--2 Mother Tongue Temperature Tantrums
Sept. 23, 2017
Liz LaBianca: lizlabiancaphotography.com

Mother Tongue | Temperature Tantrums

This time of year, normal transitional angst is amplified by seasonal confusion

March 13, 2015, 2:00 pm
By Lauren Whitehurst

I have been envious of New England’s winter. Here in the high desert, where weather is always highly changeable and climate change is upping the aridity, I pine for snow. The kids and I have tried all sorts of made-up magic: dancing for precipitation, taping coins to the door, putting spoons under our pillows, wearing our pj’s backwards, and crossing all our fingers. Occasionally it flurries. Sometimes an inch or three accumulates, then it all melts the next day.

Last weekend, we visited winter, and it was grand. We skied, built snow slides and dug snow caves high in the Colorado mountains, big snowflakes falling around us every day. We heard Santa Fe got snow, too—finally!

Then we drove home, and I was severely bummed to find no snow on the ground. The small ice chunk in a yard shadow did not count. Last fall’s fallen leaves weren’t even damp anymore. In one weekend, we found and lost our winter. Also, it suddenly became March, which was alarming.

Ski season has several weeks left, but we’re facing the start of “spring.” Here, the proverbial lion and lamb aren’t contained in either end of the month; they blow around, alternating days in the dry, blustery roller coaster of transitions from now until summer. And transitions are difficult, as I am reminded each day trying to get my 7- and 4-year-olds out the door each morning.

This time of year, normal transitional angst is amplified by seasonal confusion. The smoothest transition is from winter snot to dust and pollen snot, so heaps of tissue remain a constant. Besides that, nothing’s stable. Even our skin is drier, which is saying something in New Mexico. My kids already don’t bathe more than once a week in an effort to conserve what natural oils their skin can hold onto. Now it’s time to break out the vats of coconut oil and seal that in with a quarter-inch of Aquaphor.

And what to wear? Theo and I layer long sleeves and wool socks. Although he usually discards his down coat by the end of school, he and I are still mourning the loss of his faux-fur lined bomber hat and I keep extra gloves in the car. I anticipate weather changes by leaving the house with three different kinds of jackets for each of us.

Meanwhile, his younger sister Sylvia tries on about 50 sundresses before breakfast and vehemently disses leggings and socks. Yesterday, I made her wear a coat and she howled the entire drive to preschool. “I don’t want it to be winter anymore!” she wailed, slapping the word “want” with savage anger.

She wants summer. Now. She wants a swimming pool and a beach and she wants to be a mermaid. And she does not understand why insisting on sandals and near nudity will not make it so. If consistency could, hers would. A swimsuit is her at-home standard. She paired a hand-me-down bikini and with my wedge espadrilles the other day and approached me with her left arm outstretched. “This is what the mermaid said,” she told me, draping her right fingertips over her outstretched elbow. “I need some moisturizin’,” she sang. Moisturizer was her only tribute to the season, or our geography.

Well, I thought, wrapped in my knee-length cardigan and feeling my sandpaper-rough hands, I guess it’s a layer. I reached for some hand lotion.

Her parent-teacher conference last fall began with a diplomatic note of progress: “Sylvia is doing much better at keeping her clothes on at school this year.” In other words, she is not longer stripping down entirely. This is the kind of developmental milestone that makes a mother proud.

Even surrounded by snow, she prefers swim briefs. During our recent visit to winter, Sylvia’s focus was visiting the outdoor hot tub. “I am a very calm mermaid in this hot ocean,” she declared, happily afloat. “I am a calm mermaid. You are seaweed. Theo is a whale and he’s my friend. We are very calm.” Apparently, our strategy the last time we were in a hot tub was to say that calm mermaids get to swim for longer than wild mermaids. Children are our memories.

Sylvia says she hates winter, but she actually loves to play in the snow and will happily snowplow through a full day of skiing. Theo routinely resists leaving the house—i.e. abandoning Legos or a pillow fort—but he’s happy once he’s swimming, skiing or running around. In the movement from one place, activity, phase or season, it’s just the threshold that’s gnarly. Once you’re over that, it’s smoother sailing. The trouble with spring in New Mexico is that it’s a jumble of thresholds and you’re not on the other side of any one of them for a good while.

Even a day can hold multiple seasons and thresholds during our spring. In addition to extra gloves and jackets, I stock the springtime car with sunscreen, a soccer ball, and a box of tissues, plus hand lotion and lubricating eyedrops. We layer—clothes, activities, back-of-the-car gear, moods. By relatively quickly peeling off or putting on a sweater, ball cap or attitude adjustment, we can minimize the grating threshold and make the most of engaging in whatever’s at hand, which is the fun part. Or, at the very least, we can wrap some random fleece around us when baseball practice turns frigid, pop on a hat, blow our noses, and rub in some moisturizer.


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