I am a Mom. I am a New Yorker. It is winter.
If you’re a mother in a balmier climate, known to complain about fifty-degree “freezing” temperatures, you probably can’t relate–but feel free to read on, if only to have a laugh while you snuggle into your cotton sweater. Fellow cold-weather moms? You know how we feel about winter. Now let us count the ways:
1. THE HONEYMOON PHASE
On the surface, this a part of winter isn’t that terrible. That first nip in the air doesn’t come as a warning; it’s almost welcome. That little chill is a harbinger of holidays, of cute sweaters, of paper snowflakes and other wintry-themed craft projects. The early part of winter passes by in a blur, what with taking cold-weather clothes out of “storage” (i.e., a trunk or bin stuffed to the max with snowsuits and puffy jackets), the luxury of indoor playdates (no pressure to go outside when the temperature dropping!), or visits to the playground when it’s almost empty (“Gee, it’s not even that cold,” you think to yourself. “Those other moms are total wimps!”). Getting ready for the holidays puts a palpable excitement into the air and the radio plays holly-jolly music twenty-four hours a day. What’s not to love? But then…
The gifts have been opened; the playground is finally too chilly for even the heartiest of families. Then the realization sets in that you are facing months more of this. Months more.
2. SNOW. LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS OF SNOW
The first snowfall of the year is nothing short of magical. The sky takes on that special orange-tone at night, and sparkly snowflakes, no two alike, fall from the sky, dusting the sidewalks with what looks like powdered sugar and rendering your world a dazzling white. Your kids are excited. You’re excited. By the fifth snowfall, you are no longer excited. Schools either call for a “snow day,” leaving your family stuck at home with nothing to do other than a ten-minute foray outside to “see the snow,” or school remains stubbornly in session, requiring you trek through the snow at a snail’s pace and recalling to mind certain torturous scenes from Doctor Zhivago and The Shining.
3. SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, FAMILY-STYLE
Outdoor activities are now severely limited, if not darn near impossible. Oh, you try to brave that newly opened ice-skating rink, or — let’s get crazy! — the Botanical Garden. Five minutes into ice skating, your children are crying and you’re fearful that their chapped little hands might actually be in danger of falling off. At the Garden, the whole family huddles into the Tropical Exhibit, breathing on the windows and writing “SOS” in the condensation clouds. Help, alas, is not around the corner, any more than spring is. Sorry.
4. “SICK SEASON”
What with the outdoor options limited, why not just pack your week with play dates? It seems like a sensible approach to the feelings of isolation that winter brings. There’s just one problem. Every single mother and child you know in the surrounding ten mile radius is sick. Including you and your kids. There’s the First Cold of the Season. Then the second. Then the stomach flu. And then the actual flu, if you were foolhardy enough to skip a flu shot this year. Or maybe you did get the flu shot, but this is some kind of freak flu that flourishes in your supposedly-inoculated system. Your schedule goes something like this: You make a play date. Play date is canceled because your friends are sick. Play date rescheduled. Then you get sick. Play date canceled again. Repeat until spring, when your kid and your kid’s friend have grown two inches, developed different interests, and no longer remember each other.
5. FEAR OF “SICK SEASON”
After multiple bouts of antibiotic-resistant “viruses,” you just don’t want anyone in your family to get sick again, ever. This paints the world with a color called “panic.” The YMCA is now off-limits (too many kids wiping their snotty noses on the gym equipment), as is the library (the sounds of other children hacking and coughing create an ear-splitting cacophony of echoes), and the Happy Tot Playschool (AKA the Happy Tot Petri Dish of Infectious Illnesses). Unless, of course, it’s your kid who is sick. Then you consider all of those places a free-for-all, even though you’re putting other children at risk (you rationalize by talking about “antibodies” and “toughening up the system’s defenses”).
6. LAYERS. LOTS AND LOTS OF LAYERS
If you have someplace to go — the supermarket, say–start prepping your departure about an hour ahead of time, because that’s how long it will take to wrangle your children into the appropriate amounts of clothing required to battle the cold. They’ll need a bottom layer, possibly two pairs of socks, and then a top layer (a sweater, maybe a snowsuit). Then their jackets, hats, mittens, and scarves. And what about you, Mom? You need to be warm, too. Basically at the end of the “getting dressed to go out” section of your day, you’ll all be as tightly wrapped as mummies and about as mobile as the Tin Man.
7. MITTEN MISHEGAS
Layer-related problems go beyond lack of mobility. At about the same age they master the pincer grip, babies learn to dislike hats and mittens. Getting cold-weather accessories with Velcro-closure can help for a time, but eventually they learn how to rip apart hat flaps and throw their headgear to the ground. During the winter, your little one will end up with some portion of their flesh laid bare to the elements due to one of the following events: a) he or she refuses to put on their mittens, hat, scarf, etc. b) he or she acquiesces, and then throws the offending item from the stroller when you are not looking; and finally, the worst event of all: c) you forget to put on/bring your child’s mittens, hat, or scarf.
8: MITTEN MISHEGAS: THE RECKONING
Just as certain as your child’s fragile skin being exposed to the harsh winter weather because of one (or more) of the above events, so is the absolutely definite eventuality of a stranger (or possibly your mother-in-law) commenting on said exposure. No sooner will you leave your home then an unknown female will materialize — perhaps a neighbor; perhaps the old lady sitting at the bus stop; or just a passerby on the street. “His little hands look so cold,” this busybody will comment. The checkout girl at the supermarket will ask, “Is she all right without a hat?” You will feel guilt–guilt that you were unable to safely glue your kid’s mittens on. Guilt that you forgot your kid’s mittens. Guilt that you didn’t notice when your kid threw his or her mittens out of the stroller. Guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt.
But the end is in sight, after all. Just when you feel like it’s the Last Days, it actually turns out to be simply the last days of winter. I’ve found myself wondering at times, What is the point of the cold season, of the treeless branches, of withered plants and ultra-lame winter fruit selection at the supermarket? I mean, I get it–distance from the sun, the revolving Earth, etc. But what’s really the point?
I think I know. It’s about how we feel at those first signs of spring–the first day you get to leave your coats at home, the first tiny green buds peeping out on tree branches, the first time in April when you catch a breeze that feels fresh and not frigid. I think we need the winter to fully experience the joy that spring brings, the happiness that fills us to bursting, leaving our most-hated things behind us, nearly forgotten, until the next winter rolls around.