If you have children, you have a slightly different take on the passage of seasons than people without children. I don’t necessarily mean things like back to school shopping and having to buy three hundred glue sticks, or planning vacations around Spring Break and that sort of thing, although those sorts of things are undeniably part of parenting. What I mean is that the seasons as we parents know them are aligned with the seasons of non-parent adults, but that we think of them a bit differently. As with real seasons, although the calendar defines them as beginning and ending on certain days, their true length is determined by the climate in which you live.
First up is Summer. Summer is the same to a parent as it is to a non-parent, for the most part. Summer starts in about mid-June, and ends when everyone goes back to school in August or September (depending on your school district). For parents, there’s a bit more stress about what to do with the kids for a couple of months, but mostly there’s little difference. We all spend July and August wishing we could have two months off of work, and talking amongst ourselves about the fact that year-round school isn’t such a bad idea.
Once summer ends, we come to the season that a parent thinks of as “I left my coat at school.” If you don’t have a child, this is the season you know as “Fall.” This is when it’s cool enough in the mornings that one needs a coat or jacket, but by afternoon the sun has warmed things up to the point that it no outerwear is necessary. Thus children, who have little ability to apply the rules taught by even the most recent events of history, or to think and plan ahead (in this case, that it was chilly this morning, and that tomorrow morning it will quite likely be chilly again) leave the coat hanging on the hook in the classroom. Only the next morning, when—surprise!—there’s a nip in the air, and Mom asks after the jacket they had the day before do they think that it might have been a good idea to grab it. This will continue until necessity (which is to say, the outdoor temperature) dictates they put it on when they leave school to go home.
This season is followed closely by “Where-are-the-gloves-you-wore-yesterday-I-don’t-know-I-lost-them.” Non-parents call this season “Winter.” It begins when it actually gets cold enough that kids stop forgetting their coats (which, as I mentioned, happens when it’s cold enough at the end of the day that self-preservation forces them to remember to wear the coat home), and ends a really, really long time later. Depending on where you live, you could spend upwards of six or seven months having the same conversation every morning about the gloves or mittens from the previous day and where they might be. Parents invest significant percentages of their income in gloves and mittens. In fact, as a parent of four children, I estimate that my investment in gloves to date is roughly that of the GNP of Belgium (which is almost as much as I’ve spent on Pokemon cards). And my oldest is only eleven.
Finally, after months and months of the glove purchase-wear-lose-purchase-wear-lose cycle that is Winter, it starts to warm slightly. The sun is a bit higher overhead, things like crocuses and snowdrops may bloom. Even if you don’t notice these things, as a parent you will know the season is changing because of a phenomenon that I think of as Wearing Shorts Inappropriately. As soon as it’s even remotely warm (read: when a grown up could stand to be outside for more than sixty seconds—but less than ninety seconds—fully clothed, but without a coat on), children come traipsing downstairs wearing shorts instead of long pants. As a responsible parent, you say, “You can’t wear those—it’s only supposed to be forty today. Go put on long pants.” And then, if you have my children, they employ the guilt whine. This is when they say, “But I don’t have any long pants,” in a tone that is both complaining and accusatory. They don’t have any long pants because you, neglectful parent, have failed to purchase them any. They are Practically Unclothed. And as a result, they were forced to pull out these shorts that you’re now giving them a hard time about wearing. You…big meanie. So you go out and buy them two or three pairs of long pants instead of buying more mittens.
Once it gets a little warmer, there’s another brief period of “I left my coat at school” before everyone gets out for summer vacation and it’s warm and all you want to do is take two months off and not have to worry about coats, gloves, or improperly implemented shorts. In retrospect, maybe year round schooling isn’t such a good idea. At least I get two months when I don’t have to stress about the correctness of or deficiency in my children’s wardrobes.