I called my mom one afternoon to check in. It was the middle of winter. I attended college in the Midwest, and there had been a huge snowfall in northern New Jersey where my parents lived.
She picked up the phone, sounding slightly out of breath.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
“Yeah. We were just playing in the snow.”
“Oh fun! Were the kids over?” I said, referring to my nieces and nephews who lived in the area.
“No, just your dad and me.”
“Wait, what?” Just you guys?”
“Yeah. We built a snowman and made snow angels.”
My parents were empty nesters after having six children spread over 17 years. They had quite a few grandkids by that point, but I hardly pictured my nearly retired parents playing in the snow by themselves. They were supposed to be the responsible ones, the ones who went to work and kept the house clean and volunteered at church. Playing in the snow looked so...frivolous.
I remember feeling a bit of envy, like I was missing out on the fun my parents had while I wrote papers and studied for exams. I still have a picture of my mom laying in the snow making a snow angel. I don’t know if she would have done that when I was a kid living at home. But as I look at that photo now, I can’t help but wonder if maybe the weariness of parenting lifted just enough for her to rediscover what it meant to play.
The latest phrase on repeat at our house is “Mommy show you!” The twins want me to put down the dishes or my phone and come see the castle they built or the puzzle they (sort of) finished. They want me to play trains or blocks or chase. I do, sometimes. I’m getting better at pausing my own agenda to find them while they hide not so inconspicuously under the big red blanket in the family room or build a fort with couch cushions (although inevitably I end up doing it wrong according to the unwritten rules of two-year-olds).
My kids instinctively know how to play. They know how to spend an entire day participating in activities simply because they enjoy them. And they’re teaching me that as an adult, I don’t play or laugh enough. In the busyness of everyday life, in the nursing and rocking and teething and tantrums and potty training, I can easily forget what it means for me to do something for sheer amusement.
I can cry at the drop of a hat thanks to postpartum hormones and sleep deprivation. But laughter and play? Those often feel too luxurious, superfluous, or useless.
Yet joy that literally overflows in the form of a funny sound, and the feeling of overwhelming delight in what I’m doing, even if there’s not a “practical” reason, are not optional practices. They’re beautiful and life-giving—even necessary.
So this next year, I’ll aim to put down my to-do list more often to color with my kids. I’ll wrestle with them and tickle them. I’ll have tea party with their stuffed animals and seek to find joy in those everyday moments. On those cold winter days when the wind blows and the snow falls, I’ll show them how to build a snowman and laugh when they give themselves a mustache with hot chocolate.
But maybe sometimes, just for the fun of it, I’ll play in the snow without them.
Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate
Yields 4-6 servings*
4 cups whole milk, plus more to taste
6 ounces dark chocolate, broken into chunks (I used 70% cacao)
¼ cup creamy, unsalted peanut butter
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more to taste
Pinch of sea salt
Add the milk, chocolate, peanut butter, and sugar to a medium saucepan. Heat over low heat and whisk constantly, until the ingredients melt together. Add a pinch of salt and more milk if desired.
Strain using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. You can skip this step, but you may get a few tiny pieces of peanut depending on how smooth your brand of peanut butter is. I found even with creamy peanut butter, the texture is much better after it’s strained.
Divide into mugs, and top with whipped cream. (For homemade whipped cream, whisk together 1 cup of heavy cream with 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar until soft peaks form. You can add more powdered sugar if you prefer the whipped cream to be sweeter.)
I love anything that combines sweet and salty, so after I top my hot chocolate with whipped cream, I finish it all with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. It’s definitely optional, but in my opinion so, so good.
*This recipe makes a very rich “sipping chocolate” meant to be served with relatively small portions. If you want to tone down the richness (especially for kids), just add more milk.