Cold in California | Two Decades of Kids and Counting | Sally Torbey | Palo Alto Online |

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By Sally Torbey

Cold in California

Uploaded: Dec 10, 2013

Brrr! I grew up in states with real winters, snow and ice, but my children spend more time being cold in California than I ever did in the Midwest, because they barely wear enough clothing to prevent perishing from hypothermia.

As my girlfriend who owns an outdoor clothing store in Minnesota says, "there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing". Dressed appropriately, it is possible to be comfortable in even the most frigid temperatures, but this wisdom is lost on my kids. They are not alone in their aversion to outerwear. I crunched on frosty grass and slipped on icy sidewalks while walking our dog this morning, but middle school and high school students biked by, hatless and gloveless. Cotton sweatshirts with an occasional hood pulled up over a bike helmet was their only defense against the chilly weather. I did not spot a single puffy jacket and one boy was even wearing shorts. This cold snap has been with us for a week. Ample time to shiver and experience cold numb fingers and ears, which would seem to be enough to motivate kids to dig those winter clothes out of the back of the closet.

When I was growing up in a sparsely populated Midwestern suburb, in winter the 20 minute drive to the grocery store was a potential brush with death. At any moment the car might slide off the slippery road into a snow drift, and it could be hours before any one stumbled upon us. We never left the house without boots, snow pants, extra blankets and provisions, less we risk frostbite or worse. The recent cold temperatures here in Palo Alto activate these well honed survival instincts in me, so I pile on the layers and am comfortably warm and dry. My kids' response to my pleas to layer is that the weather will warm up in a few hours, and then they'll be overheated and have to lug the jacket around, which is, apparently, a terrible fate. Also, the crinkly sound of raingear is intolerably annoying.

Friday night my daughter attended her first middle school dance, billed as semi-formal. After asking around, we determined that meant wear anything except athletic attire or flannel. Since it was a bone chilling 25 degrees out, my daughter agreed to wear a skirt, dressy sweater, tights and flats. I was in favor of her ski jacket over that ensemble, but that was vetoed. As I dropped her off, I saw girls running through the rain and wind in spaghetti strapped white eyelet dresses and sandals. No sweaters or tights in sight. My heart sank, her first dance and I gave her bad advice on clothing! I think she has almost forgiven me.

My kids also spend more time being cold than I ever did because they play soccer in November, swim at outdoor meets in December, and try out for little league in January. This scheduling of outdoor sports throughout the winter months denies the fact that, even in balmy Northern California, we are regularly subjected to rain, frost and wind. In addition, elementary students depend only on outdoor over hangs for shelter due to the lack of indoor gyms for rainy day recreation. And, at lunch time in inclement weather, middle schoolers sit on cold tile floors in drafty school hallways. Because our kids are expected to just put up with being uncomfortable and cold, they do not learn that there are alternatives!

My kids' inability to exercise proper judgment regarding winter clothing does make me worry about their ability to survive and adjust to a place with real weather. On the other hand, they were aghast at my recent misstep. On Saturday, I was huddled under blankets at Greer Park watching the AYSO soccer tournament all day. With the wind whipping off the Bay, I sat in the sun for warmth. I was chilled to the bone, so applying sunscreen did not occur to me, and my kids were horrified to see my sunburned face that night. At least I can take some comfort in knowing my California kids won't ever forget to lather on the sunscreen, no matter the weather!