“Mark!” I call out from my room, upstairs. “Time to go to sleep.”
I work for three more minutes before realizing, like every night, that Mark isn’t going to obediently turn the TV off and come upstairs by himself without parental supervision and a dose of nagging. I mean, he is perfectly able to perform these tasks—he just doesn’t want to.
I sigh and go downstairs.
“Mark, time to go to sleep.”
“But the movie isn’t finished!”
“You’ll finish it tomorrow.”
“Five more minutes!”
I step in the kitchen and realize I still have to wash the slow cooker and Mark’s water bottle.
“Okay, five minutes,” I agree, magnanimous.
“No, no, not five… TWO minutes!” Mark argues back for no reason. I laugh. “Fine, then.”
Ten minutes later, the slow cooker is clean and has been stored away.
Mark, on the other hand, isn’t any closer to being tucked in bed. Objects are so much easier to deal with than human beings, especially one-meter tall ninjas…
“That’s enough. Upstairs. Brush teeth. Sleep.”
Mark is still goofing around. I’m running out of patience and energy. I’ve been up for 13 hours by now and my last meal was the night before (I gave up on taking a lunch break long ago and I’ve never eaten breakfast). Today, like most days, I dropped off Mark at school, worked, picked him up, cleaned the lunch box, went grocery shopping, prepared a lunch box, made dinner, cleaned up, gave Mark a bath, gave him dinner, cleaned up, worked… and I still have stuff to do. Like, finishing an assignment, taking a shower, eating and sleeping. And I really need to relax a bit.
“I don’t want to break my drawing.”
The school handed out temporary tattoos (??) and Mark has one on his right hand. Of course, it won’t last days, but I managed to keep it intact through bath time.
“It can take some water, it’s okay. Just don’t scrub it. Brush your teeth.”
“That? My toothpaste. Brush teeth. Can you do it by yourself? I’ll get your clothes ready for tomorrow. Remember, you have the school picture. No monster face, please. Nice smile, okay?”
“WHAT? What? What’s wrong?”
“Mommy… why is your toothpaste not like my toothpaste?”
“MARK! Leave my fucking toothpaste alone! Brush. Your…. oh, you know what? I’ll do it for you. There, all done. Okay, go to your room, clothes off, put your pajama on.”
“Do I have to take off my socks?”
“MARK! Hurry up! YES! Yes, you have to take off your socks, like every night. Gee. STOP JUMPING ON THE BED!”
“A… B… C… now I know my ABC… Mommy? You’re my family. The teacher says AAAA… BBBB… CCC… Oh, let’s check how tall I am!”
“Mark! Pajama! Look, I’m getting really mad here. See, this is why I don’t tell you a story at night. You wasted twenty minutes goofing around. TWENTY MINUTES! If you’d listen to me, it would be so much easier…”
“Tell a story!”
“Tell a story!”
“Okay, this is the story of…”
“NO’ NO! Not NOW! I have to put my pajama on first! I can’t listen NOW!”
“That’s it, I’ve had enough. No story.”
Mark is finally in his pajamas. He looks up at me, expectantly. Instead of reading a book (there are only so many times the bus can go ’round and ’round), I make up bedtime stories. They invariably involve Mark, a monster, a fight and some kind of parental wisdom/life lesson at the end (“… and that’s why the monster should always listen to his mommy, the end.”)
Suddenly, the day flashes before my eyes in a series of vivid pictures. This morning, when I told Mark to hurry up because we were late for school. This afternoon, when I told him to hurry up and complained that he hadn’t eaten his lunch. This evening, when I told him to stop jumping around, stop splashing in the bathtub, stop making a mess with his food, stop talking over Feng and I, stop moving on the chair, when I told him to listen to me, the million of times when I said “that’s enough…”
And then, I see myself as a kid and I remember the way my mom used to get mad when we spilled our morning chocolate milk, how annoyed she was when we forgot stuff at school or when we made a mess. I can still hear some of her parenting phrases—“ya basta!”, “I won’t fight with you, go to your room”, “no means no”. I remember that to us, most evenings were a succession of chores—washing hands, doing homework, eating vegetables… I remember my mom was always doing something—bathing one of us, helping with homework, cooking or cleaning, and I say that without any resentment whatsoever because I also remember she was here for us. I also remember going to my grandmother’s place, a couple of streets from where I lived, and how nice it was to be with someone who would listen to me, let me play and make a mess, make me waffles and tartines with butter and Nesquik chocolate.
I feel so guilty.
I feel so tired.
I look at Mark again and lower myself to the floor. “Come here.” He sits on my lap.
“Do you know the story of ‘busy mommy and monster Mark’? Monster Mark likes to play with sticks, fight other monster friends, learn stuff at monster school and watch monster movies. His mommy is very busy. All day, she cooks, cleans, works. And every time Monster Mark tries to have fun with her, she says ‘not now!’ ‘enough!’ ‘don’t do this!’ So Monster Mark is a bit sad because he feels she isn’t listening and…”
Mark has stopped moving and he is all ears.
“… and he wants a fun mommy, not a mad mommy.”
I’m stuck. Where the fuck am I going with this story? I could tell Mark that my days pretty much revolve around his schedule and that he always comes first—hence the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. But I’m backstage, and as far as he is concerned, the fridge replenishes by magic. But I don’t expect him to understand that. Parents are here to provide food and shelter but I’d like to exceed these basic requirements.
I don’t want Mark to empathize with me being busy, tired, whatever. That’s beside the point and it’s my burden to carry, not his.
Shit. If I involve a monster, a dragon and add a fight at that stage of the story, will Mark realize how illogical it is?
“So… so the mommy says “I’m sorry I’m not fun, sometime’. And she adds: ‘I love you’ monster Mark.”
Our eyes meet. Mark smiles and buries his head in the crook of my neck. This is rare, he isn’t a cuddly kid. Not that he isn’t affectionate, it’s just that he can’t stay still for more than twenty seconds.
But this time, he does.
“I love you,” he whispers.
Maybe sometimes, he understands more than he should for a four-year-old kid.