I was sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for a friend, when from behind me there arose a great hue and cry.
"Matthew, it's cold out -- you have to wear your mittens."
"Put on your mittens like a good boy and Mommy will give you a cookie."
Now Dad, in a commanding tone: "Matthew, put on your mittens right this instant."
Dad to Mom: "Hold him while I shove them on."
This was the toddler's cue to start wailing in earnest.
Mom to little boy: "Fine, don't wear them. If your hands get cold, it's your problem."
Dad to Mom again: "It's freezing outside. He'll get frostbite."
Mom to Dad: "If his hands get cold, he'll put the mittens on. Come on, everybody's staring. We have to get him out of here."
The family blessedly packed up and left the restaurant, both parents frazzled and Matthew still screaming and resisting the mittens. Their exchange had been painful to listen to -- and that was an edited version-partly because the emotions ran so high, to so little effect, and over such a small thing. And partly because I'd been in exactly that place myself, far too painfully and inextricably, with my own first child.
Power struggle. The words popped into my head before the family was even out the door. I'd never been able to identify it when I was locked into one with my own small and willful daughter, but that's clearly what this was.
Contributing editor Pamela Redmond Satran's most recent novel, Suburbanistas (Downtown Press), came out in March 2006.