“Back in mah day we fought polar bears on our way to school…”

I was going to make a quick note of this on Facebook or Twitter, where I let most of my passing thoughts fly by, but the more I dug into this, the more I worked myself up into a wordy frenzy. So here it goes. It’s COLD outside. And, unpopular opinion for working parents (me) and people who walked uphill to school both ways in blizzards in their childhood, school probably should have been canceled today.

Fancy weather station.

Sources (my weather station) say it’s about 7F out right now with a wind chill somewhere between -10F and -20F, and in order to DRIVE my son to daycare, I dressed us both for semi-apocalypse (the warmest jacket, boots, hat, scarf, mittens combo we had). We were both outside for less than 5 minutes total, with a car ride in between, and still my toes were little frozen sausages by the time I got back home.

Boston Public School students who get buses (generally over 2 miles and/or up to 6th grade) walk up to 0.5 miles to get to a bus stop and wait for buses that may or may not be on time depending on weather starting as early as 6AM. The rest who do not get rides to school have to walk the distance to the train or to school. Just for some reference, 2 miles in the city is the distance from the Boston Common to Fenway Park, and that’s a relatively “easy” walk, flat, without too many stoplights, and mostly clear paths.

“Why couldn’t they just delay 2 hours until it gets warmer?”

As I’m writing this, it’s 9:37AM, a good 3 hours after kids would have to go out to wait for buses or leave for early school starts. It’s now reached a balmy 9F. The wind is still howling. Additionally, BPS doesn’t do one or two-hour delays due to the 600-ish buses that have to mobilize and route kids to multiple schools with varying start times and end times. Besides it would mess up that smart algorithm that those brainy MIT kids designed to “solve” school bus issues in Boston. (Definitely a whole other post for another time.)

“Parents should be providing for their kids to be warm. It’s their responsibility to prepare for this kind of weather.”

Yes. And, for the most part one should assume that they do their best. But kids are invincible, and ballet flats or their Jordans are going to be warm enough out there, hats mess up their hair, layers are too not cute, etc. We all did it. I wore Eastlands without socks in high school in all temperatures until my feet reeked of sweaty leather – but I got a ride to school every day. (Well, I guess now you know how old I am. Then again, if you know, then you are equally as old, or older.)

“I mean, kids in Nunavut and Caribou, ME have to go to school too, it’s not like they can just cancel every day.”

Yes. And kids in Nunavut and Caribou and even some parts of the midwest are more prepared because this is a more regular occurrence. They know where their jackets and warm boots and warm gloves and warm socks are because they have to use them regularly. They have a sense that if they didn’t use all their warm pieces then there might be fewer parts of them left when they got home. And they can invest in these pieces of warmery because they will use them regularly to go outside and go to school and go about their lives because their lives are colder more often. Data from 1981 to 2010 (back when people didn’t as actively deny climate change as much as just ignore it) says that Caribou’s mean temp for January is about 10F, while Boston is about 29F. Those are really different temperatures for clothing yourself on a regular basis.

Invest. It is an investment to keep warm. I may have buried the lede, but I did a (very) little cost analysis to see what it cost me to get out there and freeze my little sausage toes this morning.

The cost of cold weather gear

The outdoor gear I was wearing just for today’s drive to daycare cost me about $515. I picked it all up over a bunch of seasons, upgrading pieces as I went. I could have gone cheaper on jacket or boots, but over the years, I’ve decided I want nice warm feet and body and I used to commute on the T, so I invested in some pieces that would make me happy.

My son wore about $210 in gear. To be fair, he did NOT wear his long underwear today because we were driving to school, so it would be more like $170. Why is long underwear $40?? I don’t know, I just picked it up for him at Dick’s Sporting Goods before we went on a ski trip this winter and I was wondering that myself. In fact, I got 2 sets for him, so he has $80 of long underwear (in size 6-7 so that he can wear it for 3 more years – does that negate the heat trapping properties of the long underwear??). His Columbia jacket and Sorel boots were presents from his generous Auntie, with the jacket picked up on sale in the spring. His mittens were from Costco and his hat is 3 years old. Additionally, we have spares of everything so that he doesn’t go without, so that’s another $20-ish hat and $20-ish mittens or so just in a basket by the door. $250 to equip a 4yo for a drive to daycare. (And some winter outdoor adventure, but he’s actually not too interested in the cold. I’m raising a soft child.)

A well-heeled Bostonian would be rolling around in over $1400 in winter gear today. (The number of Canada Goose jackets are literally uncountable in this city.) A more typical Bostonian who commutes outside would be wearing what I’m wearing.

Our low-income families, who have to choose their expenses, are likely to be unable to prioritize the cold weather gear for their kids for a once-or-twice-a-year occurrence of extremely cold weather. A $30 jacket and $40 boots will get you through most of the winter here, as will a pair of those $1 stretchy magic gloves. But on a day like today, it’s hard for me to imagine going out in magic gloves and being happy for more than 30 seconds. It would probably be less time than that for me to dissolve into tears and rage. I HAVE gone soft.

“What about parents who have to work – it’s not like we get to stay home because of the cold?”

And this is where it’s pretty much a no-win situation for those who are calling the shots for school closings. Because it’s true. We don’t get to stay home because of the cold. (I just happen to be working from home this morning so that I can pen this long-winded, researched rant.) So I’m not surprised by the fact that Boston Public Schools is open today. I mean, there are 125 schools serving about 50,000 students in this city. Kids who need not only instruction, but lunch, and a warm place to stay, and a welcoming environment of friends and staff. They just have to brave the dangerously cold commute in order to get there.

As for me, I have to work whether or not there is school today, and my son is in daycare (which would NOT have been closed for cold), so it doesn’t change my life one way or the other. And I’m fortunate enough to still have my fingers, which has allowed me to consider this little repartée about why school probably should have been cancelled today. Exeunt.

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