My son was born on Thanksgiving, which meant that he was a newborn in the coldest weather New York has to offer. This concerned me. Since I was the first of my friends to have a baby, my go-to resource for parenting guidance was my grandmother and she has a thing about children and cold. Specifically, drafts.
I thought this obsession was unique to my grandmother until I stayed with some of her relatives one summer in Italy, and every evening at dusk, they’d patrol the house, slamming windows shut against the summer breeze. They had no air conditioning, incidentally. Once the perimeter had been secured and all chance of relief from heat eradicated, the Italians could relax. That’s when I started worrying that we’d asphyxiate in our sleep.
Obviously, my grandmother’s people in the Old Country are mad as hatters, and for all I know, they’re still using leeches to treat a fever. Me, I’m no hard-core crazy, I’m just highly susceptible to Mommy Guilt and I’ve got a grandmother who knows how to lay it on.
At the inaugural meeting of my new moms’ group, I showed up looking like an Arctic explorer and wowed the crowd by removing layer after layer of clothing from my infant son for a good ten minutes. It took a helluva lot of acerbic wit to convince the moms that I was cool despite my octogenarian tendencies.
Over the years, thanks to the counter influence of these mom friends, my views on most parenting issues have become more modern. But when it comes to dressing kids for the cold, I can’t shake the draft fixation. It’s a powerful and persistent pocket of insanity.
Luckily my son, known in these parts as Primo, couldn’t care less how many layers I toss at him. The kid, now 6, starts wearing long johns in November and doesn’t take them off ‘til we see butterflies in the spring. He’s also has the croup half a dozen times, scarlet fever, rotavirus and roseola. So you see how well that worked out.
My four year-old daughter, however, presents some stumbling blocks. Seconda, who makes it exceedingly clear that she is second only in birth order, is not terribly compliant to begin with, and especially not when clothes are concerned. I say “clothes” but I really mean “costumes,” because Sec doesn’t so much get dressed as dressed up.
As a rule, I happily hand over all creative control of Seconda’s ensembles to Sec herself. My mother exercised an aggressive veto power over my outfits – “That clashes!” “You’re mixing prints!” “You look like a hobo!” – and because I am still scarred from her scathing Project-Runway-type critique, I resolved to let Seconda, for now, wear whatever the hell she wants, as long as it doesn’t harm her or others. The problem is, she doesn’t usually know what she wants until she’s pulled half her clothes out of the drawers and had a full-fledged diva fit. Consequently, her morning wardrobe selection is a messy, maddening time-consuming process which most people would have to take a benzo to get through. It’s like the Devil Wears Prada every morning in our apartment.
“This has a zipper and I DON’T LIKE ZIPPERS!”
“No, no no, green is the worst!”
“I want it to come ALL the way down to the FLOOR!”
“Cinderella would never wear this!”
“Get this dreadful thing off of me! I LOOK LIKE A BOY!”
Once the temperature drops in the fall, the war zone of her closet becomes even more treacherous because if there is one thing you can rely on with Sec’s wardrobe choices, it is that she never, ever, wears anything weather-appropriate.
Our lowest point was the day in November she woke up and asked for her tortellini. I told her we didn’t have time to make tortellini for breakfast.
“Not to eat,” she sighed, “To wear.”
After years of practice, I’ve learned that the first step in troubleshooting these kinds of misunderstandings is: Caffinate.
“You want to wear tortellini?” I asked, sipping from my mug, “The pasta?”
“Not the pasta!” she exclaimed, “The kind of tortellini a mermaid wears!”
Clearly, this was a job too big for coffee. These are the moments when I wish I could appeal to my kid’s rationality and just say, “Honey, you know I love it when you get all creative, but can we put a pin in this? Save the loco for later?”
Regrettably, children never want to save the loco for later. They always want the loco now.
“Do you mean a tail?” I inquired.
“You’re not LISTENING to me!” she cried, “I said, TOR.TELL.LINI. What you wear on top of the tail.”
Instantly, the image of tri-colored tortellini strung on a piece of fishwire and tied around the neck of a green-haired sea-woman popped into my mind. But where had Seconda got this hare-brained idea? That was weird, and kind of unhygienic, even for Montessori. Also, I didn’t think I could whip it up in fifteen minutes . . . unless I didn’t cook the tortellini and just strung them frozen. That could work.
Thankfully, Seconda spared me by offering some helpful information.
“I wore it yesterday!” she cried, “My pink tortellini! Did you wash it?”
I beelined to the hamper and began flinging dirty laundry into the hallway, in search of pink.
“NOT THAT!” Seconda shrieked when I held up pink tulle skirts and pink striped dresses, “THE TORTELLINI! WHY WON”T YOU GIVE MY ——–”
Then, suddenly, Sec emitted a shriek of delight: “THERE it is!” she exclaimed, running over to the pile of dirty clothes and tugging on a fuchsia string that poked out of the top. She stood, grinning, a pink string bikini clasped to her heart.
“Ahhhh,” I murmured, “A bikini.”
I was flooded with relief that now, we might be only minorly late, and that I would not have to improvise jewelry out of stuffed pasta. Then I realized Seconda was stripping down and putting on the pink string bikini.
“Honey, you can’t wear that to school,” I started, gingerly.
“Don’t worry, don’t worry, its OK,” she assured me.
Instantly, I regretted not tossing the infernal bikini in the trash when I found it in a bag of hand-me-downs. Sec’s wardrobe is pretty hand-me-down heavy, which is part of what makes it so great for costuming, with all sorts of crazy, wonderful items – crushed velvet jumpers and straw hats and dresses featuring actual bells and whistles — thrown in. But you do find some head-scratchers, and when I saw that pink string bikini, I thought “For a four year old? Is that strictly necessary?”
However, since I am a borderline hoarder, I did not toss the bikini. And now I was sorry.
“It’s too cold outside,” I explained, “Much too cold.”
“I’m not cold,” she insisted.
“You will be,” I insisted back.
“I won’t, I promise!”
I would like to be able to shrug my shoulders, as other parents do, and say, “All right. It’s your choice. I’ll have your jacket if you get cold.” I’ve seen children in the dead of winter on the playground who’ve opted to shed their outerwear and experiment with frostbite, and whose parents stand on the sidelines, holding the jacket patiently, allowing their children to learn from their own mistakes. I get it and hey, I can get libertarian, too: I give Sec license to walk around barefoot on the playground and cover her hair in dirt from next to a tree that dogs use as a bathroom. But I have zero flexibility when it comes to bundling. That morning, I explained why to my daughter:
“If you wear that bikini to school, you will get very, very cold and if you get very, very cold, you may get sick, and if you get sick, who will be the one up all night, taking your temperature and wondering if we should go to the emergency room and having an ulcer? ME. And I don’t like doing that. So it’s out of the question.”
She screwed her face up so that all the features squished together in the middle. That’s her I-am-royally-pissed look.
“HOWEVER—” I went on, “if you want to wear it under your regular clothes, you totally can. No problem.”
“But then you won’t be able to see it!” she pouted.
Then her face lit up, a real Eureka moment and she shrieked: “Wait a second! Wait A SECOND! I have a great idea! What if I wear it ON TOP of my clothes?”
Was it the arrangement I would have chosen? No. Was I totally comfortable when Sec took off her down jacket and revealed to her preschool class that she was wearing a miniscule pink bikini bottom over polka dot leggings, and a skimpy bikini top over her sateen poodle pajama shirt? Not really. Did I feel a twinge of regret when I realized she’d be sporting the bikini-on-top outfit for the next 7-10 days, including at birthday parties and bedtime? Sure I did.
But I will tell you one thing: my daughter didn’t catch a single chill in that get-up. That outfit provided one hundred percent draft protection. And I, for one, will always feel a peculiar affection for tortellini.
For more of Nicole’s adventures in Mommyville, visit her blog, A Mom Amok, at amomamok.blogspot.com.