Mama Says: Holding out on the heat
by Laura Fratus

(Plain Press, November 2005) The playroom thermostat says 54 degrees. The one in the living room says 55. Upstairs in the hallway, it’s a little better: 58. And the thermometer in my bedroom is reading a whopping 63. I decide to work in my bedroom.

 Under 62 degrees or so, my hands get stiff and my typing gets slow, so if the sun doesn’t come out tomorrow afternoon and cast its warming rays through our west windows, I may need to put on gloves, or else give up the idea of writing anything in favor of doing warm-handed chores like folding laundry or ironing.

 It’s cold in our house. But we’re still more than a week away from the absolute earliest date to turn on the furnace.

 Standing at the bus stop a few days ago, stamping our feet in the chill that had finally descended on Cleveland, the parents discussed whether anyone had given in and turned on the heat yet.

 At that point, no one had. My friend, Jim, who had still not even decided to wear a coat for the walk to the bus stop, said that he won’t turn on the heat until November 1.

 And thus, to use my friend Nancy’s _expression, “the undeclared competition” had begun.

 “November 1st?” I thought. “I bet we could hold out until at least November 5th. Or maybe even Veteran’s Day!”

 In past years, this would have been only a silly game. But with the natural gas prices predicted this year, the stakes in terms of heating bills are higher. The longer we hold off using the furnace, and the lower we set the thermostat, the bigger the payoff.

 I consider the other members of my team, and detect a weak link. Although I am the family’s Designated Cheapskate, my husband can be counted on to back me up. He pays the bills, and must have vivid memories of last winter’s shocking gas costs. But our kids — they will need convincing.

 When I collect them from the school bus, I announce that we’re going to do something special for snack time starting today. We’ll eat and do homework in the living room, where we have a small gas heater. (It’s common knowledge that space heaters and wood stoves don’t count in the home heating contest.) They are delighted!

 We have cups of warm milk and grilled cheese sandwiches, and barely any of it ends up smashed into the rug. How cozy! If their homework is a little wrinkly and smeared with cheese, at least it must be neater than those math problems ol’ Abe Lincoln used to have to write out with coal on the back of a shovel.

 Unfortunately, they lose their commitment to the cause at bedtime. “I’ll freeze to death in here, Mom!” my son complains. “I think I can see my breath!”

 I go online to investigate whether a person can really get hypothermia in a 53 degree house. I am encouraged to discover that this is very rare, and suggest to my son that he wear a hat to bed.

 After we kiss the kids goodnight in their frigid bedrooms, my husband and I feel guilty sitting in front of a cozy gas heater. I wonder whether it is too late to telephone Jim to ask whether he has given in yet. But then I realize that this would be displaying weakness to the competition, and decide against it. I go to bed at 9PM, instead, and lure two or three cats to lay across my feet.

 I am cold, but confident.

 

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