Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Nap time.

Back in the late 1990s I had a friend who had a dog who hated Teletubbies – those large, fuzzy creatures that were part of a once-popular kid’s television show. Now, how could a dog hate a Teletubbie, right? But this dog did. It became something of a parlor trick to pop in a video cassette and watch the dog bare his teeth and growl at the screen.

We fancy ourselves more advanced than dogs, but in this case I assure you we’re not. Consider The Dude’s hatred of the rock band the Eagles in the cult film The Big Lebowski. The Eagles laidback blend of folk and rock is the musical equivalent of a Toyota Corolla – maybe you don’t want one, but how can you find them offensive? And yet The Dude did.

Search your own black heart. Maybe it’s the movie La La Land? Car Talk? Delaware? Think hard enough and you’ll come up with something that fits the bill.

I irrationally hate it when people in the media tell me what to do. The people part is key to the animus. When the National Weather Service issues a robotic-sounding declaration telling me to avoid unnecessary travel, I take it in the helpful spirit it was offered. But when a reporter doing a live shot in a snowstorm tells me not to drive anywhere, I look for my keys as a matter of principle. When a food writer editorializes in a mushroom dish recipe to remind readers that wild mushrooms can be deadly so never eat anything you find growing outside, I go looking for a kid to take foraging. Worst of all is when the advice morphs from being an authorial aside into the focal point of the content. Go to the web and you’ll find features on infants and cold weather that boil down to some version of: “once the temperature gets below freezing, you shouldn’t take your baby out, except for quick trips back and forth to the car.” That’s a real quote from that had me slobbering all over the screen and baring my canine teeth.

These people mean well, I know. And my getting worked up over it is a touch ridiculous, I know. This is important to say, because the last thing we need in our hyper-aggrieved culture is another columnist who takes themselves too seriously when they’re acting like a dog. But with that on the table, I do think there’s something legitimately harmful in the nanny culture that should be noted.

The babies and cold thing is a perfect example. If a baby’s room temperature needs to be between 68 and 72, as most websites claim, and space heaters are a fire hazard, as the parent books point out, then ... what? Most rural people don’t live in homes that are precisely temperature controlled. If we see 60 in my baby’s room on a subzero night it’s a victory. The solution is simple, of course. You buy a down sleep sack and the baby sleeps like every baby did in a northern climate for the thousands of years between the advent of quality textiles and the introduction of temperature-controlled central heating. But you won’t learn that in the story because solutions aren’t the point.

As for running the baby to the car anytime it gets cold, we don’t. On New Year’s Day: High: 3 degrees, we had a bonfire, which involved burying the baby in snow like she was lying on a sandy beach. She loved it. That night: Low: -10 degrees, we took a walk through the meadow and the woods behind it, watched her transfix on the supermoon through her frozen little eyelashes. “Isn’t that pretty?” A big, four-tooth grin. I’m not sharing this image with a sense of smugness, I’m sharing it in defiance of the domesticated status quo. Sharing it so that other overmatched parents with a similar love of the outdoors can say: oh good, someone else who does what we do. Solidarity. Safety in numbers.

I guess it’s the domestication part that I see as harmful. We often blame technology for killing our rural ways of life. We switch to oil because we’re seduced by the convenience. Kids don’t want to go outside because they get hooked on video games. But fear, peddled by the media in the guise of being helpful, is another factor. We stop burning wood because some website did a story on particulate matter and asthma in children and we don’t want the ash in our house anymore. The kids turn to technology because we read a story telling us not to let them go outside when it’s cold. Drip, drip, drip, but soon there’s a ravine.

There was a don’t-take-your-baby-outside PSA on my partner’s Facebook page on Thursday, right beneath one from a fire department telling all people, young and old, not to go outside for the entire weekend. But right below them, a post from a young couple who are in Yellowstone, Wyoming, with their eight-month-old. It showed a picture of the three of them – the baby with a big old smile on her chubby face – and it read: “Yellowstone in winter!! #bucket list. #-10degrees.”

It filled me with such joy.

  1. Dave Anderson → in South Sutton, NH
    Jan 05, 2018

    Can I get an “Amen” Brother Mance? It is the consensus trance! I bare my teeth too. Bucking cold temps sweating while shoveling paths to chicken coop and woodshed and sugar house, hauling firewood to burn fossilized sunshine of homegrown backyard cord wood all feel like tiny acts of defiance.

    Sometimes in January, a grim existential conversation raises its ugly head - we love living here but what’s our exit strategy? What’s the end game when we reach our seventies and eighties? Florida would break my will to live. Better to drop dead in a snowbank and stare at the moon and smile?

  2. Sarah → in Pennsylvania
    Jan 05, 2018

    While I agree that we shouldn’t avoid the cold (I’m starting to feel stir crazy myself), by warning parents of babies and other individuals not to go out into the deep cold, we’re avoiding mishaps that could have been avoided if people knew how to properly dress for the cold. The family from Yellowstone probably had accumulated the correct gloves, boots, underclothes, etc. to wear in the cold because they have winters like that every year. This is unusual for us along the eastern seaboard as we often have milder winters than the Midwest. How often do we see boys standing out waiting for the bus in the cold with nothing more than jeans and a long sleeved shirt or t-shirt?

  3. Hubey Folsom → in Newfane, VT
    Jan 05, 2018

    As usual, another great editorial.  Thanks for urging folk to get their kids outside more, even when it’s cold.

    Nice images of your own family outings.

    Childless, adoptive grandfather of two,

  4. Charlie Schwarz → in South Williamsport, PA
    Jan 05, 2018

    Hear, hear—to listen to the TV weather people, just opening your door is to risk instantly flash freezing into a solid mass. As someone once said, “There’s no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.” We frequently see kids come out of their houses in the worst winter weather wearing T-shirts and shorts to scurry to the school bus. What were their parents thinking—are they capable of thinking?

  5. Rich
    Jan 05, 2018

    Wholly agree with the author’s sentiment. The ‘news’ is big business, and some will use fear to sell it. As consumers, we should challenge the self-proclaimed experts. Alternately, one might find entertainment in watching the reporter get swept off the sea wall just after they instruct their audience to ‘shelter in place’.

  6. Carolyn → in East Wallingford, VT
    Jan 05, 2018

    One of the most alarming moments I had in my life was when living in metro Connecticut and working as an office temp in a mega insurance company. In snowy weather, I bundled up in my parka and boots, trudged out to the car (which wore 4 snow tires), dug it out, warmed it up, slipped and slewed 20 backroad miles to work, and parked in an underground garage, then hiked into the building protected. Woo-hoo! Luxury! My boss, meanwhile, walked directly from her home into her garage, hit the automatic opener for her garage door and backed out (on 4 “all season” tires), had a slippy, slushy ride to work on the highway, parked in the same underground garage, and entered the building in her sidewalk flats, whining about the weather and dissing me for arriving a few minutes late. The gulf between our realities was so profound I couldn’t speak. Now, 30+ years later, I live on a dirt road in backcountry Vermont, and this gulf between realities is even wider.

  7. Patricia Liddle → in Canaan, NY
    Jan 05, 2018

    I love it. You are so right. Thank you.

  8. Michelle Letherer → in Michigan
    Jan 05, 2018

    Thanks for a fun read that made me smile. I needed that. No longer do I feel alone.

  9. Nancy Holmes → in Newcastle, ME
    Jan 06, 2018

    I must mention “The Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv, 2006. The idea of “nature-deficit disorder”- and its obvious cure - is steadily gaining credibility among professionals of all stripes.  One of my daughters said she and her siblings “were raised like little wolves.” I don’t know if that referred more to venison in their diet or playing outdoors until their boots were filled with snow. They grew into admirable adults with strong environmental ethics.

  10. Marg Carruthers → in Saut Ste. Marie
    Jan 17, 2018

    The cold is invigorating.  I much prefer the deep cold, especially if it’s bright and sunny over hot humid weather.  One of my friends, who is Norwegian descent, agrees with this wholeheartedly.  He says, ‘survived another summer’, rather than survived the winter!

  11. Collin Miller, CF → in Hobart, NY
    Jan 17, 2018

    Thanks for the defiance to conventional child-rearing wisdom. I couldn’t agree more..Conditioning while they’re young will help them to appreciate it as they grow. Nothing brings a winter smile like kids out throwing snow balls and waiting for the next dumping to build another snow fort. We play a sing-along in the car for our little guy that goes something like this…“I’m freezing, I’m freezing…Hope I don’t start sneezing…HA-CHOO! Mushy-slushy cold and wet. Snow suits and boots is it over yet?! HA-CHOO!”....I need to loose this CD between the seats.

  12. Pat Nelson → in Francestown, NH
    Jan 19, 2018

    I second Marg’s Norwegian friend’s comment about surviving summer. I am also of Scandinavian descent—love winter and become positively nonfunctional in hot, humid weather.

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