The envelope trembled in my hands as I slowly broke the seal. This was it. Even when you know it’s coming, you never feel fully prepared. Slowly, I unfolded the page.
“Dear Parent,” it read. “Winter weather has arrived, and it’s time for a reminder about appropriate winter attire.” Emotion welled up inside me, and I could read no further.
Let It Snow?
Appropriate winter attire is the bane of my maternal existence. I’ve made it through the teething and the shots and the crayon-marked walls with reasonable grace. It’s the “appropriate winter attire” that converts me into the haggard, hair-flying crazy-mom stereotype.
Here’s the funny thing, though. It’s not just the kids. Four boys do go through a lot of snow boots, but I could handle that if it weren’t for the whole rest of the world taking it upon themselves to police my kids’ state of dress. Of course, every sartorial failure is pushed directly back on me, their inadequate mother.
“Is that jacket really warm enough?” the store clerk will say, gesturing critically towards one of my children as we load up the grocery bags. “Shouldn’t he have mittens?” a passing stranger will ask.
When I make this complaint to friends (especially childless ones), I often get something like this reply: “I’m sure it’s a pain to sort through all the winter stuff for so many people, but it just makes me sad when I’m out on a cold day, and I see adults bundled up all nicely, followed by straggling children who hardly seem to be wearing any clothes. Obviously you realize it’s cold if you trouble to dress yourself so well, so why wouldn’t you take the same trouble for your kids?”
Yes, why not? Obviously I just don’t care about them. “It’s all about me” is my usual philosophy on parenting. On the other hand, there might be a few ways in which kids are just different from adults. Allow me to expand on this.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Let’s start here. On cold days, I rarely have difficulty persuading myself to put on a coat. The same cannot always be said for my children. For some reason, many children have an aversion to being bundled up. A rarified form of claustrophobia? A defiant stand on behalf of (corporeal) liberty? I don’t know. All I know is that they fight, whine, and protest.
Sometimes you just have to have that battle. If we’re going to a parade or an outdoor light show, I will insist. But what if their outdoor exposure will be limited to a few 45-second windows as we hurry from the car to a warm building, and then back again? Still necessary to risk the tantrum? I think that’s a parental-discretion sort of question.
Next point. I can don my own winter attire and trust myself not to toss it carelessly aside the moment I feel too warm. Young children, by contrast, tend to need a lot of help getting dressed, and they will abandon hats, mittens, scarves, and even boots the moment these seem more cumbersome than helpful. Two-year-olds aren’t great long-term planners, I have found.
You could just declare that it’s my job to keep track of these things. That’s why I’m the parent, right? Let me remind you once again that I have four young boys. Granted, the first-grader can put on his own coat, and knows better than to drop his earmuffs in the trash. But the two pre-schoolers are iffy, and the toddler sheds his winter wear like an Alaskan malamute. Keeping track of all those niggling little things is practically a full-time job. Is it really so terrible just to let the kids have cold hands for one brief minute?
I know what you’re going to say, critical reader. Tie the mittens to the coats so they don’t get lost! Can’t do it: strangulation risk.
Finally, consider this. It is safe for me to wear my winter coat in the car. For young children, by contrast, wearing a coat in a car seat is a safety hazard. The upshot, then is that the general public expects me to battle my four children into warm winter coats for the 20-foot walk to the car, remove them so the children can safely be buckled into their seats, drive to our destination, fight the kids back into their coats for another 20-foot walk, then somehow convert myself into a coat-check room, keeping track of their 8,000 winter items so that we can repeat the whole exhausting process at the conclusion of our outing. Can we just hibernate, like bears?
Button Up Your Overcoat
Obviously, it’s my parental duty to keep my kids from freezing to death. I’m willing to do that. I could manage better without all the public judgment, though.
I do actually understand why strangers get so nosy about the winter-dress thing. An underdressed child on a winter day can look truly pitiful. You see a small boy in the snow, rubbing his arms to keep warm, and you just want to wrap him up in a blanket and give him a hot chocolate. It’s not a mystery to me why people get indignant when they see me (a hygienic lady in a respectable coat and smart boots), and then behold my heartstring-tugging Tiny Tim brigade straggling along behind. This does not remotely resemble a Norman Rockwell painting. Give them adorable mufflers, stat!
Here’s my advice, then, if you see a cold-looking child and want to help. Put a sock in it. You don’t know anything about this situation. Does it look like the child is in imminent danger of dying of hypothermia? No? Then go about your business.
I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to nosy-stranger stories, but here’s the best. About a year ago, I brought my family to an outdoor football game on a 30-degree day. On this occasion, the older three boys were dressed in all the winter accouterments, since we were planning to be outside.
But I knew the baby would be dropping things all over the place, so I devised an ingenious solution: I layered him in multiple full-body suits, with two too-large sets of footie pajamas on top (covering his hands and feet). Then I strapped him to my body (another source of warmth!) and kept his head warm by cupping my own gloved hands over his cranium while we watched the game.
The plan worked splendidly from the standpoint of protecting the baby from cold (as judging by his warm extremities, healthy pink color, lack of shivering, and evident contentedness). There was just one drawback. The police asked us to leave because “patrons were complaining” that my baby looked cold.
Do I really have to spend my whole winter both chasing mittens and explaining to the world why they aren’t on the proper hands? Couldn’t people just give a harried mom a break this winter? If nothing else, remember this. Suffering builds character. You’ll be congratulating me one day, when my Minnesotan Tiny Tims grow into Paul Bunyans.