Mothering in the Rain
I hear thunder, I hear thunder.
Hark don’t you? Hark don’t you?
Pitter, patter raindrops,
Pitter, patter raindrops,
I’m wet through; so are you.
This is a nursery rhyme my children know by heart, many British children do, because the pitter patter of raindrops is the soundtrack to so much of their lives. Faces pressed against streaky windows, waterproof hoods pulled tightly over heads, most days my kids leave the house and are touched instantly by some form of moisture. Whether it is a misting that hangs in the air like gossamer or a sideways pelting that stings on impact, onwards they go, always in search of the next dry port of call.
We live in Scotland, where there is measurable rainfall for up to 250 days of the year (in certain parts) and where the seasons bleed into each other with a relatively moderate spread in temperature between them. I have a coffee mug that captures the phenomenon perfectly. It has a series of four pictures on it and, in each one, a bulldog is holding an umbrella against the rain, which continues to spit down irrespective of the season. The only thing that changes is the accoutrement: a scarf in winter, sunglasses in summer, leaves swirling aloft in autumn.
Brits talk about the weather incessantly, which is ironic considering it is so bad, but also telling of how deeply it infiltrates our psyches. There are few psyches as delicate as a new mother’s and, though I am somebody who never complained about it before, the climate here took on a whole new meaning to me when I had my babies.
My second son arrived in late November and for weeks upon weeks we holed ourselves up inside, a scenario I imagine is par for the course with many winter births. But Glasgow winters are particularly bleak. Not only do they fail to produce any fluffy, idyllic-looking snow by way of compensation for the cold but, because of the city’s latitude, the days are shockingly short. The skies begin to darken at around 3:30 p.m. and stay dark until well after eight the next morning. It is a long period to be without natural light and it feels longer still with a colicky baby in arms, a baby who seems already at an obvious disadvantage for developing proper Circadian rhythms.
When I had my twins, who were born in early March, being stuck in the house wasn’t an option. I had no recourse to soothing two squalling newborns other than walking them together. Out we went every single day—whatever the weather, whatever the quality of light—making figure eights around the slick streets of our neighborhood. The babies were protected from the elements, of course, their stroller sheathed in the rain cover that is an essential accessory for every British parent. But because I couldn’t push the double pram and manage an umbrella at the same time, I myself was not. I got wet, a lot.
I was also miserable a lot. Waking in the morning, especially after a broken night, to another day of varying shades of grey was dispiriting to say the least. I am not alone in this kind of seasonal reaction to new motherhood. A Finnish study found that women appeared to be at higher risk for mild postpartum depression in the winter months, and at lower risk in the spring, and that “women were more depressed during periods of limited sunlight.” So too if you are already suffering from PPD or baby blues, the experience might be exacerbated by the sense of isolation that can ensue from shorter, colder, darker days.
As the kids get older, however, entertaining them in spite of the weather becomes easier. We make accommodations. Britain is chocked full of inside playgrounds and sheltered toddler groups, “bounce and rhymes” at the local library and cafes replete with boxes of toys. Indoor soccer pitches and sports facilities are available year-round: we even turfed our own backyard to transform it into a viable play space, as opposed to the sodden patch of muddy grass it used to be. Swimming is always an indoor activity. My children have not actually been swimming in the open air here, that’s something reserved for exotic locations at least a plane ride away.
As a result, summer in Glasgow is markedly different from the magical time it was for me as a kid growing up in New York. My children will have very few sun-kissed memories of lying poolside swaddled in baking-hot towels, of the sweet smell of sweat mixed with barbecue. On the rare occasions it does show its golden face, the sun is a nuisance to them anyway. It’s too hot, it’s too bright. And they have come to appreciate being spared the chafing of stiff new summer sandals and the stickiness of repeated applications of sunscreen.
Once, when my oldest son was fed up with the chronically wet state of the cuffs of his trousers, he asked me quite seriously: why do we live here? It’s a fair question. As much as we love Scotland, we didn’t choose it for the weather, and I do wonder if my kids will leave this country of storm clouds and whipping winds as soon as they are able. Until that happens, though, we will keep putting on our wellie boots and waterproofs and braving the rain. Because when life pours, what better thing is there to do than jump in its puddles?