For a period in my life, winter was my favorite season. I loved cold, gray days and heavy, wool coats, the feel of lip balm and the smell of burning wood. I liked to ski, skate, drink hot cocoa and curl up in front of the fireplace and read.
Then I had kids. I now see winter as a three-month curse cast on busy parents by vengeful gods.
I don't have any data to support this, but it hardly takes a research scientist to figure out that as the temperature goes down, the amount of time and energy it takes to care for children goes up. I make my case:
Winter means sick kids, and sick kids mean more work. Have you ever noticed that practically every child -- particularly those under 2 -- has a runny nose from November through March? It's bad enough that this makes even the cutest kid look sloppy and unattractive, but for parents the aggravation is more than aesthetic. A cold means nights of waking up with a bellowing baby who hasn't yet acquired the seemingly simple skill of blowing her nose. A cold also means you can look forward to an ear infection, in which case you'll have to spend two hours in a crowded pediatrician's office and about the same amount of time each night for the next 10 days forcing sticky pink liquid into a remarkably resistant little mouth.
Winter means more clothes, and more clothes mean more laundry. In the summer, children wear, at best, a bathing suit, and at worst, T-shirts, shorts and sandals. In the winter, they need long pants, long-sleeved shirts, undershirts, socks, tights, pajamas, bathrobes, sweaters, sweat shirts ad infinitum. In the summer, kids get their bodies dirty; in the winter, their clothing. An indisputable fact: It's quicker to wash 20 pounds of dirty kid than 20 pounds of dirty laundry.
Being house bound with small children is labor intensive. When it's warm, you can take children to the park in the early evening, thereby killing what are, arguably, two of the most dreadful hours of the day. When it's winter, it's too cold and dark and damp to go outside, and besides, the kids are sick anyway. So you're stuck in the house.
You have several options. You can ignore your children and go about the chore of -- what else? -- doing laundry. But this creates even more work than it completes. For every T-shirt you fold, your toddler unfolds another, drags it down the hall and dunks it into the toilet.
Or you can engage your child in one of those creative activities you read about in some magazine designed for the Perfect Mother. "Come on honey, let's make a piggy bank out of an old bleach container." You're still rinsing out chlorine, and already your kid is growing restless. So you end up completing the silly little plastic pig yourself and then cleaning up to boot.
Or you can turn on the television. Chances are you'll get a full half-hour respite as a once-active child suddenly becomes mesmerized by an animated pack of howling rowdies. But chances also are that you will spend the next three hours trying to subdue a self-anointed Leonardo who's practicing karate chops on the dining room chairs and screaming, "Cowabunga, dude."
Braving the outdoors is labor intensive too. I know a Perfect Mother who says there is no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothing. Unfortunately, wrestling kids into the right clothing takes the virtue of said Perfect Mother, not to mention about 45 minutes. Add to this the amount of time you spend hunting for the "other mitten," which could be anywhere from the bottom of your briefcase to the back seat of your car.
(For those who don't feel like looking, a helpful hint: In a pinch, socks can double as mittens, but a child above age 3 generally will not buy this. Also, if you do try it, be prepared to run into the Perfect Mother, who will look at you as if you're a scatterbrained eccentric.)
Once you're outside, you'll find that being there is no spring picnic either, no matter how the kids are dressed. If you're walking, you have to listen to small voices griping about how cold it is. If you're driving, you have to listen to those voices whining about how hot it is. About this time, you'll begin thinking about how nice it would be to move to the Sunbelt.
A final but important point. Lest I sound like a parent who finds her children a complete aggravation for a full one-quarter of the year, I need to clarify. I love my son and daughter dearly, all year long. In the winter, I love the way their small faces glow in the warm firelight. I love the way my little boy looks in his red flannel pajamas and my baby girl in her nubby pink blanket sleepers. And, okay, okay, I don't even mind making snowmen and going for sleigh rides.
But on the whole these days, I much prefer spring. The things that once made winter my favorite season no longer apply. Since becoming a parent, I haven't the money to ski, the time to read or the figure to indulge in hot chocolate.
Who was it who said April is the cruelest month?
But then, he didn't have kids.
Mary Hickey writes and makes plastic piggy banks in Washington.