Staying Inside: A Prairie Mother’s Lament

I’ve always considered myself a prairie girl. One of those strong romantic types shaped by a childhood spent climbing bales on my dad’s chicken farm and tying sleds to snowmobiles. So I assumed that, like my parents before me, I would pass on a love of prairie life to my daughters, if not in my stories of homemade ice rinks and autumn afternoons on the combine, then in my genes. The problem, I’m discovering with some disconcertment this November, is that fondness for the Manitoba prairie and its legendary winters isn’t a genetic predisposition after all.
I suppose I should have seen it coming when my husband and I moved to Kenya seven years ago. Our girls were born in Nairobi, where they spent their preschool years in bare feet, watching monkeys swing above the sandbox. But surely, beneath their tanned skin and Kenyan accents, they were prairie girls, just like me.
When we decided to spend a year in Manitoba, I imagined the girls’ excitement at finally experiencing winter. They eyed me with suspicion as I described hand-knit mittens and the fleeting satisfaction of snowflakes on the tongue. But it wasn’t until mid-October that I realized what I was up against. I found M., my five year old, on the couch in her touque and scarf, whimpering, “It’s just so cold and I can’t get warm.” It was fourteen degrees and sunny.
We needed snow. I knew the magic of an untouched yard of sparkling white would banish all complaints about the cold. This is the stuff of childhood, after all- the fresh air in the lungs and the frost on parka zippers that makes us children of the prairies. The problem with my visions of winter wonder, however, is that my girls are children of the equator, which I finally admitted on that morning of the long-awaited snowfall.
I called the girls to the window as soon as they awoke and watched for their exuberant reaction. It never came. Instead they stared with perplexity and horror at the blanket of white that had disguised the neighbourhood.
Then J., three years old and usually bursting with exuberance, announced in a solemn voice, “I’m not going outside today.”
“Me neither,” M. agreed. “I’m staying inside all day.”
And so it hit me. Inherent enthusiasm for snow fights and skating doesn’t transfer across time zones or through the breast milk. A prairie mother does not a prairie child make. So we spent our first Canadian snow day hunkered down inside, reading Angelina Ballerina. I tried all day to beguile the girls with promises of fun and hilarity waiting in the backyard. But it’s hard to wrestle a five year old into snow pants and even harder to herd stubborn tropical-bred children out into a cold that they’ve determined to be hostile. So snowmen and sledding will have to wait. Maybe this winter we’ll skip straight to the hot chocolate.

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