Friday, 22 February 2013

out in the cold

a friend in Finland who has three young children tells me that at nursery all the children play out every day, unless the temperature is below -15 C. You have to send them there with the correct, warm clothing, snowsuits, boots, mittens, hats etc, or you will be dismembered. This item from the BBC describes the Swedish practice of children sleeping out of doors in sub-zero temperatures, which parents believe keeps the children healthier. There seems some sense to this. However, the practice is not the same everywhere. I spent six months in Latvia, in the winter, some years ago, and the parents there do not do this. Latvians give the impression of being morbidly fearful of cold weather, and everyone seems to stay indoors until late March when it thaws. Even in July they will not open a window. In Latvia the January-February temperatures are often -10 C in the daytime, and lower at night. The year I was there the winter was exceptionally cold, and in late January reached -25 C in the daytime on occasion. I'm not aware though that Latvian children are less healthy than Swedish or Finnish ones. There is certainly a big commitment in Latvia to physical exercise - from the thaw in late March until the first snow in mid-November everyone is outdoors, cycling, roller skating, running, playing tennis, and just generally turning their faces up to the sun - when it shines. Latvia is not the sunniest country in the world. And ice hockey and skating are both year-round passions for most.

Latvia is significantly poorer than either Sweden or Finland, and people don't have so much living space. But staying indoors in winter is probably more cultural than to do with accommodation. Though not entirely. My mother's generation in England put their prams outside in almost all weathers. Their greatest fear was not cold weather (it doesn't ever get that cold in southern England after all) but cats, and elaborate strategies were developed to protect a sleeping baby from being suffocated by a cat. Has this ever happened? I doubt it. An urban myth of its time. Everyone "knew" someone whose child had been suffocated, but you never actually met anyone it had happened to. My children however never slept outside when they were babies, partly because we only briefly had a garden before the younger one was two, partly because I had little Maclaren buggies for them rather than big prams, but partly because once we did have a garden I was never sure they were quite safe out there unattended. Children do get snatched, though I am sure it does not happen as often as we tend to think it does. I had fears my mother did not have. My daughter will have fears for my grandchildren I did not have. Might be a worthwhile conversation to have. My grandchildren have their time organised for them, with activities and so on, more than my children did, and WAY more than I did.

Cold-weather thinking. Here in Alsace in late February it is still cold. But not Scandinavian cold: it was  -5 C this morning at first light, with an east wind.There is still unmelted snow on the ground even in town, and there is deep snow on the mountains: the ski stations are doing well this February (two weeks of school holiday this month means this is when they do most of their trade). The winters are colder, and longer, than the ones I grew up with in southern England. The summers are shorter and hotter. There is no spring to speak of - well, it lasts about ten days in April.  Autumn can be several weeks of beautiful sunny weather from early September to late October, or it can rain endlessly from leaden skies.

Parenting, and the weather. If we could choose the weather what would we choose? Sunshine, undoubtedly. For myself, the island of Cyprus from mid-September to early June, and the Baltic coast from June to September. Perfect.


Anonymous said...

Our weather is so variable though.
Today is -1/3.
Exactly a year ago it was 10/15.

Anonymous said...

I hate cold and rain and snow and dark. I only like the heat and bright, hard sun.

I would like to return to the summer of 1976 and replay it - stuck on the groove of an LP : Mockingbird by Barclay James Harvest probably - although that was earlier.