Originally published in Let Grow by Kate Sundquist, December 2019
We complain kids these days are getting soft and don’t dress for the weather, but parents need to lead by example.
It was a nasty day of slushy mess—the kind that makes you want to settle in by the woodstove with a steaming mug of tea, or maybe something stronger. Yet we were here, at our favorite nature reserve, dressed for the weather and stomping along the empty trails. My boys turned their shoulders to the wind, tucked their chins down into their collars, and ran in crooked streaks through the half-frozen puddles, squealing gleefully.
“Why isn’t anyone else here, Mama?” my 4-year-old called over his shoulder as we returned to the parking lot. “It’s a great day for a walk!” He emphasized this by launching himself into another mud puddle lined with a thin icy edge that made a satisfying crunch beneath his feet. I smirked under my jacket and shrugged, “I don’t know, honey.”
We need to encourage kids to embrace all types of weather.
I could have told him that many people were deterred by the cold, wind, and rain. But he didn’t really have any context for the concept. I was happy to keep it that way.
He’d already come home from preschool one day that year and told me in a small, sad voice, “Mama, we sang the meanest song today. It went, ‘Rain, rain, go away’. I felt so sad! I love the rain.’”
When my sons were just 2 and 3 years old, I was in the midst of what I would later understand to be seasonal affective disorder. So as a family, we made a New Year’s resolution to play outside every day for 365 days straight, regardless of the weather. We called it our 365 Outside Challenge, and it ended up lasting for three years.
Rain, snow, sleet, wind, heat—nothing was enough to keep us inside for an entire day at a time. We learned how to dress for the weather, how to choose our environment, and how to shift our thinking. Along we way, we learned weather is just a condition—it’s not an ultimatum. No matter the weather, we could always find a way to manage it for at least 15 minutes. And we always felt better for it.
You have to learn to dress for the weather.
I didn’t know it then, but at the same time I was bundling my toddlers against one of the worst New England winters in decades, another mom halfway across the country was doing the same in rural Indiana.
Her name is Linda Åkeson McGurk, and she was a Swedish transplant, doing her best to invoke in her children a Scandinavian appreciation for all that nature could dish up. Her experiences inspired her to write the popular book, There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather, based on the Scandinavian saying that starts thusly and ends with, “Only bad clothes.”
McGurk notes that in Sweden, it’s still common for babies to nap outside all winter long. Many children spend up to 20% of their school day outside at recess year-round, and even the packaging on their common cold and flu medication recommends getting outdoors.
Here in the United States, though, the EPA estimated in 2018 that the average American spends about 90% of their time indoors. This is despite the well-documented benefits of getting outside, even when ill. As early as 1890, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association extolled the healing benefits of fresh air excursions for sick women and children.
Around the same time, a floating hospital was moored in the lower bay near Manhattan, where ailing patients could spend time in the summer to receive fresh ocean air and saltwater baths. Health resorts also popped up in the Adirondacks for the purpose of healing pulmonary diseases. So even from an early time, the outdoors was a place to get healthy, not to get sick.
Going outside is good for us all.
Today, the benefits of getting outside are still clear. Even though kids are less active overall, we know the benefits are there. One recent study determined that fresh air and exposure to natural light can actually speed up healing times, reduce stress levels, and diminish pain levels. Yet somehow, many people still seem surprised to see us out in less-than-perfect conditions even though we dress for the weather.
“Weather like this . . . Be careful he doesn’t catch a cold!” tsk’d one older woman who was out walking her dog while my children took turns shoving their heads in a snowbank. I shrugged. With the appropriate clothing, we could play, walk, sit, or run outdoors in nearly any condition.
Or at least so I thought.
Don’t mess with Halloween.
This year a few days before Halloween, the emails started flying. The first was from the chief of police. “Have you seen the forecast for Halloween? What are your thoughts?” he wrote to the director of our town’s youth commission, who quickly forwarded the email along to the rest of us on the board.
The back and forth that followed was noncommittal. “I don’t want to be responsible for canceling Halloween,” wrote one. Another added, “This doesn’t seem like a decision that should be made by the youth commission. Is it a safety issue? Let’s leave it to the police.” Eventually, the board of selectmen, the fire department, and the police department all weighed in, and the decision was made—trick or treating would be postponed by one night due to the forecast for inclement weather.
I had, of course, seen the forecast. Being an outdoor enthusiast and the wife of a tugboat captain, I am a bit of a weather fiend. Checking the weather, reading weather blogs, and following forecast trends are among the first and last things I do each day. I knew there was a storm coming. It was slowly creeping up the coast and another system sitting in the north Atlantic would be pushing it west.
At first, the forecast was for 40 knots of wind and driving rain. We’d had similar two weeks before, and school had been closed a day for power outages and downed power lines. Still, this was a different storm and the forecast had been backing off. It looked like it would hit late at night and be worse further inland. We may not even see it at all. So yes, I had seen the forecast. I just didn’t think it was my place to make the call.
Parents are becoming the soft ones.
When the news that trick or treating had been postponed hit social media, the mayhem that ensued was predictable. The masses went wild, quick to condemn the soft kids and parents who couldn’t be bothered to dress for the weather and collect candy in the rain. Some even wanted to know which parents exactly had complained.
Yet, among all these voices complaining about how soft we’d gotten, I had to wonder. Where were all these people on the rainy days? They certainly weren’t out walking the nature reserve or splashing in puddles around the neighborhood. Since when is it too cold, too hot, too windy, too rainy, or too humid to go outdoors?
It’s not our kids that have gotten soft. It’s us.
Barring extreme weather events, which even McGurk agrees should drive us indoors, it’s about time that we embraced her Scandinavian outlook. They really are onto something with, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”