“Mittens?”

We come out of the warm YMCA building, the chlorine scent of the swimming pool still clinging to us. Ender, with the determination only a four-year-old possesses, drags his sled down the stairs. Clunk, clunk, clunk. Slam! It lands on the bottom. He looks over his shoulder. Scowls at me. He’s tired. Hungry. Probably, despite the snowpants, sleeping-bag-jacket, and over-the-face toque, cold, because it’s the coldest, snowiest December YYC has seen in 112 years.

He plops down on the sled in a Buddha pose.

“Mittens?”

I ask, kneeling down beside him.

“No! My hands are NOT cold!”

He’s tired. Hungry. Contrary. It’s at least -15 Celsius.

I shrug. Get up. Start pulling the sled.

It’s a beautiful, clear night. The air feels clean—sparkling—even as it hurts my lungs, bites at my exposed cheeks. I pull the sled on the cleared-of-snow-but-there’s-so-much-of-it-everywhere-I-kind-of-want-a-snowmobile paths. Look at the twinkling lights. The sleeping-bag-parka-engulfed people. Turn my head.

“Mittens?”

“No.”

I shrug. Start walking again, my hands warm in my mittens. I think of what 2013 was, and what 2014 might be. I think of milestones, real and artificial. I think of hope-despair-desire-acceptance-creation-destruction-reconstruction. A plot line emerges from all those thoughts, a fascinating one, and I hear a conversation in my head that sets it up, and I fall in love with it, but it doesn’t really fit into what I want to do, ultimately, with that piece of work, and then my thoughts leap to the unBloggers Manifesto I want to write for Nothing By The Book for January, a polemic that in its current form is not doing quite what I need it to do, and I know it’s because I’m pulling too much into it, going off on too many tangents, and for a piece of writing to work, it needs to be focused, and a polemic piece of writing needs to be brutally so, digressions and tangents only work if you pull them back, at just the right time, to the central idea, the theme… or the chorus…

I turn around.

“Mittens?”

“No. Not cold.”

Mittens Pin

I cross the bridge. The lights are beautiful and almost make me forgive Christmas its existence. And I think about… beauty, definitions of, abstraction of, and that thought takes me to my daughter-who’s-about-to-turn-nine, so beautiful in mind-soul-body that it makes me ache, so full of potential and wonder that it’s that thought, and not the cold air, that stops the breath in my throat for a second… and I think about all the ways that I think fail her as a mother, all the ways that I am not what she needs, and tears swirl in my eyes—but maybe I am what she needs? And, really, what a silly question, because I am what she has and she is what I must learn—and, tears still dancing in the corners of my eyes, I turn my head…

“Mittens?”

He shakes his head. I never imagined motherhood to be this—so full of such intense joy and such paralyzing pain. So full of summits and valleys. So glorious, so rewarding—so fucking heart-wrenching. And that thought takes me to twelve different places at once, and I’m not sure how much self-awareness I want to chase in this moment, so I choose to chase the idea that self-awareness, for all the pain it brings, is also a source of power and that takes me to such very, very interesting places…

“Mittens?”

His hands are folded in his lap, and he’s bent over them. Head bopping. Falling asleep. He bops up. Scowls at me.

“Mittens?” I repeat.

“No.”

I walk faster. Over another bridge. Through the steam rising from the cracks in the ice of the river. I look at the water, ice, snow, steam and feel a shot of resentment and fear. I try to see beauty… and not next year’s flood waters. And I grit my teeth and don’t chase that thought. Find another. Oh, this one I like… I smile—my nose runs, because it’s so cold—my mouth opens and I almost stop moving because all I want is that thought and, irreverently and irrelevantly, I also glory in the fact that it came to me in this moment when I am alone… except I am not, because I am MOTHER and I am never alone, even when I am.

I look over my shoulder…

“Mittens?”

“Not! Cold!”

I can’t really run in my boots and on the snow, but I walk as quickly as I can. Home, home. I cannot wait to be home, and not just because it’s cold, and I love that thought, that feeling. I want to get home.

“Mom? My hands are cold.”

I’m about… what? 200 meters away. Maybe less. I kneel down beside the four-year-old. His hands are pulled into the sleeves of his sleeping-bag coat. I blow on his fingers and slip on his mittens. Kiss the tip of his nose.

Do not lecture, and so, enjoy the brief victory of mind over impulse. Pull the sled the last 200 meters home.

I wish I could tell you that the next time we go out in the cold, he says “Yes” the first time I try to put on his mittens. But he won’t.

I wish I could tell you I will never again doubt that I am what my daughter needs or let my thoughts go to all those other unproductive, painful places.

I wish I could tell you that, somewhere between the YMCA and home, I found the answer to EVERYTHING. Because how awesome would that be?

But, I just want to tell you this: You can fight over the mittens. Cajole, badger, plead. Force.

Or you can wait for those little hands to get cold.

And when they do—put on the mittens. Silently. Without the “I told you so’s.” Or too many expectations for the next time.

Fuck, yeah, it’s a metaphor.

Jane

P.S. Happy New Year, beloveds. I am torn what to ask of 2014. In the closing weeks and months of 2013, I rather wanted a less eventful year. But now that it’s here… eventlessness is so boring. And unfulfilling. So, 2014—be eventful. Be FULL. I’ve got plans for you. And you’d better be prepared to rise to the occasion.

P.P.S. “Jane, why are you anthropomorphizing a calendar construct?”
“Because… Metaphors. So useful.”

Coming sometime this month: the unBlogger’s Manifesto. Minus all of its digressions. Or maybe not. Focus is key. But it is digressions that make life and thought interesting…

P.P.P.S. “I love this! I want more!”
“I am so pleased. Connect with Nothing By The Book on Twitter @nothingbythebook, Facebook, and Google+. Or, for a not-in-front-of-the-entire-Internet-please exchange, email  nothingbythebook@gmail.com.”

60 thoughts on ““Mittens?”

  1. Wow. It’s really fucking cold where you live. I kept wishing I had brought my mittens on this walk with you. Stunning job of focusing.

    P.S. I KNEW he’d want those mittens eventually. That he waited so long shows how tenacious he is, which is an excellent virtue. My son is 24 and he would still eschew mittens. And at that age, I wouldn’t ask. I’d want to. But I wouldn’t.

    P.P.S. Happy 2014!

  2. What is it about kids and their rejection of comfort? It was below zero the other day and we were out running errands in it, and there was my daughter-coat unzipped, no gloves, no hat. My son on the other hand looked like he was ready for the next ice age. She is so stubborn, she defies weather! Kids… We should be so tough, huh?

    So anxious to see what happens on your blog this new year! 😀

      • My students are bloggers too and really love how it has improved their writing identity; many now embrace writing, rather than fearing it. Their blogging can be found on my Blogroll – http://thehunni.wordpress.com/ For classes – we have one common blog and they are the writers. For Creative Writing – each student has their own blog. As for my blogging – they appreciate that I put myself in their shoes and write. Some of their feedback can be found in my NCTE 13 presentation, on my site too. One student wrote: ““Blogging helps students learn more about each other. It gives us an opportunity to actually look into some of our classmates’ beautiful souls.” (Jessica) So, you can see how blogging builds community for a class, making our “wall” disappear. Thanks for asking.

  3. WOW, Jane. Trying to come up with words to comment after reading this is kind of like going on stage right after *fill in the blank with whomever you consider to be the world’s greatest performing artist*. You’ve made me want to do better.

  4. Oh Jane, you know I loved this. I am patiently (not) waiting for your unblogging manifesto. I am promising myself no guilt for this year. I don’t know if I can keep that promise, but I won’t feel guilty if I can’t 😉 Your amazing stream of consciousness always bolsters me. This year will be fantabulous minus the parts that aren’t.

  5. So many things…”I am MOTHER and I am never alone, even when I am”…”enjoy the brief victory of mind over impulse”…”I wish I could tell you I will never again doubt that I am what my daughter needs or let my thoughts go to all those other unproductive, painful places.” You know it’s good when all you want to do is quote it! Looking forward to blogging unmanifesto or the other way around.

  6. Wow. This is such a beautiful post. Every day I question whether I am doing enough as a mom or doing what I should be doing for my children. Every day I encounter challenges like my daughter not wanting to wear her damn mittens, boots and hat when we leave the house, or my son not wanting to eat his dinner. Every day I think about what I could/should be doing for myself, too. Expectations. I guess some are worth letting go of in order to find more peace, and some are worth the fight. Thank you for giving me something new to think about.

  7. I was smiling while reading your post, beautiful and very entertaining. My little boy don’t mind cold hands too. Yes, he allowed me to put on his mittens but after a minute or two and was gone…he just love the cold:-) Have a great 2014!

  8. I’m so glad I found u thru Freshly Pressed. I had to chuckle at the number of times you prompted “mittens.” Reminds me of all the times I ask my teenaged son if he’s put on deodorant and brushed his teeth…which I inquire every day and it apparently never gets old to him because he stops n thinks about it! WTH?! Looking forward to reading more if ur posts this year. Happy FULL 2014 to u!

  9. “But, I just want to tell you this: You can fight over the mittens. Cajole, badger, plead. Force.

    Or you can wait for those little hands to get cold.” I loved this metaphor! It is so applicable to so many things, but especially for motherhood. I found this through freshly pressed and look forward to reading more.

  10. You have such talent for connecting with us (your readers) and then pushing us beyond our realm of thinking…sometimes outside our comfort zone. Finally you have been Freshly Pressed!

  11. Beautiful read. Every time I read these blogs involving the devotion and caring towards children It makes me remember the unsaid from my mom, when I was a child.
    So, I write for my kid to read later in her life what i used to think about her and care about her.

    Anyway, you did a fantastic job here! Congratulations on being Freshly pressed – deserve it!

  12. Pingback: Quote This: Krishnamurti on loving what we’re doing | Undogmatic Unschoolers

  13. As a newbie to the blogging world, I am thankful for FreshPressed and thankful I found this.

    It is a wonderful post and I commend your triumph of the inner-dialogue not to lecture. I’m not convinced that in the moment I would have been so victorious. I agree “mittens” are a fantastic metaphor.

    I remember one cold day when my kids were about 2 and 3yrs, thinking that mittens for toddlers were some sick joke manufactured by some cruel b&stard, and sent out into the world to test the virtuousness of mums. I’m talking the little woollen ones with a hole for each finger to negotiate before the sock end of it buttons over the top. It was a painful and slow process to get each of those ten little fingers into the mittens. The kids weren’t old enough or practiced enough to do it themselves, but they were old enough to note, and then object if I had tried to cut corners and sandwich the wrong finger into the wrong whole. Thankfully my patience-through-gritted-smile would finally be rewarded and I would have the mittens on! And then I would turn to start the whole process again with the next child.

    My elation at conquering all 20 digits, at passing the ‘test’, would only be short-lived as moments later the kids had de-mittened to feel something, and were then turning back to me with outstretched icy fingers wanting me to repeat the process. I didn’t have many gracious thoughts for those b&stards at the mitten manufacturing company on a day like that.

    Thankfully, here in Australia, we don’t encounter too many mitten days and even better, now they are old enough to do it themselves. Small mercies!

    Thanks again for a great post.

  14. Pingback: Ten Things of Thankful – II | iamthemilk

  15. Wow is what comes to mind…a great analogy. I could not help but think that is how God is with us. Often He ask, are you cold…we say no and continue to say no till we cannot stay it any longer. Ok Lord, put the mittens on me…thank you Lord. You are a wise mother. Good read.

  16. See me right up the top there? I already gave you as much wit as I could muster at any given time and today at 3C my brain is slow, the dog is sulking because at 5am in the pitch dark on a rainy winters day I am NOT WALKING HIM and I have gone into hibernation and closed down for the winter. I am recycling my comment 😉

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