I have loved playing outside in the winter for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved bundling up into as many layers of clothes as I can and then shoving my way into the warmest coat, mittens, hat, and scarf that I can find. As a child I spent as many hours as I could outside. I remember my parents having to call me to come in when dinner was ready or when it was about to get dark. I would reluctantly obey and enter our mudroom to take off my clothes and dry my soaking wet mittens on the heater.
As I grew older I still loved spending any free time I got outside each winter. Rather than simply playing in the snow I now spent the hours hiking, skiing, and eventually even snowboarding. I couldn’t wait to get home from school, throw my book bag onto my bedroom and floor and begin dressing in the warmest winter gear I could find. I had special mittens by this point that kept my fingers so warm that I almost forgot it was winter.
After high school I took a service trip to Mongolia. I had been warned that it would be cold there so I had packed accordingly, filling my bag with wool sweaters, long johns, warm socks, my heaviest coat, and as many pairs of mittens as I could find. The sometimes thirty-below weather was not about to phase me. And it didn’t. I landed in Mongolia, added a few extra layers for warmth, and proceeded to enjoy my time in that country immensely. My days were spent visiting in hospitals and orphanages.
One orphanage just outside the capital city allowed me and the other Americans to take the children outside to play. The orphans’ supervisor commented that the children hadn’t been outside in weeks. I felt anger rise up with this comment and was more determined than ever to make our outdoor play time with these children something memorable. I wasn’t prepared to see the children as they filed out of the building and into the empty parking lot they knew as a playground. I watched closely as each child filed outside wearing nothing more than a spring jacket. No mittens, hats, scarves or boots.
As we played outside with the children that day I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. I kept waiting for them to complain of the cold and want to return indoors. In two hours I never heard one child complain to the supervisor. The children didn’t even seem phased by the mittens and hats that me and my friends wore.
Eventually that afternoon I gave my mittens to a little girl that looked a bit colder than all the rest. I tried to ignore the sting that came to my cold fingers just a few minutes later. And then I decided that instead of trying to ignore the sting I would embrace it and be thankful for all the pairs of warm mittens I had worn throughout the years.