It was no coincidence — on this frigid, winter night — that I maneuvered my sons toward the casket.
“What is this?” son No. 1 asked.
“Read and learn,” I told them, in my best Ghost of Winter Past voice.
“The weather shifted from light snow to hail and then to rain,” one child read. “Upon Washington’s return it was suggested that he change out of his wet riding clothes before dinner.”
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“Wet clothes, cold, refusing to listen,” I said, before pointing to the model of George Washington’s coffin. “Dead.”
“Mommmmm,” they both moaned, before leaving the exhibit.
Yes, the great general, war hero and father of our nation died an untimely death after not bundling up enough and staying in his wet clothes.
Our candlelight tour of Mt. Vernon on a cold November night was my calculated opening salvo to this year’s annual Winter Wear Wars.
We are in our 10th year of the ongoing battle. I’ve tried it all — puffers and neoprene, hipster vests and roomy parkas, taking them with me to pick coats out themselves, splurging on something that costs more than anything I’ve bought for myself — to no avail.
Why do kids hate winter coats? I know I’m not alone. I see the kids who have declared total victory over their parents, showing up at school in the dead of winter not only coatless, but in shorts and tall socks (one point for mom).
I am not alone. The parental cry of desperation echoes across social media:
“Heavily snowing and my child still refuses to wear a jacket,” Natalie Scites announced on Facebook during a storm in West Virginia this month.
“Why does this child of mine REFUSE to wear a bloody coat!” Vanessa Breen lamented from the damp, chilly corners of Doncaster, United Kingdom.
Maybe it has something to do with their heroes.
“My mom bought my sister a new Columbia ski coat and my sister refuses to wear it because Ariana Grande wouldn’t wear a jacket like that,” an indignant older sister named Corrine Day wrote on Twitter.
Come on, Ariana, can’t you wear a nice peacoat on stage next time?
And then there are superheroes. Dudes. The tights? Always the tights?
“My son refuses to wear a coat because Green Lantern doesn’t wear one. Should make for a fun winter,” tweeted Donna Freydkin, back when her son was a pre-schooler.
I checked in with her later to see if common sense had prevailed. Her son, now 6, is yielding to the coat, she reported. But he won’t do a hat or gloves until his fingers freeze.
Some experts say there may be more to this than the stubbornness of childhood. Winter coats can be like iron maidens for kids with sensory issues. Point taken. We’ve all felt overbundled and that can feel horrific to a child already struggling with the outside world’s control of their little bodies.
But that doesn’t explain all of them. My 11-year-old says it’s a dilemma because his coat is comfortable only with a T-shirt underneath it but then he’s cold in class, and when he wears a hoodie, he’s too bundled up. So I bought him a roomier coat.
“But this pattern looks sort of girl-ish,” he lamented when he put on the roomy, all-black jacket with a diamond quilting pattern. Huh? I knew it was all about the swag.
Turns out another president, William Henry Harrison, also gave in to fashion trends that led to his death. The ninth president of the United States was then the oldest elected to office at 68. And he was probably trying to prove he was a fashionable, vigorous and vital man when he gave his epic, two-hour inaugural address in the rain and snow of March 4, 1841, without a proper coat or a hat.
He got sick. Doctors said it was pneumonia, and he died exactly one month after taking office.
The New England Journal of Medicine verified — back in 1968 — everything every stubborn 6-year-old has yelled at his mother during the coat wars: “This study demonstrated no effect of exposure to cold on host resistance to rhinovirus infection and illness that could account for the commonly held belief that exposure to cold influences or causes common colds,” the study said.
My 13-year-old backed this up.
“Did you finish reading that thing about George Washington?” he asked. “They bled him. They kept taking his blood. That’s what killed him.
“Can you hold my jacket?” he said, before following his brother into the cold, night air.