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LAce Posted Monday, December 5th, 2005
Winter Morning in Shawnee, Kansas
Jennifer Wieland

Winter is complicated. I never knew how much so until I became the mother of a two-year-old in twenty-degrees with a wind chill of nine in Shawnee, Kansas, in the morning.

Mommy, it’s too dark to go to school, he tells me as he ambles down the stairs for breakfast. No kidding, I think. It’s seven o’clock and out the west-facing windows, still dark as night. I open the blinds in the kitchen that face east. See, I tell him, sunrise.

After breakfast, after may-I-be-excused-please, after hand-wiping and teeth-brushing and yes, you have to dry your hands too – we stand in the hallway above a cavernous canvas bin. It holds all of Ben’s shoes and winter items. Out of the tangle of mulch-encrusted mittens, a detached puffy jacket hood, and various Velcro-strapped character sneakers, Ben pulls out a sandal two sizes too small from Baby Gap. Ben wants to wear these shoes, he announces. I make a mental note to throw them away after he’s in bed tonight.

Ten minutes, many tears, and three tissues later, Ben is wearing his boots. Success! He puts on his jacket “Tag to Toes” style. I just learned this method myself from Miss Gail at school. He whips it over his head and shazam! The coat is on. I zip it up.

NOOO!!! Ben wants to do it!

We unzip the coat and I start the zipper just the tiniest amount. Ben can do it himself. While he struggles with the zipper, I get my coffee into its travel mug. Thank goodness there’s a clean one. Some things are non-negotiable. Please don’t let him zip his chin, I think. He doesn’t. Thank God for small victories.

We negotiate no hat, no mittens in the car but you absolutely must put them on at school if Miss Gail says so. This seems fair. Yesterday’s report said that Ben has not been using his listening ears. I am guiltily glad that I won’t be there for the day’s second great hat-mitten negotiation when they let the kids run outside for ten minutes to avoid both stir-craziness and frostbite.

Into the garage we go. Mommy carries: keys, purse, Ben’s backpack, Ben’s sippy cup, Ben’s baggie of Cheerios, my coffee, my lunch. Ben carries: a dustpan. Today is show and share and the letter of the week is D. Somehow we make it into the car. And we’re off.

Mommy, why is there smoke coming out of that chimbley? Because they have a fire in their fireplace. But why Mommy? To keep their house warm, Ben. But why Mommy? No answer. Mommy, what is fire?

Ben, would you like to listen to some music? We drive the rest of the way to school jamming to the Benjamin CD, a delightful array of catchy ditties like “Let’s Go To The Playground” and “Learn The Alphabet The Island Way.” Each song incorporates “Benjamin” at opportune musical moments throughout. Who would have thought to give Ben a more melodious name – or at least one with fewer syllables – back when I thought children’s music was limited to “Rock A Bye Baby”?

In the parking lot, Ben eats five more Cheerios, one by one, and needs – needs! – seven more drinks of water before he’s ready to leave the car and bound in. I stand outside the door in the nine-degree wind chill waiting for his highness. Where are my mittens, I wonder. Once he’s finally leapt from his perch on the backseat of my Honda, he tries to fill his dustpan with gravel. The dustpan that I washed with Palmolive this morning and dried with a D-is-for-dishtowel. I refrain from telling him that now it’s a Dirty Dustpan but inside, I’m laughing.

We make it inside. Once we’re in, we’re golden. Ben has this routine down pat. He sits on the bench to take off the boots that we fought over for ten minutes. He delivers them to his cubby while I fill out his paperwork for the day. Yes, he slept well, and yes, he had a good breakfast. That’s all they ask, all they need to know.

Ben retrieves his bear slippers and drops his backpack – which carries nothing but his silky for nap – in his cubby, along with the all-important D-is-for-dustpan. Jacket is dropped on the floor. Ben, please hang that up. While he does so, I surreptitiously scan the other kids’ cubbies for hats. Ben has managed to lose two this week and it’s only Thursday. And we only own three hats. Our inventory is dangerously low for nine-degrees on December 1.

Success! Victory is mine! I take Ben’s blue hat out of Kelly’s cubby and stuff it into the sleeve of Ben’s jacket. We’re a two-hat household once again. I am such a good mommy.

It’s time for the grand finale. Ben gives me a hug, checks me out and declares, No earrings. Then I get a kiss. Earrings can make kissing treacherous if you’re two. We learned that the hard way with an almost-swallowed pearl. After kisses, he’s off. Chasing Chloe, unfurling a work mat, swirling about, leaving me behind.

I’m back outside in nine-degrees, driving to work, thinking about everything that needs to be done before December is gone. Presents to buy, wrap, ship, return. Decorations to unearth, arrange, put up, take down. Events to plan, to attend, sitters to schedule. And the little things too – what am I going to do if Ben loses his third hat? I must remember to get rid of those sandals in the bin. I need to buy myself a pair of gloves. And how many weeks until spring?

Comments [post a comment]

Posted by Ashley Minihan on Tuesday, December 6th, 2005 at 10:53 AM
This is great! Hang in there, spring will come.

Posted by nancy levitt on Tuesday, December 6th, 2005 at 11:45 AM
This article brings back so many memories of my bright, normal and strong-willed little boys who are both adults. I was better trained by the third child but she also had a mind of her own. It would have worried me if my children had all been docile, quiet, neat and followed all my directions.

Posted by Benjie O'Connell on Tuesday, December 6th, 2005 at 3:23 PM
I'm glad it's your turn. Some things never change.

Posted by Debi Sanders [ debi.sanders@lw.com ] on Friday, December 9th, 2005 at 1:36 PM
I don't have children, but felt as if I were experiencing it with you. Great article!

Posted by Marjorie McKinney on Monday, December 19th, 2005 at 11:54 PM
Jennifer, What a great mom to have such a wonderful fun attitude. Lucky Benjamin and lucky mom. Fun, fun description of your early morning.



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