As the Olympics come to a close, we have just begun to absorb all of its richness – the different nations, cultures and languages, not to mention the sports, the emotions, and the wintry Pyeongchang landscape.

In years past, our girls weren’t old enough to appreciate them with us. But now, watching them as a family is a whole different experience. Where is that country? Why are they wearing those funny suits? How do they flip that many times? Can I be in the Olympics next year when I’m eight? The depths to be plumbed are innumerable. And the things they notice are interesting – like Soohoorang, the white tiger, who is the official mascot of these Olympics.

So, where should you start? If you didn’t watch the Parade of Nations, it is worth pulling up on YouTube to at least watch part of it. In fact, because our kids still conk out by 7:30 each night, that’s how we watched much of the Olympics – as YouTube clips to get a sampling of different sports and moments.

I have to admit that the opening ceremonies have often seemed a bit insufferable in their length, but this year I was fascinated by the designations of the countries and surprised by those I thought were not independent nations.

For example, Puerto Rico had its own team because the International Olympic Committee considers it a Commonwealth. And I pulled out our atlas to show our girls where South Korea was, as well as tiny places like Tonga who had its first (well-oiled) athlete ever compete in the winter Olympics this year.

We looked at the flags of the different countries and things like what they eat there or what kinds of things they produce. We talked about how people from desert nations in Africa, for example, train in wintry places like Switzerland to use their speedy running skills to learn to luge.

“So, do they get paid to go sledding?” asked my daughter. Nope, they have to save up a lot of money to train and to travel to be in different competitions. Their friends and family usually help them a lot and they sometimes have to be away from those people for a long time. They have to really, really want to win to spend so much time practicing. And then, they wait … for four years.

Wait, what? Yep – the Olympics only happen every four years, so you get one shot and then you have to practice, practice again, and wait that long for the next Olympics. Wow, you really have to be patient!

Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s also fun. Luge is really just super-fast grown-up sledding after all. This was a great way to start the conversation about how the fun and physical activity that you do as kids changes as you get older.

But, grown-ups still like to have fun. And just because they are working really hard to get good at their sport, it doesn’t mean they aren’t having fun. You can see it on their faces and in the exuberant yelps of joy and hugs and sometimes tears they share with their loved ones and fans after their events.

It’s also a great way to talk about disappointment and to see how sad some of the athletes can be if they don’t do as well as they’d hoped, but then to see how their friends and family rally around them to give them plenty of support.

“So, when can I be in the Olympics?” was the next question as we marveled at the young age of some of the athletes. China’s Wu Meng was only 15 years old. We thought about how brave young athletes have to be to be in such a difficult competition, which helped explain why eight was still a little young. They have to compete with much older athletes – like Canada’s 51-year-old curler, Cheryl Bernard, the oldest competitor.

Here in Maine, where we are certainly not the center of cultural diversity, the Olympics offers an alluring window into the world that can be explored in any number of directions. Every time we hear of a new place now, we talk about what sports they play there and what language they speak.

Short of hosting the Midcoast Winter Olympics of 2022, we will keep unraveling this rich world experience in our own ways. And, we will hold our own Olympics in the meantime – practicing ski jumps in pajamas on the way to breakfast or spinning on paper plate “skates” on the wood floor on rainy days.

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