I kicked a coat out of the way today. I wasn’t at home, and it didn’t belong to my child. Nor was I doing it out of spite or anger. I did it to help the parent who is just as fucking tired as I am when their child comes home missing another piece of winter gear. It is officially the season of lost coats, hats, gloves, and boots.
If my act of generosity had any malice in it, it was for the child who left it in the middle of a wet and crowded school hallway. I don’t know where the coat started, but I watched it slowly make its way down the hall and past several classrooms as kids and adults alike shuffled by and around the coat, nudging it a few inches at a time away from its unknown owner and original starting point.
Normally I would have picked up the coat, looked for a name inside and returned it to its proper hook, but I am healing from surgery and have limited energy and range of motion. The best I could do was stop the jacket’s forward momentum toward the Lost & Found shelves across from the nurse’s office. I know what it’s like to be in a relationship with that section of the school; I and other parents have stood in dumbfounded solidarity and wondered how lunch boxes, jeans, and pairs of glasses can be sitting next to sweatshirts, hats, and water bottles. How does one lose a pair of jeans? What has happened that your glasses are just no longer on your face and how did you miss them long enough that someone found else found them instead of you?
Recently I stared longingly for my son’s fall jacket that didn’t come home with him. Instead it was left on a picnic table at recess to be blown to the ground and rained on for two days before finally being placed on a fence post to crust over in the freezing night temperatures. I found it after my son told me he looked “everywhere” on the playground, yet didn’t notice his own coat after walking by it twice a day for several days.
But by the time it was secured and washed, it was time for winter gear.
The first cold morning of the season catches me off guard every year. The ease of shorts, a t-shirt, and maybe a light jacket that will definitely be left on the playground turns into Oh, crap. Where is the winter gear? No, you can’t wear Crocs in the snow. I scramble to the basement to dig through bins of jackets that probably don’t fit and then try to find six gloves that can be turned into three pairs for three kids who are convinced their fingers won’t be numb at recess or when forced outside for after school care. My efforts are wasted, though, because one child will always choose shorts; I stuff pants and a jacket into a backpack and hope the natural consequences parenting thing means they will cover up when they get cold.
All it really means is that this is just the beginning of a long season of nagging, reminding, and more nagging to get my children to take care of their stuff. I don’t know if I have the energy to do it again, folks. Nor do I have the money to continually replace these items, even if I manage to score them secondhand. They need warm clothing. And I need to not feel personally attacked by weekly emails from the school reminding parents to send students in with seasonally appropriate clothing. I’m trying.
I label everything. I offer systems and bins. I ask what would help them keep track of their stuff. There are seemingly no right answers because my children are capable of losing one boot at a time. Poof. Just gone. Or they have come home with a boot of their own and one that belongs to a classmate. But said classmate does not have my kid’s boot because that would be too easy to fix. Instead I spend the better part of a week trying to relocate what equates to money I should have lit on fire. Soon my kids will wear bread bags over their feet and their sneakers like I had to as a kid.
Sometimes my kids come home with snow pants that are the wrong size and color. Sweetie, your snow pants are black. Those are bright pink and you have camel toe.
What distractions occurred to cause this mistake? And why is my kid so out of touch with their clothing that they will put on pants that cut off circulation and cause frontal wedgies? Without complaint. That’s the wildest part. They notice and complain about a fleck of pepper in a pan of scrambled eggs, but snow pants that are three sizes too small? Crickets.
It feels like a hopeless time of year. It’s cold and dark out there. I know this because my kids tell me so after leaving their hats and gloves in some unknown location. I send them off to school wearing the backup hats that no longer cover their ears because their heads have grown but their ability to keep track of their stuff has not.
Good luck, parents. And please, let’s look out for one another. I promise to do my best to return any article of your kid’s clothing that makes its way to my home. There is a good chance my kid will have to borrow it until we can find theirs, but we will take good care of it until then. I trust and expect you to do the same.
May the odds be ever in your favor during this winter season.