The pages of the calendar seem to flip ever so slowly during the winter months. I use the term “winter” lightly here in South Texas, seeing as how we are not getting slammed with inches upon inches of snow like our sister cities to the north and west of us. Despite our lack of snowfall, we can succumb to a day or two of temperatures cold enough to freeze our heat-loving plants, and ice dangerous enough to make venturing out nearly non-existent. The school closures came rolling in the evening before our predicted freezing rain, and San Antonio prepared for our first ice day of the new year.
My kids adore being outside and can make a game out of anything they happen to come across, from sticks and chalk, to buckets and acorns. However, when the option of actually going outside is taken away, and two healthy children have to stay inside all day, our daily story takes a turn. I am a lover of all things creative and imaginative, which meant that I needed to dig deep in my arts and crafts drawer (OK, drawers) and develop a plan so we weren’t all running for the ice-covered, non-existent hills of San Antonio.
Thanks to our handy friend Pinterest, we can find a craft for any event on any day of the week. My kids were maxed out on snowmen and penguins, thus pushing us forward to the next holiday or two. Who doesn’t love a good “love bug” or dancing leprechaun? The best part of craft time, at least for my little family, is that there are no set rules to what it has to look like. Sure, you can’t eat the glue or throw the paint at your brother, but other than that, my kids have free reign over their work. Depending on the materials at hand, my son’s bug could have four eyes, while his serious sister’s bug only has two. The possibilities for the creations are endless and keep them engaged for a solid block of time. Since it was evident that bugs were the focal points for this particular craft (with a little bit of love thrown in there as well), I did my best to find a book or two that related to the craft. Before long, I realized we had used a solid block of time from our morning with supplies already in our possession.
I don’t think there is anything more nostalgic than pulling out a board game from your childhood to share with your own children. The memories come rushing back as fast as those hippos can reach for the delicious—and hopefully golden—marbles. Our choice for our indoor ice day just so happened to be Hungry, Hungry Hippos, with Go Fish! coming in as a close second. The joy of having nowhere to go, nothing to be on time for, and the afternoon ahead of us allowed for each kiddo and myself to have a chance at playing our favorite game “just one more time.”
If your kiddos are like mine, a good game of anything seems to work up their appetite like no other. Combine that with being inside all day, and you have nothing but ravenous children who promise that their last snack/meal/bite was less than satisfying and they couldn’t make it one more minute without something to eat (and we all know they don’t eat as many times at school as they try to tell us). That being said, what better way to busy their hands and perhaps distract them for a few minutes (15 to 18 to be exact) than to whip up some yummy cookies or pancakes in the kitchen? Once again, we didn’t have to make a special trip for this little sidebar activity; we found what we could in the pantry and went from there. I try to keep a box of brownie or cookie mix on hand for last-minute dessert options, a forgotten bake sale commitment, or as a way to send some love to the neighbors. If desserts aren’t your thing, you can always get creative with fruits and/or veggies. Who doesn’t love to create “ants on a log” with celery sticks, peanut butter, and raisins?
The fruits of our baking labors had to cool, which presented us with the perfect opportunity for free play…in the bathtub. That’s right—I knocked out two birds with one stone, courtesy of the good ol’ American pastime of the bubble bath. On evenings when we just need to “scrub and be done,” I bathe my children together. On days when time is our friend, they each have their time to take in all the loveliness that a warm and soothing bubble bath offers. This also became downtime for yours truly, which honestly meant folding the clothes that I dumped onto my bed while peering into the bathroom to make sure Child #1 was still above water as I kept Child #2 from undoing my folding work.
Free play is an essential part of rearing my children. On days spent inside, you may feel as if the walls are closing in and a sinkhole of toys is about to swallow you. I am thankful for the fact that my children are generally happy with the way their toys serve them independently and as partners. But as early evening drew closer (hello, witching hour), I tried to nip the “I played with everything already” by taking a toy that is out and in the open every day and changing it just a bit. I turned their play kitchen around (it was against our living room wall), and told them it was now a restaurant drive through. Post-its, play money, a clipboard, little ride-along toys that are way too small for them now, combated with modification of a toy we already own, handed this mama a nice little chunk of time on a silver platter.
My high school algebra teacher used to say, “If you don’t know what you are doing, do what you know.” Believe it or not, I use this phrase a lot in parenting—as in, daily. The truth of the matter lies in the reality that life happens, the flu happens, and yes, for one day a year in San Antonio, ice happens. If we start our unexpected day by doing something we know—whether it is baking, crafting, sewing, bathing, or even movie-watching—we may be more motivated and confident to take the next step in our day.
Don’t get me wrong—having an unexpected day at home, due to illness, weather, etc., can set the heads of even the calmest mamas spinning, but that feeling won’t last once you tackle the first step together. Sometimes it comes in the form of a piece of paper and markers, sometimes it’s a sorting activity as a way to tidy the playroom. It doesn’t take a shiny box full of craft supplies, and it surely doesn’t warrant a special trip to purchase items that may or may not be a hit with your family. Find an excuse to use those pipe cleaners and googly eyes. Get your hands messy in batter. Bring down that vintage Twister mat and show your kids what you are made of. And if all else fails, there’s always snack time.