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There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather; A Scandinavian Mom's Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient and Confident Kids (From Friluftsliv to Hygge) By Linda Akeson McGurk
There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather is the parenting story of Linda Åkeson McGurk, a native Swede turned Swedish American living in the Midwest. Coming from a culture that believes children have a right to play outdoors year round and encourages such controversial – to us Americans – practices as allowing babies to nap outside, Linda struggles to adapt to modern American parenting norms. For personal reasons, she decides to take an extended stay in Sweden with her two daughters. This time gives her a chance to compare the Swedish approach - as she remembers it - to what it looks like today, to what parenting has come to mean in America.
If you feel uneasy about our American education system, but aren’t sure why, this book is for you. By the time you are done reading There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather you will have better understanding of how our system is failing our children. But the book doesn’t leave you with a sense of injustice and nowhere to go – a big pet peeve of mine. “There is a problem! And… no solution. Have fun!” At the end of each chapter McGurk provides the reader with a book recommendation – none of which are duds by my estimation. Many of them will be reviewed in the coming months, as all of them ended up on my parental reading list.
Though I may never be a believer in outdoor naps in frigid temperatures, I did finish the book up with a zeal for outdoor adventures – in all seasons! I took McGurk’s advice and purchased appropriate rain gear for splashing in fall puddles and cold weather gear fit for surviving in the great white north. Last winter we did most of our running around in the large indoor mall a short drive from my house – bleh boring and holy cow did I buy a lot of unnecessary stuff – but not this year! This year we will build igloos, have snowball fights, make snow angels, and only come in when it is absolutely necessary to recharge with some hot cocoa. But whats the bottom line?
There’s No Such Things as Bad Weather is four eggs. I learned a lot from reading it – I underlined, starred and book darted numerous passages. Linda Åkeson McGurk’s struggle resonated with me as a child born of an era when we were allowed to roam the streets unsupervised, allowed to go gallivanting in the woods unattended and allowed to get dirty. One of my deepest fears as a parent is that I won’t be able to allow my children those same freedoms. But despite thoroughly enjoying the book, I don’t think it warrants a reread or a place on my shelf of parenting tomes to reach for over and over again.
It would be easy to dismiss There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather as merely a treatise on the nature-deficit within the American education system, but it is so much more. McGurk goes into the ways that unstructured play – with an emphasis on outdoor play – is essential for a child’s development from the ways the bacteria found in dirt impact our microbiome and in turn brain development to how risky play develops resilience. What are your thoughts Brianna?
Brianna: So, I barely know where to begin! This book made me angry, and sad, and frustrated, but only because I empathized with McGurk’s plight on such a deep level. I knew that in some parts of the U.S., parents who let their kids be kids are being policed by overzealous neighbors with Child Protective Services (CPS in many areas) on speed-dial. I knew that things had changed somewhat from when I was a kid, living in a rural area with no streetlights to tell me it was time to go home. But I had no idea how much had changed, until I read this book. Childhood was like this distant place that I visited very recently, and upon my return to work, I was informed (by this book) that that place had been taken over by a cruel dictator, disguised as a loving relative. “But I was just there, and everything was fine!” I said. “Nope,” McGurk told me (figuratively, please indulge me), “kids can’t play in the creek and catch frogs anymore.”
I agree with your four-egg rating of this book. There was a ton of useful information, and I do want to keep her lists of suggested reads and recommended outerwear handy, but I don’t see myself reaching for it again. First, I could only listen to about 20 minutes at a time (I got the audiobook for this one, which was nice, because I learned how to properly pronounce all the Scandinavian words she used). I would get frustrated and have to stop for a while. Second, there are times when it starts to feel like yet another book by someone who visited Europe and came back to bash American parenting. Ultimately I don’t think it’s that bad; as you say, she goes out of her way to offer reasonable solutions, but there are moments that made me want to say “I get it! Swedes have perfected early childhood education! Now tell me something I can use.”
Ariel: I agree. Reading it was anxiety inducing at times. Especially when McGurk was discussing how she let her children nap outside - a common practice in Sweden - but a clear no-no in for modern American parents. Ack! And I do wish I had listened to the audiobook as well, I always enjoy books narrated by the author. It brings a whole other dimension to a text. Plus then maybe we could agree on how to pronounce hygge! I still assert that it is pronounced hoo-gah. It is so much more fun to say!
I was also worried that There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather would be just another diatribe on the horrors of American parenting. But I felt McGurk did a good job of putting the Swedish approach within a realistic context. It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. They too struggle with limiting screen time, increasing rates of childhood obesity and the pressure to compete in the cut-throat world of international academia. Unfortunately she did not do this until the last chapter, so I spent most of the book ready to throw down the gauntlet. “Say how much we suck one more time! I dare you!”
I will admit I have never been a particularly hygienic individual by today’s sanitized standards. I wash my hands after I go to the bathroom but I am totally down with sharing a water bottle or chapstick with a friend. I know; I am gross. So when McGurk discussed the importance of dirt for cultivating a healthy gut biome, which can have far reaching implications for our child’s development, I was fascinated. Do you think this will have an impact on how you parent? If so, how will you fend off the judgmental stares of the compulsive hand sani moms?
Since finishing the book, I have been able to spend at least one to two hours - though usually not all at once - outside with Bean. While we are outside, I have been making a concerted effort not to say “Yucky!” whenever she plunges her hands into the ground and gets down in the mud. This is still my first reaction, but I am getting better. I draw the line at letting her eat it.
Brianna: Unfortunately, the recording I had was not performed by the author, but the reader clearly knew her way around every new word. I think the passage that brought the greatest amount of relief, was when McGurk took her girls cross-country skiing. All three of them were on the struggle bus, going straight to crazyville the whole time. Even more mercifully, they ran into a slightly older mother, who gave them the once over and sympathized with how hard it is to get small children to enjoy their first forays into such outdoor activities. McGurk resisted the urge to cry and tell the woman all about her struggles. I wanted to shake her hand and say “THANK YOU!” Just because Swedes take their kids outside more often, doesn’t mean it’s easy for them. So now I know, if it takes longer to get Monkey dressed for an adventure than the adventure itself, it’s still worth it and I’m not doing it wrong. With that in mind, yes, I have already started taking her outside more often. We walk around the neighborhood and look at sticks, or we go to a park and send acorns down the slides. Sometimes we lie in a baseball field and count thistle blossoms. We don’t go out much in the rain, since I haven’t found good rain pants for us yet, and I need to acquire rain boots (I have cute suede boots and heavy snow boots, but nothing for when it’s just wet). Once we’ve gotten this essential equipment together, I’m sure we’ll start to venture out more, even in the rain.
As far as the hygiene matter goes, I keep tiny bottles of hand sanitizer in our diaper bag, but only really use it when we’re out all day long. Sometimes we bring sandwiches or snacks when we go out, and the regular baby wipes or sanitizer come in handy for immediately before and after meals. I’m also a bit compulsive about hand washing while preparing food (or after using the bathroom, of course). Other than that, I’ve been returning pacifiers that hit the ground since she started using them. I know that over-sanitizing has caused superbugs to develop, and I’ve been treated for MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in the past, so I’m already very concerned about that. I only accept scripts for antibiotics from the doctor if there is real evidence that they will help, and we do not ask to be seen for every sore throat or cough. The best prevention against disease is good old soap and water. In fact, some infections have been all but eliminated from the world by using this most basic method of cleansing alone. Now, my husband is a bit attached to his Clorox wipes, but that is the only form of bleach we keep in the house. Personally, I think it’s overkill for most messes. I don’t bother with bleach or fabric softener when I do laundry, and we’re all doing just fine.
As for judgement, I actually have never encountered it. Either that, or I truly care so little about what they (the sani-set) think that I haven’t noticed. I was raised in the country, believing that everyone has a dirt quota, and if you get it out of the way when you’re young, you’ll grow to be quite healthy. I honestly believe stress has caused me more illness than any amount of dirt. When I’m out with Monkey, I let her play with just about anything she finds on the ground, except trash. When she finds stray straws or cups, we look for a trash can or recycling bin right away. But we bring home pretty rocks, acorns, and sticks all the time. If anything, this book just confirmed that a lot of my beliefs about parenting are very reasonable, and it’s the rest of the country that’s going a little overboard in their efforts to escort children into adulthood unscathed.
Ariel: Unfortunately I live in an area where helicopter parents douse everything in pumpkin spice scented hand sanitizer. It’s less dirty looks that I get and more concerned clucking. “Oh dear, your child is dirty. Do you need wet wipes? I see you must have run out. Here I have multiple options from which to choose!” I exaggerate to make a point. I don’t actually believe everyone that shows concern does so out of an inflated sense of pride in their immaculate parenting. More often it is my ego getting in the way, that taints such innocent exchanges. As McGurk wrote, “The range of emotions I go through on a daily basis now make my teens years seem like pure Zen in comparison. Exhilarating, emotional and exhausting - sometimes all at once - parenting is like no other experience I have ever had.” But I digress.
I think my favorite point that McGurk makes is that our children need a village to instill a sense of wonder and stewardship for the natural world. I am a firm believer that it takes a village to simply raise a child - to get through each day with your sanity intact - let alone foster positive growth. This is why I made the controversial decision to build our own family's house on my parents’ land. This is a solid start to our village, but the book still left me wondering how to proceed. Do I look up forest kindergartens? None anywhere close. Do I found a forest kindergarten in my area? My husband is excited, but that just sounds overwhelming to me. So I opted to start forming relationships informally for now. I called up an old friend who loves spending time with Bean and me, and we went for a hike. Sometimes the simplest solutions make the best foundation. Do you agree that it takes a village to create a life-long relationship with the natural world? If so, how do you take action on this belief?
Brianna: I’m not so great at the networking with other moms thing. When we take Monkey home to visit family, though, both of her grandmas put her to work transplanting flowers and pulling weeds. We go for walks in the woods, as well as in manicured gardens with deliberately diverse species. For now, I am fortunate enough to live in an area that is full of parks and woods, and has a growing number of outdoor preschool options. The next time we move, though, I think I am going to have to break out of my shell and start teaming up with other moms with similar values, as the forest kindergartens are still few and far between. This book offered a lot of good search terms for such schools, and that will be a big help. I’m really glad we read it.
McGurk, L.A. (2017). There’s no such thing as bad weather. Touchstone/Simon & Schuster: New York, NY.
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Ariel and Brianna are friends who met while working in a library. Now they collaborate to develop life-enhancing book club experiences.
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