Natural consequences

AS I WAITED FOR MY GARAGE DOOR TO OPEN yesterday afternoon, I was met by Eli, who was fixing to leave on his bike with his basketball. He’s been enjoying that we live close to basketball courts, but it’s been too cold to play outside. He has discovered that sometimes, his school is open after hours and if one of the two gyms is not in use, he can shoot around inside.

The problem was, he was wearing crew socks and a pair of athletic slides. And a hoodie. And it was 20 degrees outside.

I tried to explain frostbite and hypothermia, but all he heard was BLAH BLAH COLD BLAH BLAH BLAH and off he went.

When he returned 15 minutes later, his feet were really cold. (No!) As he sat with them next to the fireplace, we had another discussion about how 20 degrees is a kind of cold one should not trifle with. This is the kind of cold that would freeze the canned sodas we used to leave on the shelf in our carport. It’s the kind of cold that helps you identify every broken seal on every window and door in your house. It’s the kind of cold that makes furnaces sputter and quit.

You would think the experience of self-inflicted cold feet would have left an impression. You would think he’d have been grateful that I dug out two winter coats so he could choose one to wear on his walk to school. You would think those things, but you are probably an adult with a fully-developed frontal lobe. The boy rolled his eyes and groaned when I insisted he wear a coat. Or, he groaned because it was the first day back after winter break. Probably some of both. Either way, he was running late this morning and asked me to drive him to school. (Only the second time this school year!)

He got into the car wearing just a hoodie. Coat’s in my backpack, he said in response to my side-eye. Do you have a hat? I asked. I have a hood. Gloves? One. But I have pockets.

At least he was wearing sneakers instead of slides.

WebMD illustrates natural consequences using the coat / cold example. They go on to say, “Learning through experiencing consequences is much more powerful than through a lecture or punishment. Using consequences for misbehavior is an effective teaching method for dealing with behavior problems in children and teens.”

Oh, WebMD! That’s precious! I thought it would be effective too, but I am a female adult. And I have learned from parenting two boys through their teen years that cause and effect is not the deterrent you’d expect it to be, at least when it comes to weather-appropriate dress. Eli’s brothers insisted upon leaving coats behind, lest they be forced to actually use their school lockers. And with Eli, I’ve had to establish a threshold of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, below which he will only reluctantly wear long pants to school, much to the chagrin of school administrators.

Despite it all, I do tend to agree that a “natural consequences” approach to parenting is probably the best way in most cases. Within reasonable limits, of course. But I’ll be counting the days until he demonstrates that he can decide on his own, based on weather reports and experience, whether or not it’s a good day to wear a coat.

I take comfort in knowing that my kids’ behavior places them in the fat part of the bell curve. A quick Google search of “shorts in snow” yields many images of bare legs on a white background, including in this feature story from the Coeur D’Alene (Idaho) Press that articulates adults’ perennial concern for children’s cold legs.

I have found my people.

Area Boy wears summer attire in winter. School administrators remain exasperated.


Of darkness and light

After having tolerated the required ritual of setting the clocks back every fall for the past however-many decades, you’d think I would be prepared for the end of daylight savings time. As the dreaded Sunday approaches, I prepare myself mentally.

ME (in a semi-convincing, soothing tone): Don’t worry! You’ll get used to it. Plus, you get an extra hour of sleep!

OTHER ME (snarling): Yes, but only on this one night, and that’s just not worth the tradeoff. You know it’s true.

ME (grasping): Oh, come on, but it’ll be light in the morning, and you know that makes it easier to wake up, right?

OTHER ME (going in for the kill): Sure, for a couple of weeks, then it’s dark when I wake up, too.

On and on goes my inner monologue. I do savor the extra hour of sleep (who doesn’t?), but that first Sunday afternoon of Eastern Standard Time drags, and just as I’m noticing the sun is setting in a totally different location off my back porch than it does in the summer, it quickly drops below the horizon, flipping off the lights on its way down. I find myself looking repeatedly at the clock starting around 5:00pm, wondering if it’s too early to go to bed. I mean, what’s the difference? The day is basically over, right?

After an endless evening, bedtime finally – mercifully – comes. I tuck in at a reasonable hour, congratulating myself for surviving the first short day. As the sun rises the next morning, so do I, and each morning after that for a couple of weeks, at first appreciating the early sunlight, then cursing it for accenting the streaks and smears on the inside of my windshield. But soon enough, both ends of my waking day lack daylight.

The darkness begins ever earlier each evening, which means commuting home from work in what would feel like the dead of night were it not for my fellow commuters, all of us vaguely disoriented by this shift in our routine. And thus it’s been since November 6 – one month ago. I keep thinking I’ll get used to the new daily rhythm, but I noticed last night that I was watching the clock again, waiting for it to strike ten so I could go to bed without admitting defeat.

You wouldn’t think the adjustment of the clock by one hour would make such a difference, but it does. I try not to wish my days away, because each one really is a gift, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting down to the winter solstice. Just before my alarm rings on Wednesday, December 21, we will cross the point at which we gain a minute or two of precious daylight each day. I’ll put my head down and charge into the new year, only to suffer through January’s many insults. And don't get me started on February (that bitch). At some point, though, I’ll notice it: It isn’t totally dark when I leave the office. And hey – the sun is right in my eyes during my commute again! These are signs of new life, of renewed hope. Can Springtime be far behind?

Until then, I’ll stubbornly use incandescent bulbs inside my house of the highest wattage I’m able to purchase. Damn the Light Bulb Police! I don’t care that they hog energy; I’ll pay for the extra burn in exchange for their warm, glowing light. Also, it’s fireplace season, and we have wood to spare, begging to be burned. And burn it we shall, and we will savor the warmth and light that only a fireplace in December can put forth.

It’s *only* 9:30pm as I finish this post. I’d crawl into bed except that I still need to do the dinner dishes and retrieve some clothes from the dryer. Those activities will distract me until a proper bedtime, and tomorrow I will begin again the cruel countdown to the solstice, at which point we are offered hope, and the promise of longer, brighter days in our near future.

First snow dec 2009 013