Previously: The Paper Bag Princess.
My mother was visiting the Natural History Museum with my son when he was three. She lives a few blocks away and bundled him up in his stroller. She told me she wouldn’t call me unless it was an emergency, so you can imagine the horrific stream of worst-case-scenarios I thought of when the phone rang.
“Hayley, your son will not put on his jacket.”
Apparently, there was a stand-off. She told him they wouldn’t leave the museum until he put the jacket on. He sat down underneath the T-Rex and refused to move.
“Okay, so let him freeze,” I said. “He’ll ask you for the coat after walking one block.”
“It’s 20 degrees out, though!”
This had already happened a few weeks earlier. A random person (a mother?) caught me fighting with him in an icy supermarket parking lot. “When he’s cold, he’ll wear it,” the woman said gently, and tried to explain body temperature and autonomy — which is the topic Robert Munsch tackles in Thomas’s Snowsuit.
Thomas is a little shit boy like mine who won’t wear his snowsuit. “That is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he says to his mother when she brings home his new snowsuit. “If you think that I am going to wear that ugly snowsuit, you are crazy!”
Thomas’ mother does what any parent would do. She forces him to wear it because I’m not going to have all the mothers judge me for not dressing you properly in the winter and do you know how much money I paid for this snowsuit.
So the mother and Thomas have an “enormous fight.” Thomas is strong, but Mommy is bigger and she’s faster. And she will always beat you, Thomas.
Mommy takes a Xanax and sends Thomas to school with the snowsuit on. When it’s time to go outside, Thomas refuses to put on the snowsuit again, screaming “NNNNNNO!” They have an “enormous fight” and magically switch clothes. Thomas is now wearing the teacher’s dress. The teacher is wearing the snowsuit.
You actually might say out loud, “What in the fuck is going on with this book? Who is in control here?” The kid you’re reading it to will stop laughing and stare at you. And you will look at the kid you’re reading it to, hoping that kid can’t read minds. Because what you’re thinking is this: Thomas has a remarkable resemblance to Chucky, the doll possessed by a serial killer.
Soon enough Dabney Coleman, Thomas’ principal, decides he’s going to take charge because that’s what men do. They take charge. Clearly you women can’t get this kid in a snowsuit, because woman are idiots.
But this story is as much about individuality and the importance of childhood defiance as it is about parental exasperation and hypothermia. Thomas wants to wear his boxer shorts and a Hanes undershirt. He wants to pick his nose and eat it. He wants to snort liquid mac and cheese. He wants to be a chain smoker. Thomas is not wearing the fucking snowsuit because he sweats in it. And when he has to pee he has to take the whole thing off. Plus it’s brown.
He gives the great big NNNNNNO to the teacher and the principal, and this is when Thomas becomes a hero. Thomas is a legend. If this story had a subtitle, it would be: “Thomas: The Kid Who Got Away With Not Listening To Adults.”
Thomas’ antics then cause the principal and the teacher to get into an “enormous fight” and switch clothes. This is where I advise you not to read Thomas’ Snowsuit to a kid before bed, because she’ll want to bounce on her bed, nose-dive off the dresser, and scream Kathleen Hanna songs all night.
Suddenly, one of Thomas’s friends calls him to play. Thomas shelves any of the sensory issues he might have had, “jumped into his snowsuit, got his boots on in two seconds, and ran out the door.” The moral of the story should be: When the kid is ready to put on his coat, he’ll put on his coat. And: You don’t get a cold from cold weather. You get a cold from germs.
But the story isn’t over. Munsch shifts perspectives, because this isn’t about Thomas after all. It’s about the salvation of adults. In the end, Dabney Coleman quits his job as the school principal and “moves to Arizona, where no one ever has to wear a snow suit.” We never hear about the teacher again, but I’m guessing she moved to Los Angeles, because no one lives in New York anymore.
Hayley Krischer is a freelance writer living who lives with her family in the tundra, otherwise known as New Jersey. You can follow her on Twitter @hayleykrischer.