Essay: Another day in paradise

Valerie, 5, and Regina, 3. The author’s daughters enjoy the wonder of winter.

One Friday last winter, my 2-year-old woke with a fever that lasted three days. She threw up periodically, developed an alarming cough, and stuck to me like fungus–all 32 pounds of her–for nearly six days. On a Wednesday afternoon, she returned to some semblance of herself, and I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Eight hours later, my 4-year-old woke with her sister’s fever. After muttering terrible curses into my pillow, I breathed an even deeper sigh of resignation.

At these moments, I wonder why I like living in the Midwest. Why do I defend the wonders of the four seasons to friends toying with the idea of moving to sunnier climes? As our family coughs and sniffles its way through a typical winter, heat pumps from the vents. The tightly closed doors and windows shut out the cold, allowing germs to fester in captivity. Tissues and medicine flow.

The pediatrician’s office becomes a regular stop. My daughters actually look forward to it, knowing lollipops are handed out by the receptionist.

Are we crazy? Why do I like it here?

Yes, there are moments. There was the day last December when I went boot shopping with my younger daughter. She gamely accompanied me to three stores in search of the perfect boots. I was bent on finding similar pairs to prevent the sparks of sibling rivalry from igniting every time we dressed for snow.

When we arrived home with two perfect pairs of boots, my daughter napped with hers beside her. My 4-year-old, home from preschool, put hers on and led me through an hour of pretend snow play. The ground outside was still bare, but inside we clumped through the house in our winter boots, made snow angels, built a snowman, sculpted a snow fort, and had a snowball fight. We had as much fun as we did when the first real snowflake hit the ground.

I remember an earlier winter when my husband and I took our snowsuit-bundled daughters to a nearby playground after dark in the quiet cold. Our girls slid down the icy slides into the snow with storybook glee.

The wonder of fresh snow is difficult to remember when it turns hard and gray. Braving the arctic outdoors loses its appeal by February. As the winter progresses and we are oh-so-weary of indoor activities, why do I like living here?

The pleasure, the pain Spring will eventually come. With the ground still hard, the first big rain will make a huge puddle next to our garage door. On a morning we don’t have to get anywhere or after we’ve been there, I will let my daughters jump and splash in the icy water. Their peals of laughter will make up for getting them out of their soaked snowsuits.

When the lighter rains come, my daughters will open up their butterfly umbrellas and run in the rain. They’ll find perfect puddles to splash in and revel in the novelty.

Then, boots will become impossibly muddy. We will become frustrated. Is there no path to the garage that doesn’t require traversing large expanses of wet dirt? Why do I like it here?

There is swimsuit season. Swimsuits are to summer what boots are to winter. The girls will try on suits weeks before the pool opens. When it opens, they will be giddy. They will try flotation devices, swim goggles and use those kick boards from the pool. They will run through the backyard sprinkler and want to spend every waking moment outside, barefoot.

We will picnic and make endless trips to playgrounds. We will trek to the lakefront and get sand in our swimsuits. And just when I think I can’t pack another bag for the beach or sweep up more spilled sand from someone’s shoes, it will be fall.

We’re still wearing sunglasses, but with sweaters, not swimsuits. The parks and playgrounds are busy. School brings new friends to break late-summer boredom. When the leaves fall from the trees, my daughters will “help”rake big piles and jump in them with a joy rivaling the first snow and the first swim.

I don’t think we would experience the highs of summer if it were always warm and sunny, and we wouldn’t know the highs of fall, winter, or spring.

Oh yes, we put up with a few lows. We battle a few germs and make a few too many trips to the doctor. Pass me a tissue, a blanket, and a bucket in case the path to the bathroom is too long. It’s just another day in paradise.

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