In the cold, the children and I move quickly. We emerge from the subway station, walking into the wind, and our fingers begin to sting right away, and then our knees. My older son, now 5, whoops that his knees hurt: "WHOOOO! MY KNEES! MY KNEES! WHOOO!" He is not complaining - it's a startled exclamation, an alarmed sort of ecstasy - but it makes me angry. I am angry that his knees hurt, I am angry that he is wearing no legwarmers or long underwear under his thin fleece pants - is that his fault? Mine? My husband's? I am angry that I cannot hold on to our outerwear. Within the past few days alone, I have lost my younger son's hat, my hat, and my gloves. The strain of running around the city with two young children is such that my natural inclination towards scatterbrainedness is kicked into high gear. I usually do okay if I'm just carrying one bag, but as soon as I am carrying two bags or more, all sense of organization, any boundary between Our Things and Things of the Universe, is entirely lost, and we are lucky to make it home wearing our own clothes, let alone with all the toys, books, lunch boxes, water bottles, and other accessories we started out with. "You have to be more careful," my husband admonished me once, and that was even before my younger son was born, so I cannot imagine what he thinks of my shenanigans now. In any case, I am especially angry about my hat, because it was the best hat that I have had in a long time, and it was warm and cute too, and L. L. Bean doesn't have it anymore, because despite the fact that it is 18 degrees outside, winter is over in retail land. I am so angry about my hat that, later in the day, my older son will take pity on me and bring me a piece of candy that he saved from the goody bag he got at the Halloween party that we went to on the morning before Hurricane Sandy hit. "Here, mommy," he will say. "Don't be sad about your hat."
It seems like all of Park Slope is miles away from any subway station. We walk blocks and blocks, and I keep taking my cell phone out of my bag to check the map, my fingers growing more and more numb, and we don't seem to be getting any closer. "Just a little farther, kiddos," I try to reassure us all, but my voice feels like it is getting lost in the thick cold air. My younger son, now 18 months old, is riding in a carrier on my chest, and he begins to cry. His hands - he refuses to wear mittens - are chapped and purple. Tears roll down his cheeks as he sobs with rage and arches his back. I have to hold him with both hands to keep him from arching out of the carrier altogether. People stare. "We're almost there, honey!" I chirp, and I think that my voice may be verging on hysteria. I unzip the top of my coat, unzip sweater #1, pull up sweater #2, unhook my nursing top, and press the baby's frigid face to my breast. First he arches, refuses, wants to be angry some more, but then he acquiesces. I am even colder now, my coast unzipped, my breast exposed and smeared with his snot and his tears, but at least he is nursing and quiet. I take my older son's hand firmly in mine, and after one last wrong turn, we arrive at the dentist's office.
After the dentist's office, we embark on the long countermarch back to the train. My older son and I don't argue at all: we are united against a common enemy, the bitter wind. He picks up two large sticks, and I let him run with them; when we get to the subway station, he drops them without complaint. Back in Manhattan, we decide to go to the museum instead of going home, and we are impressed with our own bravery. By the time we get home, in the late afternoon, we are half-dead from the cold, but exhilarated too, as though we have conquered something. We traipse vacantly around the house in various states of undress, and it probably takes almost an hour for us to begin to feel normal again.
Later that night, I leave the children with my husband and go downtown to teach a childbirth education class. On the way home, tilting myself into an even more bitter wind, I realize that I feel warmer walking alone.