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.