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Friday August 23rd 2019

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That's what she said

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Generation Namby-pamby


When did I turn into that crotchety old lady who talks about the good old days when I had to walk uphill both ways, to and from school?  I’d say it was the day before yesterday, when I learned that school had been canceled for my high school student due to anticipated “extreme cold.”  When they canceled school a second day in a row due to sub-zero temperatures, my status was confirmed:  crotchety AND cranky old lady.

In my day (OMG, I can’t believe I just used that phrase), the only thing that closed school was a couple of feet of lake-effect snow dumped overnight – something like the storm that’s hitting the NE US now — a fairly common occurrence at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York in the mid-60’s.  Cold was measured by the depth of the frost on your windows, the length of the icicles hanging from your eaves, and the frequency with which you had to stop to scrape the ice off of both sides of the windshield on your Volkswagen Beetle.  Neither school nor life was canceled due to cold.  It just would not have been practical given that we had an average of 150 days per year below freezing, and an average low temperature each year in the minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit range.


Girls were required to wear skirts to school, which necessitated the addition of huge, itchy, woolen snowpants to ward off frostbitten knees.  The invention of polar fleece was decades away, and four-wheel drive vehicles were only used on farms.

This week in Boulder, our kids were told to stay home due to temperatures that were certainly nowhere near the average lowest recorded temperature for Boulder of minus 28 degrees in February.  While temperatures did dip below zero, it was nothing that a good pair of boots, a warm hat, and some gloves couldn’t handle.  So what gives?


My theory is that our reluctance to let our little ones out in the cold is a reflection of our reluctance to let them experience any kind of risk.  We slather them in sunscreen in the summer. They can’t ride around the block without a bike helmet and a GPS. And we certainly wouldn’t let them go sledding on Open Space…there are liabilities to consider, after all.

My fear is that we are raising a generation of namby-pamby kids who are afraid to scrape their knees, afraid to experience the bracing cold on a sunshiny day, afraid to try and fail.  I see it reflected in the way we have stripped competitiveness from the classroom, in the way we talk with our kids about sex and drugs and rock and roll and last but not least…in the decision to cancel school in the face of a little cold.

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4 Responses to “Generation Namby-pamby”

  1. Rita Bowman says:

    I am deeply saddened by the oblivious entitlement in Susan Peterson’s piece, “Generation Namby-Pamby.” Susan, do you not know there are plenty of kids in Boulder, many of them in my neighborhood, who do NOT have a “good pair of boots, a warm hat, or some gloves”? What about our kids who have NO boots, hats, or gloves? For Boulder’s poor, closing school was a godsend. If we have namby-pamby kids, maybe they learned it from watching our indifference to the poverty under our own noses.

    Rita Bowman
    Orchard Grove Mobile Home Park #158

    • Liz Payton says:

      I would think that being in school instead of at home would be particularly important for those kids for a couple of reasons: their parents probably need the free child care and the kids need as much catch-up schooling as possible. I wish the school district would trust the parents to make sure their kids were safe. Maybe we need a way to funnel all the lost-and-found winter gear from my kids’ elementary school to Orchard Grove.

    • Susan Peterson says:

      Rita, I appreciate your advocacy for the dis-advantaged kids in our community. Given my own background and the work that I have done to try to help kids, both in Boulder and around the world, your presumtion that my opinion stems from a root of entitlement is patently false.

  2. DanielleMasursky says:

    I find it rather interesting that it’s your generation that now serves as legislators and school board members and school district superintendents who have instituted and enforced these rules. If they are coddling children, or excessively protecting them from risk, it would seem that they took a different lesson from their experiences growing up than you did. I often hear people, including my own husband, grumbling about these same issues, but I tend to think those folks are a vocal minority, because these rules are pervasive, and they were introduced and supported by someone!!

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