It’s 20 degrees outside and 50 degrees inside and your mom won’t let you turn up the heat. “Put a sweater on,” she says.
I don’t know what it is with mothers and thermostats, but they always seem to be in cahoots, trying to visit torture upon cold children. They call it “building character.” I heard it as a child, and I’ve spoken those words as a mother.
Put a sweater on. Any sweater will do.
I can think of a number of different kinds of sweaters, each with their own unique characteristics:
The Oversized Sweater: This bulky sweater has overlong sleeves that hang down to your fingertips and a hem that sags around your hips. You can wrap yourself in it as if it were a cozy fleece blanket. The long sleeves double as potholders. Just pull the sleeves down over your hands, and you can take a casserole out of the oven or safely extract your new ceramic mug that “may get hot” from the microwave with no risk of burns.
The oversized sweater is useful for hiding things as well, especially if it has a kangaroo pocket in the front. If you hate Brussels sprouts and your dog does too, simply slip the offending vegetables into your pouch pocket and your mother will never know that you didn’t eat them. You can conceal your less-than-stellar report card, the stray cat you picked up on the way home, or an entire pecan pie in the depths of your cozy oversized sweater.
The Twin Set: This chic sweater set consists of a sleeveless shell and a matching cardigan, both in the exact same pastel shade. Usually made of soft cashmere, the twin set pairs well with an add-a-bead necklace or a simple string of pearls. A twin set is worn for fashion only. Don’t even think about using it to hide contraband or keep your fingers safe from hot surfaces. It’s a sweater, nothing more.
The Ugly Christmas Sweater: I have a hard time wrapping my head around this phenomenon. When I was a kid, Christmas sweaters were sincere, not ironic. If you got a sweater for Christmas, it was because your Aunt Martha knitted her heart out for months to make a special sweater for each of her relatives. If you thought your sweater with the crocheted Christmas bells hanging from the hem was ugly, you kept that thought to yourself. You dutifully wore the sweater for Christmas dinner before tucking it away at the bottom of your darkest dresser drawer, never to be seen again.
Okay, boomer, times have changed. Today you can buy pre-uglified sweaters in the mall. The uglier the better! The prestige of coming home from a Christmas party with the coveted “Ugliest Sweater” award cannot be overstated.
The Hoodie: It’s a sweater with a hood. What’s so rebellious about that? A hoodie can keep your hair dry in the rain or keep your ears warm in below-zero wind chill. But it can also make you feel dangerous, like you live on the edge and might suddenly break out into some anti-social behavior like illegally recording a movie in the theater or something. If you want to project a slightly criminal aura, choose a hoodie.
The Just-in-Case Sweater: Any type of sweater can serve the just-in-case function. This is the sweater that you carry on your arm into a restaurant in Florida in the summertime, where inside spaces are overly cold from air conditioning while the sun beats down relentlessly outside. The frigid air assaults your overheated skin, sending you into hypothermic shock unless you quickly don your just-in-case sweater. It may seem odd to always carry a sweater in the summer heat, but there it is.
Whether it’s a twin set, an oversized sweater or a hoodie, the ultimate goal of a sweater is to keep you warm when it’s cold inside, because, as you know, your mother will prevail. Turning up the heat is not an option. Don’t touch that thermostat. Put a sweater on!
• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life.