Excerpt from The Wide-Eyed Wonder Years
“NO PANTS! I want to wear my pajamas!” My three-year-old was filled with righteous indignation over my suggestion that it was time to get on a shirt and pants for preschool. His arms were folded over his chest, and his lip jutted out in defiance. Irritated and about to run late, I dug my heels. “Ez, you have to wear clothes to school!”
“I am wearing clothes!” The child even stomped his foot at that statement. But he did have a point. It wasn’t like he wanted to go flouncing off to school in his birthday suit, although that scenario was certainly possible. Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it, I figured, hoping fervently we wouldn’t.
Faced with this flannel-clad bundle of opposition and with about five minutes to put out this fire — or fuel it — I made a choice to let this one go.
“Ez, you may not talk to me like that, but you may wear your Thomas the Tank Engine jammies if you ask nicely.” Stunned that he could actually be allowed to do so, Ezra acquiesced. He unfolded his arms, un-pouted his lower lip, and then asked nicely if he could please wear his pajamas to school.
The thought flitted through my mind that my mother never, under any circumstances, would have allowed her little child to attend school or any other public function wearing pajamas. She would have as soon burned her bra in a front-yard bonfire and declared herself a patriot of the women’s liberation movement.
But I, semi-liberated and wearing a bra, picked a battle at that moment. Or rather, I picked “no” on fighting that particular battle. Why? Well, it’s preschool, not the SATs. You know, finger painting and cookie baking, an unstructured, winsome place where whimsy and wonder abound. I knew he would be sufficiently warm and decently clothed, and also that his whimsical teachers wouldn’t blink an eye over Ezra’s one-man pajama day. (Indeed, Miss Susan and Miss Catharine celebrated his entrance with great fanfare and made a big fuss over how silly and funny and wonderful Ezra was to wear his pajamas to school!)
Motherhood is crammed with opportunities to pick a battle or to step out of the ring. I could have forcibly stripped Ezra of his pajamas and then wrestled him into some school clothes. Or maybe I could have threatened him with consequences. The thing is, I knew it would be a huge ordeal to “force” him to do what he so clearly didn’t want to do. Was it easier to let him attend class wearing his jammies? Absolutely.
The child has a will so steely it boggles my mind. We could be in the ring all day long at times, duking it out over some disagreement or other. But is I turn every misdemeanor into a felony, I’ll lose my maternal authority and probably my mind. Shaping and guiding a preschooler’s moral character will be a long, hard slog, so I’ve learned to save my energy for the lessons he really has to learn.