Friday, February 24, 2017

No-break February

“What day is it?” my groggy children mumble from the jumble of covers lately when I rouse them in the mornings. “Do we have school or skiing?”

Depending on the answer – and despite the fact my kids like both of those things – there is either disgruntled grumbling or a contented harumph sighed with the waking-up stretch.

This view from this "office" never gets old.
I have a distinct late-childhood memory of standing at the end of the driveway, skis and gear bag in hand, so early one winter morning that I watched the sun’s first pink glow while I waited for my lift to a ski race. I have non-racing skiing friends who were raised with the importance of being at the mountain for first chair drilled into them over many winters of pre-dawn wakeup calls.

Early mornings are simply part of the skiing game.

We are past the midway mark of ski season, at that divergent point that comes with every season: by now we are firmly settled into the winter routine, but fatigue is creeping in. I think that’s why schools schedule February break here – so we can all take a deep breath, pause, and regroup.

For some, that break means a trip to Disney World or some beach far south of here or a tropical cruise. For my family, February break means sleeping in an extra half hour, since the lifts don’t open until 9 o’clock next week. 

February is for skiing, and this month often features the best skiing of the season. Already this February, local skiers have enjoyed deep powder, firm corduroy, and spring-like conditions. We’ve had dumping snow, sunny skies, and even a bit of – ugh – rain. It’s like a whole ski season of variability wrapped into 28 short days.

Next week it won’t matter what day it is; we’ll be off to the ski hill bright and early every morning. That is, assuming everyone stays healthy.

Last year my kids kicked off school vacation week with a three-way case of strep throat. Some may call that good timing, having an off week to recoup. But there is very little couch-sitting around our house between the end of November and the middle of April. (We’re actually not big fans of couch-sitting in any season.)

The Crud hit when I was smack in the middle of two straight weeks of coaching. Thank goodness for a Nana who believes she is invincible in the face of germs. She took my sick kids until the antibiotics kicked in, at which point they were back on the slopes. By the end of that week, though, I was hit with a can’t-get-out-of-bed variety of sick.

This year I am trying to pace myself – and the kids. I nag them constantly to wash their hands, keep said hands away from faces, take their daily vitamins. We eat lots of vitamin C-rich foods. We go to bed early.

There is skiing to be had, after all, and while fatigue may be creeping in during this mid-winter madness, so is the awareness that we are on the waning side of ski season.

In the corporate world, the proverbial early bird may get the figurative worm. In the ski world, the early riser gets first chair, which means fresh tracks on a powder day, smooth corduroy on all the others. We’ll take our downtime in April.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the Feb. 24, 2017 issue of the Littleton Record. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Home Hill

There is a small kicker built carefully into the short hill by the driveway, and ski tracks mark the snow throughout the yard. Spending all their Saturdays and Sundays and vacation days from late November through mid-April in their ski boots is, apparently, not enough for my kids. So, they have built a mini ski-and-sled park at home.

Many days, some combination of my children is outside from moments after we return home from school until I haul them in for dinner. Sometimes they gulp their food down and run back out to the cold darkness for a few more minutes of snow play before bedtime. One evening last week I gave up trying to get the kids inside and just ate dinner by myself.

I like to think that my children are not overscheduled, but the truth is that in the winter, our family is busy. Mainly that is due to our skiing addiction and the obligations that come with that. But as the kids grow older, it seems there is more busy-ness introduced each season.

Two of them now play instruments, which they are meant to practice on a regular basis. One plays basketball, which means two nights of practice or games each week during the winter. Then there are the afterschool activities, academic and otherwise, which push the calendar toward overflowing.

None of the kids is involved in all of the activities on that calendar, but the logistics of who is supposed to be where, and when they’re supposed to be there, is sometimes overwhelming.

Impromptu playtime, wherever we find it – before school, after dinner, for nearly the entire bonus time of the rare weather-induced delayed start to school – is crucial to keeping all of us balanced. On days with no afterschool activities on the docket, no basketball practice, and no homework, out the kids go, come cold or blowing snow, afternoon sunshine or post-dusk darkness.

They grab sleds or skis. Brooms, shovels, and rakes are hauled off the porch and out of the garage for the purpose of “grooming” the ski runs and sledding hill. The puppy bounces enthusiastically after her kids, excited by their excitement.

On the little hill that runs from the curve of the driveway into the stubbly field, the kids make laps. They schuss down on their skis, hitting the little kicker, competing in impromptu races, or simply seeking a few seconds of speed and cold wind in their faces.

They get running starts to build momentum before jumping, head-first and belly-down, onto sleds. They link arms to slide downhill together, side by side. They develop elaborate, clumsily acrobatic tricks that involve multiple people and someone transferring from one moving sled to another on their way down the hill.

Sometimes, during these snow-sliding escapades, someone lands on a face or bonks a knee into an ice chunk or gets an arm twisted the wrong way. Then, there are tears as the wounded party hobbles inside. But they always go back out, later that night or at the next obligation-free opportunity, taking to the home hill with the abandon of kids set free. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the Feb. 10, 2017 issue of the Littleton Record.