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How the winter wonderland shows me the things COVID tries to steal from us

Last weekend, over two feet of snow fell in Northern NJ, blanketing the region for the first time this year. With the fresh feet of powder, possibilities of outdoor activities with the boys opened up for me. Normally in the winter, we’re cooped up inside because of the cold. This year, when it’s been below freezing and incredibly windy what feels like every day, and obviously with COVID, the only real thing we do on weekends is stay around the house. Now that we’ve been outside just about every day and night for the last week, I realize how much COVID nearly took from my enjoyment and relationship with kids.

I love the winter. I mean I also love the summer, and the spring, and definitely the fall too, but I don’t hate the cold, the cozying up on the couch, the dark beer, the fireplace, and especially the winter sport activities. Since I’ve really gotten back into skiing in the last several years, and with the boys getting into it and skating, I actually look forward to the short cold winter days. After taking lessons in high school and growing up less than 15 minutes from a slope, I didn’t ski much through college but got back into it with friends taking annual trips out west and to Canada, then buying my own skis two years ago. Last year I took the boys twice to a local mountain to get them familiar with skis, and they’re already comfortable flying down the bunny hill. But this year threatened to get in the way of all of our fun winter activities.

I love my kids and spending time with them, especially sharing the activities that I love, but they can be pretty draining a lot of the time. Being cooped up in the house, even when they aren’t bored thanks to playing with toys, reading books, or doing activities on their iPad, usually ends in little fights or bad behavior. COVID has made matters worse. During the spring, when it was worst because they were home with us working and paying less attention to them while daycare was closed, saw frequent fights, whining, and hitting. Things got noticeably better when they went back to school in the summer, and the stimulation and socializing clearly helped them process feelings and emotions better, and the fights came less frequently.

But then the winter came and we couldn’t get outside on weekends and our nightly walks on the street ended. Along with that, the fights at bedtime came back and the boys became noticeably more moody and temperamental. We would fight with them about going to bed, suddenly had to go back into their room to do twenty different things every night before they fell asleep, and they would constantly bicker about everything. On the weekends, they would play nicely for a few minutes then end up fighting about the smallest transgressions. It felt like we were constantly at war.

But this past week, I took them outside every single day and it made such a difference. On the day it snowed, we went out to sled in the backyard and play in the snow. That night they fell asleep right away without any fighting. The next day, we skied in the yard until bedtime and they again went to bed without a fight. Later in the week, I took them sledding on the big hill near our house and after a few hours of flying down the hill and riding with me, they went to bed the second we got them upstairs and didn’t come out for water, extra hugs, the dog, or lights even once. It’s like we have a different set of children when they get a dose of fresh air and physical activity outside.

It’s not just that they handle stress and emotions better with some activity, it’s that I enjoy my time with them so much more. I genuinely had a blast flying down the slope on sleds with them. My belly hurt from laughing together with them as we wiped out together. They’ve quickly become my ski buddies, and I can’t imagine going without them, even when that involves picking them up every 30 seconds. I definitely think they have become better skaters than me already, doing perfect hockey stops and twirls on the ice. When we are out having fun together, it reminds me of why I wanted to bring kids into this world in the first place. When we’re stuck inside and fighting every second of the day, it makes me wonder what I’m doing.

I’ll be the first person to call out those who say that raising kids is just like raising a dog. They are the same in the same way that driving a bike and driving a commercial semi-truck are the same. However, one bit of advice we got when training our dog definitely applies. A tired dog (kid) is a good dog (kid). Getting outside for some fresh air and exertion certainly leads to better behaved kids. When they are better behaved, it also means I enjoy my time with them even more, and in turn end up being a better parent. The long days shut in our basement and together in the living room during COVID threatened to take that from us, but thanks to a perfectly timed winter storm, we were able to take back our winter together as a family, and remember just how perfect a day of fun outside can be.

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