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Two Decades of Kids and Counting

By Sally Torbey

About this blog: About this blog: I have enjoyed parenting five children in Palo Alto for the past two decades and have opinions about everything to do with parenting kids (and dogs). The goal of my blog is to share the good times and discuss the ...  (More)

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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!

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Maria, a resident of University South,
on Dec 10, 2013 at 1:44 pm

I totally agree with you!

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 10, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Hi Maria,
Thanks! Now how to I get my kids to agree?

Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Interesting read. I feel the cold here much more than I did when living in colder climes, I think our body adjusts to not being cold and doesn't know how to deal with it!

An aside to the description of what middle and high school kids wear to school, I have had long discussions with kids, parents and teachers about this. The real problem is that our schools have no space for dealing with big coats, wet umbrellas, etc. When they enter a classroom, even their backpacks are in the way and there is nowhere to hang a coat except on the back of their seat which is where they end up putting backpacks. Wet umbrellas drip under desks and cause the floors to get wet and slippy so many teachers refuse to allow them in the classroom, so where else can they be put? When changing for PE, their lockers have to accommodate their backpacks and street clothes, and a puffy jacket just would not fit.

I know that our schools have been designed with the idea that lunch can be eaten outside in the shade, not enough indoor space for them all to sit inside on wet or cold days unless a kind teacher allows them to sit at their desks in a classroom. But there are no such things as cloakroom space, umbrella holders or outdoor/indoor shoe changing facilities. In fact, it is impossible to find a plastic bag nowadays to hold a wet umbrella and if you use a trash bag, they usually end up being thrown out as trash.

So, the reality is that our kids do not wear outdoor clothing to school because it gets in the way while at school!

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Mother of 4,
Thank you for the great description of how the schools here are designed without consideration for the realities of the climate.
When I first moved to California I couldn't figure out why it was always drafty standing in the check out line at the grocery store. Then I realized the double doors that are standard in colder climates don't exist here, hence the wind blows right in.
When I was visiting the Midwest last year, I rediscovered how convenient it is to have a coat room in a restaurant.
Thanks for reading and commenting!

Posted by Debbie, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 10, 2013 at 3:49 pm

That is so true!!!! I definitely learned as a child to wear a hat and sunscreen to protect against the sun. And, we are so accustomed to being able to do all our outside activities all year.

Posted by Jim from Pelham, a resident of another community,
on Dec 10, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Howdy, Sally.

Have your son go to Ohio State University. Nice winters there.

Posted by ds, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Dec 10, 2013 at 4:25 pm

My young driver is learning to deal with a frozen windshield and foggy windows!

Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Dec 10, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Very good post Sally.

In defense of the schools, as a native Palo Altan, I don't remember weather to the extremes that we've seen the past few years. The intense flooding, record numbers of days of freeze warnings, etc. I remember getting really excited when we got to skate on "Lake Fairmeadow" on a couple of days of frosty mornings in the winter, but they were few and far between!

I also think one issue exacerbating the problem is that the schools were originally built for half as many kids (360 for each elementary school) so they do have to sit on the cold pavement to eat lunch, but that's another blog for another day....

I've pulled out the ski gear and bundled the kids up. So far, they aren't complaining, but break out the sunscreen and they scream. Go figure.

Posted by chilly in Paly, a resident of Community Center,
on Dec 10, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Good to know I am not alone in holding the fleece at the door as my child runs off in a t-shirt!

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 10, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Hey Doc! What a surprise, good to hear from you, and thanks for leaving a comment! My son might have considered Ohio State, if only their football team was just a bit better ;).

Hi ds,
I am sure there has been unprecedented sales in windshield scrapers this week. Good practice for your new driver to learn how to work all those extra functions on the dashboard, essential life skills that many California drivers miss out on!

Hi Erin,
Thanks for commenting! I know what you mean about the weather changing, where I grew up there now seems to be less snow than I remember from childhood.
We have experienced the growth in elementary school populations over the course of our five kids. This year there are almost twice the number of kids at the school compared to when my oldest son started kindergarten 18 years ago. There is no doubt that contributes to the lack of appropriate spaces for eating and playing on wet and cold days.
Glad to hear your kids are tolerating the snow gear. Mine complain about the lack of mobility and feeling like a "stuffed sausage" when they are dressed in enough layers to actually stay warm.
Have you tried the spray on sunscreen? Not sure why but mine prefer that to any lotion. Probably because it is a speedier application process.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 10, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear chilly in Paly,
You are definitely not alone. Noticing how the other kids were dressed (or not) on the way to school actually assuaged a lot of my guilt!

Posted by Grammy, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 11, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I Love reading your blog, Sally! And the comments are a wonderful read, too! Thank you all!

Posted by LJ, a resident of another community,
on Dec 12, 2013 at 6:57 am

Californians need snow!

You have triggered lots of Midwestern thoughts/memories for me, Sally.

The layers of winter clothes are not elegant to be sure, but you get to peel them if you are cross country skiing or shoveling. As for the windshield, Palo Alto young drivers know not to use their car keys on it, right? Some of us learned that lesson the hard way!

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 12, 2013 at 10:28 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Hi Grammy,
Thanks for reading and commenting! I like the comments best!

Hi LJ,
I'm sure the car key as scraper lesson has been learned a few times this week here. Credit cards work better!

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