The first big snow of the season is always the most fun, but between trying to drive home on slippery roads and shoveling the foot of snow on the sidewalk it was easy to forget the days when snow was a thrill.
I remember elementary school: anticipating a big snowstorm and wishing for school to be closed; then defeating the purpose of having no school by getting up way earlier than usual to look out the window for the potential snowy surprise from Mother Nature. Once it was official, a snow day, we would bundle up and head for the hill where all the kids from our rural road would join us for hours of sledding, fort-building, snowball fights, and anything else we could think of to do in the snow.
I don't remember ever being cold, in fact, when our parents finally made us come inside, we were often drenched with sweat, not to mention exhausted from the day of winter activity.
I know there were scenes like that around Central Pennsylvania last week, when a soft, powdery snow fell fortuitously over a holiday vacation.
I hope kids today still dash outside to revel in a good snowstorm, but I wonder if more youngsters cuddle up with an Xbox or Game Boy to wait out the weather.
Technology is changing our culture; we are becoming more and more isolated. Kids today can play games online with friends (and strangers) around the world and never actually get their heart rate up. At the same time, it's harder and harder to find sports, games or activities that are just for fun.
Decades ago, kids in town could easily find a hill filled with sled-riders, or in warmer weather, pick-up basketball or baseball games. Now it seems like most of the games kids play are highly-organized events, and they are starting earlier and earlier.
So where does that leave kids who are not natural athletes, or whose parents don't have the means or interest in getting them involved in sports? Back in the day, everyone played, and we hardly ever kept score. Today, children are judged in sport from the first time they pick up a ball. On one hand, the opportunities are endless; on the other hand, so it seems is the pressure.
Perhaps a New Year's resolution is in order. Many people resole to lose weight or take up an exercise program. For kids, a good goal might be to strike a balance between competitive athletics and playing for fun; between indoor video games and outdoor pick-up games. The benefits may not only be for our kids, but for our society as well.
According to the American Heart Association, one in every three American kids (and teens) today is overweight or obese; that's nearly triple the rate of childhood obesity in the 1960's. The health effects are staggering and scary, including children suffering from physical ailments traditionally belonging to much older individuals, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. There are psychological and emotional effects as well, like depression and low self-esteem.
Sure, there are video games that encourage activity, from work-out games to indoor sports, and like physical games, the virtual variety has their benefits in hand-eye coordination, strategic thinking and more. But it's not the same as filling your lungs with fresh air, and the health benefits, both physical and emotional, of just playing and having fun, taking part in activity in addition to sports.
Maybe the next time it snows, we should all grab our sleds and head for the nearest hill, and make 2013 a year of healthy kids and good clean fun.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.