We in Northern Minnesota are most definitely riding the hump of winter, one with particularly cold temps and very little snow. It’s been dark for some months now, here on the pack ice, the sled dogs have been howling relentlessly, and we’ve just run out of hardtack and dried berries. Things are looking grim.
So how can we distract ourselves, especially now that all of the barrels down in the hold are emtpy, and we’re starting to eye Girl’s soft little earlobes as likely hors d’oeuvres? How to make 24-molasses-slow hours pass each day so that every time we check the calendar it doesn’t still read “Middle of a Long, Icy February” (and the next day “Middle of a Long, Icy February +1”)?
The kids’ energy, with each -30 degree day, gets more manic, random, and punchy. They are jumping off the stairs, hurling stuffed animals, and leaping over stacks of cardboard bricks. Although they have enough energy to fill the universe and rearrange the stars, we can only offer them 1800 square feet of hardwood.
Certainly, for relief from the oppressively grey skies, we spend eleven minutes each day packing the kids into snowpants, wool socks, fleece hats, parkas, and lined boots. They obligingly run around the yard for four minutes before they begin to amuse themselves by snapping off their frozen fingers, one by one, making a little pile of digits.
Not one to lose spirit, I holler with great enthusiasm, “Look at you! You made your own Lincoln Logs! Good job! Now keep running, lest Recreational Director Julie McCoy comes along and spots you and takes you aboard the Love Boat to use as an ice sculpture at the dinner buffet.”
Very shortly, after a few rousing games, such as “I Can Saw This Branch Off The Birch With My Nose Before You Can,” “Excised Toes = Winter Marbles,” and, of course, “Literal Freeze Tag,” we’re all aching to pick up the pieces of our bodies and carry them inside, to a place where the wind doesn’t slice us in half.
After seventeen minutes of peeling off layers, we sit contentedly nursing warm mugs of chai. Within moments, we realize, though, that the groundhogs are still in their dens, all the chocolate hearts have been eaten, all the good presidents are still dead, and spring is still six weeks off. Thus, the question rears itself again: what to freaking do?
There is only one answer, and it entails construction paper, glitter glue, neon markers, and vision.
Gather ’round, Boys and Girls, Preschoolers and First Graders, Scouts and Bluebirds, Gymnasts and Swimmers, Former Members of the Zoom cast: it’s arts & crafts time. Saddle up, and cover your privates: we’re snipping and glueing ’til sunset.
Valentine’s Day offered up a significant diversion, especially with class sizes being so big in the district; Girl and Niblet were kept busy cutting and decorating for days on end. Occasionally, as I stared blankly out the window over their busy heads, the sun would peep out.
And then there are the times we feel all oil pastelly inside, with a hint of watercolor thrown over the top for good measure. Nice job with the fishies, Girl! When I catch sight of this picture, I just about want to keep my head out of the oven.
Even Groom has contributed to the crafty feeling, having sculpted this turtle, who spends his days frantically swimming nowhere. I get so involved in his journey and its endless possibilities that I sometimes stop muttering, “O, Sweet Goddess of Spring, when shall you arrive?”
We’ve even gone so far as to copy the illustrations from our favorite books (if you don’t know Mo Willems and his genius work, sled with great speed over to your nearest Barnes & Noble. Or, better yet, let a bus-driving pigeon drop you off there).
The pigeons’ presence on our kitchen cabinets alleviates my need to moan, while holding my head, “Darkness, oh, the darkness.”
Even more diverting is when our efforts reach the level of performance art, as in the case of one Ms. Hello Kitty being jettisoned from her stage; here, she illustrates the despair that results from the clash between internal and external selves in a modern world, particularly in terms of valuing the individual over society. Upon landing, she urinates on a crucifix to demonstrate the angst inherent in our current skepticism of traditional icons.
But perhaps my favorite creative moment happened last week, when Girl and Groom were out spearing a seal for dinner.
Wee Niblet and I stared at each other for some time in a state of thumb-twiddling before remembering that he had checked out a bag of plastic animals from the Polar Library that day. And suddenly, it was Rhino’s Birthday. Attending his party on the kitchen floor were Gorilla, Giraffe, Elephant, Tiger, Lion, and Mommy. Before presents would be opened, we all needed to play some games. First up? Pin the Trunk on the Elephant.
Each animal’s eyes were covered as it was spun three times in front of the elephant and then asked to pin on the trunk. As you might predict, hilarity ensued. Oh, the trumpeting and chattering when Gorilla pinned the trunk to elephant’s tail!
But then Giraffe proved to be a ringer:
Even after Tiger took his turn, Giraffe remained clearly in the lead…until, that is, Tiger threw a hissy and threatened to snap the head off any fellow party attender who refused to vote him The Victor.
Shortly after tiger accepted his prize (the orange plus a page of Tweety Bird stickers) for “winning” the game, we opened presents–I had hastened off to the tupperware cabinet for some impromtu “shopping”–having thoughtlessly brought Rhino nothing!–wherein I purchased a blue tupperware cover. I bestowed it on the Birthday Beast, telling him it was a new drinking pond, to compensate for the limited water on the drought-ridden savanna.
After eating pieces of a zoo-themed cake, we all lapped up some cool pond water, admired each other’s gifts, and before I knew it, an entire hour had passed.
Groom and Girl were home, worn out from their battle with the seal. Niblet was tired, worn out from coddling Tiger’s emotional needs.
And I, mentally crossing another day off the calendar, was sure I heard a chickadee trilling its spring song outside the window.