed taste and even more resentful that I am such a selfish parent.

Yesterday, we drove into town to get some of the ten thousand things that we forgot we needed, most of them tiny clothes. As I drove through the misty rain and watched the naked lawns and woods go by, I imagined a family. They live in Jackson. The father works at some factory or perhaps the prison. The mother works as well but wishes she could be at home when her nearly teenagers get home from school. For half the year they save and plan for one of their two family vacations. Dad gets the week after Christmas off and they pile into the minivan with skis and smiles and head north.

I pictured them in the ski lodge. They try to make the best of it, but skiing in the rain is a pleasure that few enjoy. Son and Daughter wait in lines before video games that they don't really want to play. The Nintendo at home is better and doesn't demand quarters. Mom and Dad sit at a table nearby, eating overpriced pizza, each trying to keep the other's spirits from sinking. Later at dinner, Dad might snap at my brother for some imperfection in the meal and likely as not they will return home feeling cheated.

I wished I could contact them. Tell them that though they came north to ski, there are other pleasures not far distant. A hike to the top of the Empire Bluffs maybe.
•   •   •

Last night the wind shifted to the northwest and I know the snowmaking crews at Sugar Loaf were ready at the exact moment the temperature dropped into the "snow zone". Mother Nature was as well, lightly dusting us with snow. Perhaps my imaginary family got a few good runs and smiles in to carry them through to next winter.

This morning I woke at 5, to the morning squall of Mi Niño. I arose and stood ready. He turned, found his mother's breast and dropped back into sleep.

I'd like to say that I missed him as I wrote this, went in to wake him up so that I could lull him back to sleep.

I didn't.

Rather, I opened the back door, breathed in air of appropriate wintery crispness and listened for a moment to the distinctive crackle of snow falling on dry leaves before going about my morning routine.

Change in the weather...
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