Emigration Diary: Snow, Hearts and Cheeses
When it snows in Ireland, it causes mayhem; buses
stop running, mail stops being delivered, and people have difficulty getting to work and school. I always thought because Long Island regularly gets a lot of snow that it is well prepared for it. There are thousands of snow ploughs. The roads get gritted nightly in very cold weather and most people have cars or winter tyres that can well handle the snow. It became very apparent with last week’s nor’easter storm, dubbed Nemo, that even well-equipped Long Island can’t handle two feet of snow when it falls altogether over just a few hours.
Driving was impossible during the blizzard. We had what are called white out conditions; it wasn’t possible to see more than a few feet ahead. Cars suddenly became stuck and people were forced to either abandon them or wait in them until they were rescued. Thankfully, we were all able to leave work early, so by the time the blizzard was in full force we were all safely home and warm. The next day was an eye-opener. It looked beautiful outside. The skies were blue and the sun was shining.
The reality of getting anywhere hit us pretty hard though. Our street had been ploughed which meant we could drive on it but only after digging away the mountain of snow that the plough had deposited at the bottom of our drive, as well as the six by two feet that had settled in front and on top of the car. Digging snow, for the record, is a great way of banishing bingo wings.
The smaller snow ploughs were unable to function in that amount of snow and even some of the bigger industrial ones got stuck ploughing the expressway. We managed to get to some nearby hills to take the kids sledding. Now, that is really fun! Except of course for having to drag the sled and sometimes the children on it back up the hill every single time. The school couldn’t open after the weekend because so many roads were still impassable that it wasn’t safe for the school buses. My children were pretty happy about this until they realised that they will now have to lose a scheduled midterm because all of their snow days were used up after the hurricane. Everything is back to normal again now but the snow remains, frozen solid now, everywhere but the roads. Walking anywhere is completely out of the question and I’m really glad I have good boots.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated a bit differently here than in Ireland. It’s not merely a celebration of romantic love between adults, there are Valentine’s cards for friends, siblings, parents, grandparents and children. If you like someone at all you are supposed to declare this with a cardboard pink heart on the day. My kids came home from school with bags full of notes, cards, pencils and stickers from their classmates both male and female. There are a lot of candies and lollipops available in the stores for this purpose but as there is a ban on food-sharing in our school district, parents have to get creative. I felt bad because I hadn’t supplied my children with anything to distribute. How was I to know though? I’m thinking of making some St Patrick ’s Day goody bags for them to give out to their friends to compensate for my latest cultural faux pas.
We also experienced the wonder that is Chuck E Cheese this week. Our Kindergardener was invited to a birthday party there and I let his big brother invite a friend his own age to play with. I was expecting a play centre with climbing structures and slides similar to ones we frequented in Ireland. It was not like that at all.
Chuck E Cheese is Vegas for kiddies. It consists solely of arcade type games; think off-season Bray on steroids with everything at eye level for the vertically challenged. You buy tokens on entry and the kids feed these into machines such as the Winning Streak Wheel and Deal or no Deal in return for tickets. There is no skill or physical exercise involved at all. It merely provides kids with a comprehensive introduction to gambling and slot machines. I was stunned. The tickets can then be exchanged for worthless plastic prizes. None of which are any good.
The birthday celebrant gets to go into a machine like the one in Crystal Maze that shoots out a whole thousand tickets which he can then exchange for a big prize like a colouring set. On the half hour Chuck E comes out and grushies tickets about causing instant wrestling carnage. Then there is cheap ketchup flavoured pizza. The kids had a lot of fun but I found the whole experience upsetting. We won’t be returning there in a hurry. I’ve scratched it completely off my potential birthday party venue regardless of my kids’ yearning for a go in the Ticket Blaster machine.
I expressed my dismay at the set-up to another parent. ‘Welcome to America!’ she smiled wryly. I guess that says it all.