Palm trees and snow flakes — at the Santa Barbara Zoo it was a snowy day. Yesterday we attended the Santa Barbara Zoo's annual Snow Leopard Festival; a day when they bring an ice making movie crew up from LA to create snow for sunny Santa Barbara. (A bit of cheating, but still snow ) Sledding, ice skating, snowman building, and snowball throwing — for Gwendolyn it is magical and for us it has become a truly special tradition.
Three years ago we attempted this for the first time. We were nervous, emotional, and overwhelmed to have a dream come true. For our family, going to the snow each winter had always been part of lives. Bill and I were engaged in the snow (he literally knelt in a patch to propose — aww), we loved traveling to snowy locations, and we spent countless weekends and New Year's celebrations with friends snowboarding in Mammoth Mountain. We always assumed when we had children we would spend time sledding, ice skating, snowman building and snowball throwing. But because of SMA, the 8,000+ feet altitude of Mammoth, and even much lower elevation, makes it very difficult for Gwendolyn to breathe. On that special day three years ago, one of our family “visions” came true and that memory is still seared into my heart as one of those never forget moments.
We have been very fortunate to have quite a lot of “visions” come true: cross-country road trip, introducing Gwendolyn to Great-Grandpa Harry, attending a family reunion, swimming in the ocean, Disneyland, Sea World, a slumber party with a best friend, preschool… But this special snow day is still up there as one of the extra-specials. And it is extra-special to Gwendolyn as a family tradition now too.
When we told Gwendolyn what we were doing yesterday morning, she squealed with delight and her fingers tap, tap, tapped with excitement. When we asked if she remembered sledding, she gave a big Guh!/Yes! When we asked if she wanted to throw snowballs she rolled her eyes up over and over. And because the Santa Barbara Zoo goes above and beyond to be accommodating, what could be really stressful and scary for a family like ours has consistently been wonderful and joyful and each year “vision” fulfilling.
And this year did not disappoint. Gwendolyn loved every minute. She and Bill zoomed down the hill on the sled and she loved it. She loved throwing snowballs. She loved feeling the snow. And she loved seeing all the other children excitedly playing in the snow alongside her.
An experience such as this always makes us reflect. We have had to let go of many of our pre-SMA ideas for our family and when they do come true they most certainly aren't done in a typical way. While our life isn't really very typical, figuring out how Gwendolyn can have typical-like experiences has been really good for her and really good for us as a family. Bill and I are big believers in living in spite of SMA — in spite of the machines, the obstacles, the fear, the worry. Trying new things isn't always easy, they don't always go perfectly, but with each attempt we learn and grow and our life bears some semblance to the life we wanted to create for our children. And each time we try something new it makes trying the next new thing much easier. The Santa Barbara Zoo's Snow Leopard Festival three years ago was one of those experiences that reminded us that anything, including things we once thought were impossible, can be done with a little creativity and help.
Thank you Santa Barbara Zoo for giving us (and so many children) this special gift.