In February it snowed six inches and I stood at the window, surveying the drifts while my kids ran circles around me.
I’d already been stuck in the house with work projects all week and I was dying to get out. And it wasn’t just me: even the kids had cabin fever. They screeched at each other and clung about my feet; high on boredom and drunk on monotony.
After watching people slip and slide down our residential street, I decided we’d have to stay in. The kids ran circles around me and I wondered how we’d stay in yet another long winter day without driving each other crazy. I was already starting to feel a bit at loose ends, a despondent restless feeling edging its way in.
I looked out at the snow and I thought of how some northwestern European countries have their own word for creating a coziness during long winter days. The Dutch have “gezellig” and the Danish have “hygee.” Both words mean not just “coziness,” but also enjoying friendly company in a pleasant, warm atmosphere.
I watched my oldest pile blankets and pillows on the couch to keep them from his brother and thought: we’ll build caves. It could be a cozy way to spend time together on a long winter day. Instead of venturing onto the slick streets, we’ll go smaller, making our space feel warm and new, the way the Dutch drink hot tea or light candles when it’s blustery outside.
We draped blankets between ottomans and chairs and piled books in each cave. I scooted furniture together so the space was smaller and more contained. The kids crawled under the blankets and my oldest thumbed through books while my youngest chewed on board books. For a while they were more content than before. It was as if containing them calmed them, the same way when you swaddle a baby you can trick it into being soothed. It also didn’t hurt that the newness of the caves distracted them and made our home itself feel fresh.
As I stole a bit of time to read myself while the children were occupied, I thought of quiet spaces and how they can be calming, how they can center you. My friend recently built a tiny house with her husband and before they moved in she asked me, how if years earlier I liked living in a 300 square foot Dutch flat.
I admitted to not always liking it and described how small spaces can make you feel cooped up. But I also remembered how it centered me in the present more than other spaces I have lived in, because we only had room to store and use things that very day. Going smaller in space seemed to also focus the mind a little bit, as if putting a frame on your life, cutting out the excess, could help you focus on what was before you that day.
My restlessness seemed to grow from a gnawing sense that I had endless days upon snowy days to fill, when in reality, I may only have one day trapped inside. And if I began a simple thing in a small space, I could reclaim some enjoyment and adventure in the here and now.