Long Dark Winter

Yesterday my wife and I were walking our dog on a grey, wintery day. Though only 45 degrees, it was a damp chill that felt like 39, what my wife’s Cajun family calls “dat wet cold.” She was grumbling about it, having grown up in Lafayette and hating winter. I reminded her that we met in Maine, regularly walking and skiing in worse cold and snow, with even shorter days and longer nights. “So this isn’t so bad, right?” I offered. Her response to my profound wisdom: “I wanna go to the Bahamas.”

Unlike my wife, grey winter days make me happy. I grew up in New Jersey, which like Maine, has long dark snowy winters. But winter has it’s own fun: as kids we got “snow days” off of school when the roads were too slick for school buses. Unlike days off for hurricanes where you must shelter, snow meant having snow-ball fights, sledding, and cross-country skiing in the woods. You’d come home wet and cold, peel off the soggy clothes, and have hot chocolate before a roaring fire. Some pundits are predicting a “long dark winter” of COVID. They seem to think, like my wife, that long dark winters are a bad thing?

Winter is typically difficult for kids’ health. Cooped up indoors with each other at home and school, children pass around cold viruses, influenza, and RSV. Those cough/congestion viruses in turn can cause asthmatics to have attacks, and some babies can wheeze from RSV. Kids with skin conditions like eczema will have flairs with prolonged exposure to cold dry air. They’ll itch, scratch, and have crusty flaky rashes.

At least we in Louisiana have shorter winters than most of the country, given our early spring warmth and longer days of light. Kids (and adults) will get outside sooner. Also,  schools’ protocols for mask-wearing, distancing, and alternating attendance has cut down not just COVID, but those other viruses that make kids sick on the regular. And the vaccine’s coming! So stock up on skin moisturizers, your kid’s asthma medication, and get those flu shots. There’s light at the end of the long dark winter tunnel.

I grew up cross-country skiing, but hadn’t been for 20 years since moving to Lafayette. Last March my wife and I went to Quebec with friends to try it out again. Three days of going up and down hills, the old reflexes were working, and I didn’t fall down once.Then that last day, skiing back to the lodge, they were cheering me in! I threw up my arms in triumph, lost my balance, and POW!  Nordic Scott eats snow.

As I mentioned above, long dark winters don’t get me down. However, this time of year when the days are shortest, the nights longest, and it’s grey and cold, many people get depressed. Add the post-Christmas blues: the holiday’s over, no fun between now and spring. Finally, with COVID, we can’t get together to share the misery like usual, under threat of life-threatening illness that we could catch; or worse, give to loved ones.

Depression from COVID issues is real. Isolation brings loneliness. Fear oppresses as friends and family get sick, some fatally. There’s nowhere to escape- any vacation spots you might visit are risky. Finally, most of us are poorer to some degree. Nothing takes the fun out of life like poverty and money worries.

Teenagers particularly get depressed easily. Puberty often makes them hyper-emotional, hyper-sensitive. If there’s depression to be had, they’re buying in! It’s thus a good time to keep an extra eye on your teenager’s mood. Are they more sullen or argumentative? Are they isolating more in their rooms? Are grades slipping? If so, ask them if they’re depressed or suicidal. Don’t tiptoe around the subject: asking if they’re  suicidal won’t put the idea in their head, and you need to know if they are. Not being proactive could prove fatal!  If you get the usual eye-rolling at your over-protectiveness, then good.  Better to be over-cautious than making funeral arrangements.

Meanwhile, stay positive. Spring and vaccines are coming. When the sun shines, get out of the house and get some sun on your faces. Do some charity- helping others often makes kids and adults feel better. The long dark winter will soon be past.


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