Coat of arms

Picture it: Thunder Bay, Ontario. Early March. Seven degrees below zero. 8:30 a.m. Sun rising over Lake Superior. Air crisp and cold — I can see my breath. Sky rosy and bright. Rowan and I walking to his babysitter’s. We march along briskly, me in my down coat and mitts, hat on head, drinking a travel mug of hot tea. My three-year-old son wears his green Thomas the Train T-shirt, snowpants, boots — and nothing else.

It’s the culmination not just of one morning but of an entire season of struggle. Now that he can dress himself, Rowan prefers to wear only sweatpants, short-sleeved shirts (often three at a time; he rotates through a small selection of favourites that includes Thomas, a stripey polo shirt, and a rainbow tie-dyed number), and a purple acrylic V-neck sweater knitted for him by his great grandmother. Long sleeves are generally offensive, as is all outdoor clothing, especially hats, mittens, a fleece hoodie, and — today —his coat.

Every morning, it’s the same thing: the screaming, the chasing around the house, the distractions, the reasoning, the bribery, the attempts to “make it fun,” all in the name of getting the clothes on and getting out the door.

And today, I gave up the fight. After some extended negotiations, Rachel managed to get snowpants and boots on the boy, who then followed me around the kitchen repeating, “I’m NOT wearing my fleece. Umom, I’m NOT wearing my fleece. I’m not playing with YOU any more. I’m walking away. I’M WALKING AWAY.” I kept repeating, “I’m not talking with you about it any more, Rowan. I’m done.”

And I was. I walked out the door and fetched the stroller from the garage. Rowan walked out the door hatless and coatless. “I get warm in the stroller,” he said. “No way,” I said. “Only people who are wearing their hats and coats can get in the stroller. You’d better start walking.”

And so we walked, Rowan with his arms jammed down the sides of his snowpants so that he looked like a performer in Riverdance. Every so often, I’d say, “You look like you’re getting cold. Would you like to put on your coat?” And he’d say, “No THANK you. But thanks for answering!” Or he’d comment, “My ears are cold.” And I’d say, “Oh. Would you like to put on your hat?” And he’d say, “No thanks!” And I’d say, “I like your manners!”

Actually, it was a very pleasant walk. Rowan, armless, kept up a patter of conversation next to me — about the ice, how far we had walked, the forklift that drove by, how he would get warm at his babysitter’s, that Isaac is a baby — punctuating our occasional silences with, “It sure is a beautiful day, isn’t it?” He pulled his arm out of its little snowpanty cocoon to hold my hand at intersections, and then put it back.

It was also a very efficient walk. Because he couldn’t — wouldn’t — use his arms, Rowan couldn’t pick up stray sticks or clamber over every snowbank the way he usually does, activities that generally test my Zen ability to “be here now” as opposed to where I feel we’re actually supposed to be. Plus, I think he needed to keep moving in order to stay warm. We marched along briskly, me pushing the empty stroller, my three-year-old son chattering along beside me. Quality time. Cars drove by, and whenever I caught the eye of the driver, he or she invariably smiled, as if to say, “been there, done that.”

Oh, for summer. When we can swap fights over winter clothes for fights over sunscreen.