In the Whirled: Parents, children handle the Winter Break that keeps going differently

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 29 2014 5:00 a.m. MST

High winds and low temperatures and blowing snow made outdoor activities dangerous for the unprepared Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014. A woman walking around Lake Harriet in Minneapolis paused at W. Minnehaha Parkway to shoot some video of the blowing snow with her cell phone.

Jeff Wheeler, ASSOCIATED PRESS/The Star Tribune

It’s fitting that “Frozen,” Disney’s big animated movie, ushered us into one of the coldest Januarys in decades.

Most of the country is swathed in ice, snow and extreme temperatures. Even my hometown in Texas, land of perpetual sunshine, got pelted with snow last week.

Where we live in Minnesota, we are used to extreme. We wear extreme like a badge, a big fleece-lined, goose-down, jacket-shaped badge. When I watched “Frozen,” it was like watching my life, animated and with cuter clothing. We Northerners build little huts on the lake to celebrate the season. We drill holes in the ice and pull out fish. Come here on the coldest day of the year, and you will still see runners, skiers and dog-walkers strolling down the snow-laden paths, thumbing their noses at the forecast. In Minnesota, we eat winter for breakfast.

But this winter, this winter has cracked the heartiest of the snow people. We’ve just braved our third polar vortex, a series of knock-your-nose-hairs-off cold. On top of that, we’ve done it with all our kids AT HOME!

Minnesotans don’t believe in snow days. We don’t let a few feet of powder stand between us and our academic rigor. We have the Arctic gear, the studded snow tires and the superhero snowplows that clear our streets before the first flurries even hit the ground. But this winter, we’ve been sidelined with a new roadblock: the wind-chill warning. It seems that in these modern times, minus 45 degrees (with windchill) is just too cold for school. Our venerable governor went so far as to cancel school for the entire state.

I understand the concern, I really do. Our local paper warned us against retrieving the mail when the wind dips below minus 30. If we were to slip and fall, frostbite would set in after just five minutes. So I get it — we don’t want our little people losing toes and fingers at the bus stop.

It’s just that wind-chill days are the worst kind of days. You can’t sled or skate or tunnel through all that lovely snow in the front yard with the neighbor kids like you can on a snow day. You are stuck inside not sledding or getting the mail or walking five steps to get the newspaper. You can’t run the many errands on your list or even go jogging, because your husband says you should value all your appendages and live to see another day. Which means you are stuck, frozen inside a house with children who haven’t had a proper recess in two months.

Not that the kids are complaining. It’s like Winter Break never ended — the days are just one perpetual party, with a side of hot chocolate. The irony, of course, is the kids are unphased by the extreme cold. My son went to church without a coat. While I stumble around the house in three and four layers of fleece, my kids run around in shorts. I’m convinced children emit their own kind of light, carry within them a portable sunshine.

Meanwhile, the parents around me are getting crabby. We want our kids in school! That’s the purpose of winter: to hunker down with fractions, Charles Dickens and the Theory of Relativity. Learning is a dish best served cold. Shakespeare on ice. Homer on the rocks.

At this rate, we will be in school until July, just when Minnesota unfurls the best of its summer beauty. Which is why I’m penning a stern letter to the White Witch, who has a firm grasp on this Narnia-like landscape (where it is always winter, and never Christmas). She can keep her winter; just let my kids go back to school.

In the meantime, I have four children running reckless through my house. As a neighbor did the other day, I think we’ll put on swimsuits, crank up the heat, blend up some mango smoothies and transport our minds to warmer days ahead.

Tiffany Gee Lewis lives in St. Paul, Minn., and is the mother of four boys. She blogs at thetiffanywindow.wordpress.com. Her email is tiffanyelewis@gmail.com.

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