Texas Writer Clay Nichols Gives his Sunbelt Kids the Big Chill
By Clay Nichols
I want to give my children the gift of winter this holiday season. Whether they want it or not.
Like a lot of Americans, we live in a balmy climate nearly year round. Here in the Southwest, in Central Texas particularly, our climate offers two seasons: summer and January, a foggy, cool, but wan version of the month as it’s practiced elsewhere. And not much of a January at that.
As a result, I’m feeling like a Heat Miser, a toasty grinch, a father that’s cheated his kids with a moderate climate, depriving them of so many childhood delights—snowball fights, building snowmen, licking icicles. A Texan myself, my winter memories are as thin as snowfall in San Antonio. I want better for my kids.
My wife, on the other hand, had more than enough of winter growing up in the Northeast. There is nothing romantic to her about bundling up before stomping out into the snow, nothing cute about chilly pink cheeks or mittens, not much appealing about a roaring fire. She can’t stand all that stuff. Too many nights wearing a hat inside, I guess.
She likes her warm.
So not only do we live in a warm weather climate, we’ve avoided cold weather recreation—no road trips to Colorado or New Mexico for skiing and snowboarding like so many of our neighbors.
“We’re beach people,” she proclaims. And so we are.
Yet I still feel it necessary to broaden my children’s meteorological horizons, the need for a Curriculum of Winter. I therefore chose several activities to try and enhance their appreciation of the colder season. My wife was in full support. It would give her some time to get the holiday shopping done.
Texas Sleigh Ride
Also known as driving carpool with the windows down every morning for a week, no matter what. “No matter what” turned out to be a week of mild, slightly foggy mornings. Yet every ride was an adventure. As soon as all three carpoolers were bucked firmly in, we made a ceremony of rolling down the windows to “confront the elements.” And with the entertainment system off and the windows open, the kids were more chatty than usual. No silences. They posed hypothetical questions, joked, sang.
Polar Bear Plunge
With images of burly men hacking through solid ice before taking a hearty dive into freezing waters, I announce our first annual family Polar Bear Plunge at the community center pool. To my surprise, all three kids immediately lined up. They packed pool toys into the back hatch, and were waiting in the car for me. I rubbed my hands in anticipation of the squeals and the shivering, the hoots prompted by breathtaking cold. I guess they knew the pool was heated. Drying off, they shared conspiratorial looks, gloated and insisted that I call the cousins back East, so they could gloat some more.
Who needs frozen ponds or outdoor hockey rinks with blazing fire barrels? I load up the kids and we head out to a local grocery store sponsoring an ice skating rink on the roof. Ice skating! On the roof! My teenager could have sneered when he saw the actual “rink.” “More like rinky-dink,” he could’ve said. As I grumbled about shelling out ten bucks for scooting around on a coffee table, my teen led his younger sibs onto the ice. From the rail, he teased and encouraged them like only a big brother can. He high-fived his little brother, a small smile of pride on his face.
After we’d worked up a sweat ice-skating above the grocery store, we had frozen treats in lieu of icicles. I reflected that my Curriculum of Winter had worked like a lot of my “teaching moments” in parenting: The intended lessons were mostly ignored, but the experiences brought their own value. By getting out there, changing up the routine with something as small as rolling down the windows (or a tiny ice rink), we all had the chance for a few winter experiences even the kids would describe as “cool.”
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Clay Nichols is co-founder and editor of DadLabs.com. He can often be found in a high-quality camp chair cheering his face off for his kids.