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Friday, November 18, 2011

Snow Suits & Mittens

The weather took a dramatic turn in my part of the world last night.  It's been unseasonably warm all fall, but last night the wind changed, a cold front blew in and although I haven't actually seen snow falling, there was a suspicious white dusting on the hay this morning.

I'm not complaining.  Not yet at least, it's still early in the year. I feel sorry for anyone that doesn't get to experience a true northern climate.  Not only do you miss out on all kinds of snow activities, but you miss the experience of winter clothing.

First there is the snowsuit. We all had to wear them.  It seemed like it took hours for someone to get you into this thing.  I think these suits were designed by the same people that make space suits or one of those deep pressure diving suits.  You aren't even expected to be able to get into this yourself.  Someone has to be assigned to aid you.  There is a lot of pushing and pulling and yanking involved. There are zippers and strings that aren't designed to be reached from the inside.  In most households the number of snow suit wearers greatly outnumbered the appliers. This meant that if you were first you had to wait a long long time for everyone else to be properly attired.  Not only was this a hot wait, but usually round about the time the last zipper on the last suit was done up, the first person realized they had to go to the bathroom. Hmm...

Once you were encased in this thing, movement was severely restricted.  That's why in all those winter photos, the kids are standing with their arms straight out, their feet firmly planted in the snow and no movement is obvious.  They can't.  You can waddle a bit from side to side and once practiced, you can move your arms without bending at the elbow but that's about it.  You know those snow angels you see in the snow?  Those aren't a game.  Those are attempts by snow suit wearers to get up once they have fallen down!!! It's a wailing and thrashing of arms and legs that anyone who's ever worn such a suit understands.

But here's the thing.  If you've never had to wear one of these snowsuits, you don't understand the wonderful, incredible, rite of passage experience the first winter you get to wear a "grown-up person coat"!  This is true freedom and a heady experience. For at least the first few years you are still issued snow pants. But they are separate from the coat.  This means you can apply them yourself.  This also means you can accidentally on purpose leave them behind in the school coat room.  I think there may be entire rooms of unclaimed snow pants in most elementary schools.  The snow suits are rather colorful but snow pants, perhaps because they were meant to make that leap to being a bit more grown-up, were always navy blue or black.  Perhaps they were these somber colors so that they could be interchangeable once lost or mislaid.  In the early stages, your snow pants had kind of a bib attachment, but as you proved your ability to withstand frostbite, you got just the pant variety and the suspenders disappeared as well. You can almost run in these free form pants. You can actually do things with your arms and you can move your upper body separately from you lower body. You can throw snowballs, you can get on and off a toboggan, you can help pull the little snowsuit wearers out of the snow bank they are stuck in.  It's wonderful.  You're one of the "big kids". No better experience.

Snowsuits are one of those things that truly have evolved. Somewhere along the way, I'd say one of the initial wearers, once they were let out of their suit, decided it was there life purpose to create a better design that would allow for movement.  The material is thinner now, but even warmer. The zippers and strings have been replaced with Velcro. You don't see so many snow angels.  It's a whole new world.  But it almost seems like our DNA still remembers the immobility factor because kids still stand there immobile once you put them in these things. You have to remind them, that in fact, they can move.

No doubt about it- snow suits were torture devices.  But mittens!! They are a whole different thing.  I love mittens. Some people think that when they are grown up they are supposed to wear gloves.  That's a mistake in my opinion.  Gloves are to your fingers, what the snow suit was to your body.  You can't move your fingers around in those things, you're movement is pretty restricted, and once your digits are separated from each other, it's actually pretty cold in there.  Mittens feel snugly to your fingers I think.  They get to still feel free inside a soft covering. Unlike gloves, mittens are colorful and happy.  Gloves are just too somber and grown up for me.  Mittens make me smile. You can't look at mittens without thinking about building forts and packing snowmen and eating a fist full of snow (we weren't supposed to eat snow, but we all did).

You couldn't catch me in a snow suit to save my soul.  But I am an adult mitten wearer and proud of it.  I love getting my mittens out when I see the first snowflake.  I wear my mittens to high level meetings.  I don't hide my mittens in a purse or briefcase. I put them right beside my coffee cup. If the subject gets too serious I just look at my mittens and I feel better about the world.  If the meeting gets boring, I look at my mittens and think about how good recess is going to feel. You can't point and accuse with mittens on. You can't poke someone in the chest and start a fight. You can't hold them in one hand and snap them in the other like an army commander from an old movie, or a mean teacher, or a snobby high society person.  Mittens are just kind of happy things and a reconnection with the good parts of being a kid.

Unlike the snowsuit, the gloves, the boots, and all the rest of the winter gear, mittens can be put on and taken off  in a flash.  You can put them on and take them off all by yourself. In my mind, there is nothing like a pair of homemade red mittens to make you feel safe, secure, warm, happy and connected with your inner child. Ahhh.... happy winter!

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