I’ve often found it intriguing that Portland would become one of the most active biking cities in this country: a city known for rainy weather. Wouldn’t biking make more sense in San Diego? Or LA? Or somewhere in Florida or South Carolina? Someplace with sunshine and warm weather year-round?
My incredulity is born from living in a sheltered, pampered, and climate-controlled culture. The lifestyle I am most familiar with, familiar to many Americans, is one that almost never requires a person to be outside at all, including children. Folks go from climate-controlled house, to car, to school/work, to indoor malls/stores, and back again, with only the annoying dash from parking lot or driveway back inside (or not even that, with virtual school, work-from-home, drive-throughs, curbside pickups, and home deliveries eliminating nearly all contact with outdoor weather conditions, as well as actual people–a phenomenon that seems all too common around me, as I have many neighbors that I have never seen leave their house, or even step foot outside, except to get into their car or bring in a grubhub delivery.)
It’s natural to just follow the norms, the patterns of behavior and attitudes that develop around us, often unconsciously. I have relatives that look out the window on a rainy day, frowning brow pointed outside, and say, “What a crummy, miserable day!” Or “I’m sorry the weather is so awful,” as if the offending rain were a fault requiring apology, and something to obviously be avoided. It’s certainly not an occasion to go family biking.
Which is why I picked up a copy of Swedish Mama Linda Akeson McGurk’s encouraging book: There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids. I was looking for a counter to the anti-rain attitude that I am used to, as we enter Portland’s chilly and rainy biking season–my family’s first on a bicycle–and I figured some inspiration from a Scandinavian Mama could be just the thing to help us ditch our American-comfort-indoor habits and get us out the door and on the bike.
The book certainly delivers what I was looking for, and so much more. I am humbled by McGurk and her fellow Swedes. These are hardy folk. They live in a legitimately frigid climate, and have the cultural norm and expectation of spending time outside, every day, whatever the Nordic weather, including their children. Hence their saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes!” They simply bundle up and go: walking, hiking, sledding, skiing, and, once the roads are plowed, biking. Even the infants go, bundled into strollers. Perhaps the most telling quotation from the book was from a Swedish mum who (in normal Swede fashion) began daily walks outside with her newborn once the temperature had warmed up to 17 degrees Fahrenheit, and afterwards, like most Swedish parents, she left the baby in the pram to finish her nap outside, in seventeen degree temperatures. This Mama goes on to explain, “If it was below [fourteen degrees Fahrenheit] I didn’t put [the baby] outside by themselves, but I would still take them for walks. And if it rained, I just put a rain cover on the pram and went outside anyway. You can’t let that stop you.”
Cue my own shock-and-awe. Outdoor walks and rides every day, in temperatures well below freezing? Gee, I feel sheepish. Maybe I can reconsider my own hesitation to go outside in temperatures below forty! Certainly McGurk is just the person to inspire me to do so. With the same hardy spirit, McGurk reports that cities all over Sweden have steadily shut down more and more streets to car traffic, replaced parking spaces with bike racks, increased pedestrian and outdoor leisure spaces, and added other incentives, like limited and expensive parking, to encourage folks to walk, bike, or use public transit–and remember, this in cities that are covered in snow and freezing temperatures for a large portion of the year. Folks don’t seem to be complaining. According to McGurk’s depiction, Swedes are happy to be outside and use active transit, kids in tow. They expect and embrace such an active outdoor life. They would question (and probably protest) if it were any other way.
I find it exciting to discover such insights from other countries and cultures. They open my eyes to some of my inhibiting American/cultural/personal biases and habits, things I have perhaps never thought about, or never questioned, and which can be changed. Indeed, it’s amazing what is possible, what was always possible–but may have been unimaginable–with just a change in attitude or with the right tools, or a little inspiration from somewhere else.
Linda Akeson McGurk provides just that sort of non-judgmental inspiration. She gives us a glimpse of an outdoor life, yes in wet and cold, that is completely normal in another part of the world. She teaches us not just a motto, but a useful family philosophy when she says, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” There’s no reason why we can’t look outside on the next rainy day and say, “How lovely! Let’s go for a ride!” It will take some effort, and a bit of practice, but if mamas and babies can do it in Sweden, well darn, we ought to be able to do it out here….just as soon as my new poncho arrives!
— Shannon Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org and @shan4bikeport on Twitter.
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Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via email@example.com