By Vicki Boykis
For most people, winter means holiday lights, the warmth of family, and having fun in the snow.
For me, winter means the existential fear of being judged for the way my child is dressed at daycare.
To preserve our family’s language and culture, we send my daughter to a Russian-language daycare. This is all very beautiful and noble, until you realize two things about Russian daycare. The first is that your child can never be warm enough because, if they’re underdressed, they’ll go outside and catch a cold. But, there is also a distinct possibility that, if they’re overdressed, they’ll overheat when they’re inside, go outside, sweat, and catch a cold.
The second is that the Russian community is always judging you and the way you dress your child, and one slight misstep will cause your story to be passed around the Russian community. If you think social media is bad, wait until you experience Sveta media.
So, my daily struggle is this: I can do the Soviet thing: one layer of tights, followed by jeans or warm leggings on top, and a normal jacket. Or, I can do one layer of leggings, and then a ski snowsuit made up of two parts that make it hard for my daughter to walk, but that I feel comfortable with, knowing that she is buffered by four layers of Russian mom anxiety-stopping fabric. With the first setup, she’ll overheat inside, where it’s warm. With the second, there’s a chance she might not ever waddle over to the slide in time for recess.
The other thing is strategically timing this dressing process to mirror what the other Russian moms, worrying about the same exact thing, are doing when we all come into the daycare coat room. If I “underdress” her (in two layers on the bottom and three on top) and all the other kids are wearing snow pants, I am subjecting my child to the Russian equivalent of people who wear shorts in December. And she might get sick.
If I overdress her and all the other kids are in their sleek, designer coats and mine is Marshmallow-Manning it around the playground equipment, Sveta media activates. And she might overheat and get sick.
Each day is a choice between a rational mind raised in America who realistically knows that even just one layer of warm pants is warm enough for 20 minutes of outdoor time for a toddler, and a Russian mind that knows if you’re not worrying, you’re not really Eastern European.