Years ago, when Emory was a toddler, we had to take Murray to a veterinarian in the city. The cat had ingested something weird again. He did that a lot. He underwent two surgeries before the age of two. Silicon nipples and pacifiers were his thing, and with a baby around, he managed to find a lot of them. So, the entire family packed up the car and drove Murray to the vet.
It was a snowy morning. The city streets were still warm, so the snow melted right as it hit the ground. But we admired it as it fell. It was a workday. The sidewalks were busy with commuters—people on a mission.
When we arrived, Toby took the cat into the exam room. I waited outside with Emory. I tried to amuse him so he wouldn’t annoy everyone in the waiting area, but he was a crazy, active two-year-old. He also looked the part—blond, wiry hair that stood atop his head as if he’d touched an electric fence. We called him Einstein back then. And he never stopped moving. He bounced from chair to chair, talking to the animals. I could tell he was starting to bother everyone, so I grabbed his coat and said, “Hey, Em! Wanna go outside and look at the snow?”
“Yes!” He bolted toward the door.
Once out front, I tried to put his coat on. I pinned him against my legs and tried to force the coat onto his little body. It was cold, after all. He was wearing a short sleeve shirt and a pair of pants, socks and shoes. But that was it. No hat. No gloves. No layers. He didn’t seem to notice or care. But I did. I looked around wondering if anyone was paying attention; wondering if anyone was silently judging me for my many inadequacies.
Back then, first child, I still worried a great deal about what other parents thought of me. I spent far too much time worrying about the minds of others. I read articles about what I should be feeding my kid. I read articles about how I should be putting him to sleep; what I should be reading to him; how much TV he shouldn’t be watching as I took a shower. I read articles about toxins. Articles about other articles and how those articles were wrong and that this was the right way raise my child. This meant I constantly felt like a failure. How can one possibly do the right thing when the right thing changes every single day? And how can someone do the right thing while also negotiating with a child who has an opinion, free will, and a plan of his own?
My parenting skills back then were far from tidy. I was trying, and given how anxious Emory is as a 9-year-old, perhaps I was trying a little too hard.
So that morning, I opted to pick my battle and this was one I decided to lose. Let the kid go without a coat. Let his tongue touch the snow. Let him frolic. Let him be cold. My final thought before deciding I was doing the “right” thing was: “Well, he’s not going to freeze to death.”
So we frolicked.
And then all our frolicking came to a screeching halt. A woman walked up, bone thin. Grey cheeks. She wore a coat far, far too big for her tiny frame. It swallowed her from neck to knees. Her hands poked out of the massive arm holes like dead, winter tree limbs. She was most definitely on something, or in search of something to be on, or coming down off something and in search of something to be on.
She just started screaming and pointing at me.
“CHILD ABUSE! THIS WOMAN IS AN ABUSER!” Her dark eyes were full of judgement and wild abandon. “CCHILLLLLLLDDDDD ABUUUUUUUUUSEEEEERRRRRR! NO COAT ON THIS SMALL BOY. NO COAT. ABUSE! CCHILLLLLLLDDDDD ABUUUUUUUUUSEEEEERRRRRR!”
I was mortified. I froze. Emory continued to dance, wondering what this lady was going on and on about. I wasn’t sure what to do. The streets were full of people heading to work, coffee warming their hands which were stuffed inside gloves, their scarves draped perfectly so. They watched this all unfold, and to them, she might be correct. The crackhead looked right: my two-year-old was indeed dancing around on a city street in the snow wearing nothing more than a short sleeve shirt and a pair of pants.
“Should I reason with the crackhead?” I wondered. Should I say, “Oh, man! You know kids! Sometimes they just don’t want to wear a coat! Silly kids!” But I decided that was a bad idea, that she was perhaps beyond reasoning (not entirely unlike my 2-year-old when it came to wearing a coat).
I opted to ignore her instead.
She just became louder. She stopped a man, some poor guy trying to get to the office. She said, “THIS WOMAN IS ABUSING HER CHILD. NO COAT!” The guy looked at me, shook his head and then quickly moved on.
Unsure of what to do anymore, but fully aware that this was a battle I was absolutely losing, I scooped Emory up into my arms and headed back into the waiting room.
That was 8 years ago.
It’s 2016. And pretty much every single winter morning for the last three years, I have had the following conversation with my now 9-year-old son who—not kidding—comes downstairs every single morning wearing shorts and a t-shirt.
“Em, it’s below freezing out. You need to wear pants.”
“GOD. Why are you always bossing me around?”
“I’m trying to do what’s best for you. It’s cold out there. It’s a long walk to school. You’re going to freeze.”
“Stop bothering me!”
“It’s winter. You need a coat.”
“OH MY GOD, YOU’RE SO BOSSY!”
He leaves the room. I hear him rummaging around, complaining under his breath about how annoying I am. He returns with one, single sweatshirt. Same shorts. Same socks. Same everything else (or nothing else in this case). There’s no hat. No gloves. No scarf. And he doesn’t even zipper the sweatshirt.
“HAPPY?!!” He huffs.
The door opens, he heads outside. I stand at the window with my coffee. I see the other kids in coats and hats—even gloves. I watch the vapor form as their warm breath hits the freezing air that surrounds them.
I watch my son.
I think, “Well, he’s not going to freeze to death.”