There is a difference between December snow and February snow.

Perhaps it's the texture. The smell, or the light. Or perhaps, like with most things, the difference lies in the perception.

In December, I tell my sons that they have a snow day from school.

"Yes! Alright! Can we make a snowman? Can we go sledding? Can we go ice skating? Can we shovel sidewalks to make some money?"

The excitement is there. The promise, the potential, that "carpe diem" attitude that I love so much. That's December.

Now it's February. I told my sons the same news this morning, and they stared glumly at me.

"Really? Oh."

I asked them what they wanted to do with the found day.

"How about the Apple Store? My iPod touch charger is broken."

Boring, I said. I asked them if they wanted to go sledding, or shovel sidewalks.

"Nah," they said. "It'll melt in a few days. We wanted to play baseball at the park with our friends." They look despondent, because spring is in their hearts.

But snow has had a good run this year. My boys have sledded, ice skated, snowmobiled, skied and snowboarded. It's been a great dose of alliterative fun.

My husband had my sons skiing at a shockingly young age. I didn't learn until I was in college - I went to East Stroudsburg University, and all of my friends were ski instructors. It was ski, perish or sit home alone in the dorm on the weekends.

So when my husband suggested my twins learn to ski fresh out of Pull-Up diapers, my Mommy Alarms began beeping and flashing.

They're too little, I said.

No, they're not, he said.

They'll fall and be scared, I said.

Maybe. But that's how they learn.

They're not ready, I said.

They're going, he said.

I am rarely overruled in my household. I am Master of my Universe in all things school, religion, social, appearance, phones, overnighters and nutrition. But when it comes to sports?

Let's say I've learned my place. Which is to be seen and not heard. I am too cautious, too protective, too eager to say, "That's o.k. honey, if you don't want to go, you don't have to."

This is not always a good thing. Sometimes by protecting them, I keep them from fulfilling their potential.

I still remember after the twins came out of ski school, my husband and I took them up the chairlift, and I stared at the K2 cliff he expected my four year olds to ski down.

"Are you out of your mind?" I said.

"They can do it," he said. "Boys," he said, as he kneeled down to talk to them, face to face, "remember your pizzas. You can to do this - just point straight down and try not to wipe out."

Jeez, I thought. Great advice.

But they nodded seriously, little apple cheeks and button noses red with cold, because Daddy was talking to them. Daddy was telling them they could do something. And why would Daddy tell them they could do something if they really couldn't?

So then were gone, like shots. I will never fully recover from the sight of my Sesame Street watching munchkins shooting down the side of a mountain and ending up at the bottom, unharmed and victorious. I also remember looking at my husband, and nodding.

You were right, I said.

Don't hold them back from stuff, he answered.

I won't, I promised.

But it's not easy to ignore that primordial tug of wanting to protect your children. To not want them to be cold, hungry or tired. To not ever want them to be disappointed, or to doubt themselves. To want them to experience happiness every second of every minute of every hour of every day.

But that type of world does not exist. And I won't always be there to tell them not to ski down that big mountain. They have to learn for themselves which ones are too big, and which ones are...skiable. And every time they fall, every time they succeed, every time they realize they're in over their heads, they become stronger and smarter.

When I watch my three boys ski together now (my eight year is better than me), doing jumps and rails, I remain humbled. The fun they have now is because of their father's willingness to let them try. For years while they learned to ski, he put up with the tears, the frustration and the falls because he knew that one day they would be 12 and 8, and would consider Black Diamond runs pure joy.

And they do. And as I look out my window, I realize that this column started out about snow. But I realize it's about much more than that.

It's about potential. And realizing and fulfilling that potential. And taking that potential and running with it. Whether it's down the side of a mountain or down the face of a wave, I have to let my kids brave it. Because every time I do, they shock me with their bravery and maturity.

When I grow up? I want to be just like them.