“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.

Beautiful snow, ugly people

The calm during the storm.  It's after the storm that the ice-picks come out.

The calm during the storm. It’s after the storm that the ice-picks come out.

I hate snow because it brings out the very worst in people.  Snowfall makes me edgy with anger at this time of year when everyone is preaching “Good will toward men” and “peace on earth”—words that mean nothing in a blizzard.  There is barely any time to appreciate the beauty of a wintry snowfall before the ugliness of people start to reveal themselves.  Once the snow starts falling, it’s every man and woman for themselves, whether it be on the road or in the subway, and I can’t even count the number of times I said the words “you’ll probably have to punch a baby” yesterday.  (No, I don’t REALLY think that you should punch babies.  Hyperbole…yet shockingly close to reality.)

Now, I’m about to introduce a controversial BOSTON topic, and there are many of you that are NOT going to agree with me, and so be it, you think you deserve what you worked for.  But I’m here to tell you that deserve is an ugly word, and if as many people as possible worked for greater good, then maybe snow could be beautiful again.


For non-Bostonians who don’t know what parking space savers are, here’s a picture of one across the street from my house:

What a lovely green chair...in the middle...of the street.  Now my neighbor who saw me take this picture is probably thinking that I called the City on them.

What a lovely green chair…in the middle…of the street. Now my neighbor who saw me take this picture is probably thinking that I called the City on them.

Some other questions that you may have about this strange “tradition”:

Why is there a chair in the middle of the road?  (Or a parking cone, or beach lounger, or trash can, or a tub of kitty litter?) Because the person who shoveled their car from that space seems to think that now they own that space on the street, and that they should be able to park in it when they return home from work hours and hours later.

But isn’t it a public street and a public parking space?  Yes.

What happens if you just move that marker and park there anyways?  It’s not like they own the space.  You should assume that you like your tires slashed, or poop smeared on your car, or your legs broken, or any number of these things.  From Boston.com:

The phone rang at the South Boston police station at 5:11 p.m. Sunday. An unknown suspect had just used an orange nail gun to shoot two nails into each of four tires on a gleaming, white Jeep Grand Cherokee parked on West Fourth Street.

Why do people really think they can get away with this?  Well, I have a few choice quotes, all from emails I have received in the last 24 hours.

Exhibit A, from Neighbor K.D.

In the past, I’ve spent hours shoveling out a space after large storms, being careful to make it completely clear…To have a neighbor who didn’t feel it was necessary to do the same for themselves pull in and and take that space, or one that anyone else cleared, just doesn’t seem fair.  And it sure as hell doesn’t seem “neighborly” to me, either.  And far too often, it’s been someone who uses their cars on weekends or seldom, leaving those of us who have to commute up s***s creek.  Nothing like coming home after 12-hours at the office to find there’s no place to park.  There is absolutely no way the person doing this is unaware of what he/she is doing.

K.D., what happens to the space for the 12 hours that you were at the office?  No one is allowed to park in it?  It would be ok if it were someone who worked the same 12-hour day that you work, commuting by car to do it?  That sure as hell doesn’t seem “neighborly” to me either.

Exhibit B, from Neighbor S.H.

I get out and shovel as well, and I am 76–have lived here my entire life at the end of W*** Street.  I’ve kept barrels in front of my house forever and have never had a problem.  However, I think someone in the neighborhood–someone new who doesn’t know the unwritten “rule” at the end of the street that we honor each others’ parking spaces, called the City.  I had gone out one day at 1:00 and was home at 3:45 and my barrels were GONE!!  I was not a happy camper. I had to go out and spend $30 for two new trash barrels.   My next door neighbor had his taken a week before.  I feel that I should be able to park in front of my house without having someone from down the street parking in front of my house.  I understand that I don’t “own” the parking space, but at my age, I don’t feel as though I should have to find a spot down the street or up on the hill.  I’m always considerate of others and always have been.  I shovel my spot, with the help of a neighbor, right to the curb so the area is nice and clean.  I’ve even shoveled the middle of the street.  Driving down W*** and seeing how people clean out there cars is abominable.  There’d be no problem if everyone was conscientious about shoveling.  K.D., I’m with you–you should be able to park in the spot that you labored over for hours.  It isn’t fair but in today’s world, many people are out there for themselves and to heck with anyone else.

A few points to make here, S.H.

  1. So there is an AGE at which you can be a self-righteous B?
  2. People have to shovel to your standards?
  3. Please explain how saving a spot for yourself is NOT an example of your last sentence:  people out there for themselves, and to heck with anyone else.

Our plan is to remove any spot savers from the 2 two-hour spots in front of our house.  Ben helps to shovel those spots out anyways, and they are TWO-HOUR SPOTS, meaning that saving them for the 12 hours that you are working (ooh, poor you) is a really shitty thing to do to the rest of everyone living in this neighborhood.  Also, I secretly think that Ben is itching for a broken leg.

In defense of my neighborhood, there have been a few replies that are somewhat sane, like this one from R.S., from before the storms even started:

People seem to be saving spots on the street already.  They haven’t even had to shovel yet to “claim” them.  Seems like we ought not do this.

I really want to respond to these emails but I know better than to feed email trolls.  Even if they are 76 and have lived here their entire life.  Last thing I need is for someone to tell me to go back to the country I came from (like my old neighbor did in our previous neighborhood – he took a spot we shoveled out and then PUT A SAVER IN IT and then told me that).  If that happens, I WILL have to punch a baby.

Massachusetts, and their odd “blue laws” and lawless “traditions”.  I’ve been here over 30 years myself.  Feel free to blast me about space savers and how you worked hard to shovel out your space.  We all make a space for ourselves in this world.  I’m betting that violence and threats are not what keeps your space in life.