Last week, a snowstorm canceled school for day, maybe two. (Now that our kids are adults, Joanie and I don’t pay much attention to Snow Days). I think we got about eight inches, more than enough to create fun for the kids and more than a few headaches for the adults.
Thursday morning, on my way to the grocery store, I saw two kids playing in the snow, building a fort, which was one of my favorite winter pastimes growing up in Watertown, Wisconsin.
It made me smile to see these kids having simple, creative fun outdoors -- using nothing but a shovel and few converted sandbox toys and tools -- and it immediately took me back my childhood and the great memories I have of digging, stacking and tunneling in our yard after a heavy snowfall.
There was nothing like a Snow Day as a kid. I’d wake up on my own, without my mom rousting me, and at that moment, I knew she had let me sleep in because I had the day off, and that meant a day of leisure … a day to do what I wanted.
Well rested from the extra 30 minutes of sleep (because even though Mom always woke me for school, my internal clock still went off on its own not long after my normal “rousting” hour), I look outside to see a world of white, nothing but snow -- on the ground and in the air -- as far as the eye can see and my developing brain can imagine.
I hear the scraping of shovels, the burping and snorting of snow throwers, their two-cycle engines working hard to clear neighbors’ driveways. And I see the city snowplows clearing the streets, and in the process, creating huge snowbanks up and down our street.
And I smile, because today, that will be my domain. I know that even where I live, where snow is common and often blankets our town for weeks and months at a time, this new snow is something I need to capitalize on ASAP before it loses its charm, its intrigue and its magic. And more importantly, I know that tomorrow, I’ll likely be back in school, so I need to strike while the iron is hot; to squeeze every bit of juice out of today.
I bound down the stairs and into the kitchen, grabbing a box of cereal from the cupboard and the milk from the fridge, quickly shoveling in two quick bowls before gearing up in coat, hat, boots and mittens and diving headlong into my Snow Day. No time for indoor activities today (Hot Wheels, Nerf basketball or TV game shows), I know my time with this new and beautiful snow is limited. And for me, the best way to enjoy it is to build snow forts and tunnels.
Looking back on it, I find it interesting because while I remember having hilarious fun building snow forts – whether I was working solo or as part of a team – it was hard work. And not only was it work, but the work itself was the activity.
Once the forts and tunnels were built, my work, and in some respects my fun, was over. The process – the digging, the forming, the transporting and placement of large snow boulders left behind by the snowplows – was the game, and once it was all built, I was done with it.
I didn’t sit in the fort for any period of time because once I had accomplished what I had set out to do, sitting in the fort or crawling through a couple of tiny tunnels on a cold, snowy winter day quickly lost its charm. But that was OK. It was exactly what I had set out to do, and it was fun.
I recount this childhood experience and the fond memories I have because I want to shift the focus on this scenario for a moment, seeing it from another perspective.
Let’s say the first part of day begins the same way. I get to sleep in. I realize I have a day off school. I begin to think of all the things I want to do, none of them which includes homework or any thought of school at all. I smile as I bound down the stairs to gobble up two bowls of cereal before tackling my Snow Day.
But then, just as I finish my breakfast and complete a quick scan of the sports page in the morning paper (even at six or seven, I read the sports page every morning), my mom enters the kitchen.
Me: Oh, hi Mom. Thanks for letting me sleep in. When did they call off school?
Mom: About 6:15 … I heard it on the radio.
Me: OK, well, I have lots of things to do, so …
Mom: Wait a second, kiddo. I need your help on something.
Me: OK … what is it?
Mom: Well, now that the plows have come through and stacked that snow so high, we need a snow fort and some tunnels dug right away. And since Dad’s at work, I’ll need you to get those done before you do anything else.
Me: Aw man! So, you’re saying I have to work on my day off?
Mom: I’m sorry, but first things first. If we don’t get that fort built and those tunnels dug, I’m not sure how we’re going to get through the week.
That, of course, never happened. We never needed forts and tunnels dug to “get through the
week.” But what if we had? What if that fun activity that I looked forward to and enjoyed so
much, not only on Snow Days but throughout the winter, had been given to me as a job?
I would have hated it. Sure, I would have done it because my mom asked me to and because our family needed it, but it wouldn’t have been fun, and my attitude toward it would have been sour and resentful.
I bring this up simply to observe and honor the value of perspective. How we view things is powerful. Is it play or is it work? Well, it depends. It depends on the circumstances, on what’s important, and our attitude toward it.
Can activities, chores and responsibilities be both work and play? I suppose. In fact, one thing I left out of my story (both the real account and the hypothetical) was that before I enjoyed any fun Snow Day activities, I shoveled our sidewalk. I never minded shoveling; fact is, I kind of enjoyed and still do. (It’s why I still don’t use a snow thrower.) And I also knew that when I shoveled, I was helping the family, and even though we lived on a corner lot, I could usually make quick work of most snowfalls, even when there was enough to cancel school.
Seeing those kids last week and then reminiscing about my own childhood sparked something in my often-cynical head: I need to see the fun more often and in more places. I need to enjoy the moment, regardless of whether I chose it, or it’s required of me.
Because really, it’s all a matter of perspective, and what we hope to give and gain from any experience. That sounds heavy, but really, isn’t that what life’s all about?
Fun can be work, and work can be fun. And good things can and do come from all types of experiences, whether we choose them, or they choose us.
Now, I’m probably not going to build a snow fort today, but maybe the next time I have to shovel or do some other manual labor (or anything that doesn’t seem like “play”), I’ll appreciate the moment and squeeze as much juice out of it as I can.
© 2023 David R. Haznaw