New Haircut, Ottawa, February 2015

“Mommy sit.”

“Mommy doesn’t feel like sitting on the curb.”


“And now what?”

“Picture. Mark, picture.”

“Oh, you want me to take a picture of you?”


“There you go.”

“See. I SEE, I SEE! Mark,” he shouts, pointing to the LCD display on my camera.

“Okay, can we move on now?”


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Quod erat demonstrandum, Mark masters the word, or at least strings of words, and he thinks he is God. Little Stalin—or little Kim Jong-un if you consider his Asian heritage—gets his point across clearly. Just a few months ago, if Mark was pointing to something, I had to acknowledge it (“oh, yes, a car”) and move on. Now, I have to argue with a mini Dr. Evil who refers to himself in the third person.

“Mark eats chocolate. Candy.”

“Maybe one square of chocolate for dessert.”

“Mark eat chocolate now.”


“No. More chocolate.”

Mark started to make complete sentences when we were travelling in Argentina. The first one was the statement I now dread the most: “I do it!”

Note that “I do it!” is always followed by at least one exclamation point—and it’s not delivered in a confident “relax mom, I’ve got everything under control” tone but instead carried in an excited voice rising to a “I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown” shrieking pitch. This is because Mark doesn’t want to test his independence on toddler-friendly activities—putting on his pants, washing his hands or even zipping his jacket. No, this would be too easy. Mark loves challenges and would rather perform tasks people who can’t wipe their own bums yet shouldn’t attempt. Like cutting veggies with a sharp knife, paying at the cash register, typing a PIN code at the ATM or crossing the street alone.

“Mommy does it, Mark.”

This simple sentence can trigger either of these two options:

  1. “Mommy do it,” supported by a wise nod (my favourite outcome).
  2. “I DO IT!”, “I DO IT!”, “IDOIT, IDOIT, IDOIT!” (Followed by a five-minute tantrum until we reach option 1).

I understand about 80% of what Mark is saying. Most of the time, he makes perfect sense to me and we can have deep meaningful conversations about why everybody poops and which of my creams smells best (“I SMELL, I SMELL MOMMY’S CREAM!”). Anyone eavesdropping will need a translator, though, because words can sound awfully similar to an untrained ear.

“Fuck, keys, keys, door closed!”

Ahem, I swear he says “stuck,” not “fuck.”

Mark consistently uses the following Chinese words:

  • 抱 Bào (carry me, hold)
  • 开 Kāi (open)
  • 没 Méi (no more)
  • 拿拿 Náná (the pacifier, it doesn’t actually mean “pacifier” in Chinese but “take,” this is our nickname for the pacifier because, in China, Mark kept on shouting “take take” when asking for it)
  • 怕 Pà (scared)

He understands the English equivalent, but I guess Mandarin is shorter. This leads to some creative grammar, as we are trying to merge Mandarin and English:

“What were you pa of? Whatever it was, Mark, it’s mei. Okay? Let’s kai the door. See? Completely mei.”

The way he interprets and pronounces words is funny. For instance, he calls his belly button a “baby button.” And he uses “happen” as a noun:

“It’s okay Mark, sometime when you run, you trip and fall. Happens.”

“Daddy! Daddy! Mark a happens!”

The same confusion occurs with the word “nothing”:


“Nah, just… I don’t know, dust. Don’t worry about it, it’s nothing.”

(And now, any signs of mommy-didn’t-clean-the-kitchen-floor-well is “a nothing”).

Mark’s words allow me to glimpse into his psyche, the complex working of his brain. I can see how he interprets the world.

The concept of “sleep,” or “dodo” as we call it at home, for instance. I discovered that for Mark, anything can sleep. Anything. And I take full advantage of it.

“Candies! Cookies!”

“Mark… are they moving? No, they’re not. That’s because they…”

“Cookies dodo.”

“That’s right. So you can’t touch them.”

For buildings, we have the “closed” variant.

Church closed?


“McDonald’s closed?”


It’s fascinating.

Finally, toddler speech has cute moments, like this one:

“What’s your name?”


“That’s right. And what’s my name?”

“… Mommy.”

I love it.

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  1. Jeruen February 25, 2015 at 9:58 am

    This must be one of the most amazing moments when one has a kid, when at some point, something clicks and the child starts to speak. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Zhu February 25, 2015 at 10:42 pm

      Every time we have a linguistic moment at home, I think of you 🙂

  2. Holly February 25, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Ha, the ‘nothing’ reminds me of when my nephew was little and he picked his nose and his Mom said ‘yuck, bogey’ and after that he would call anything small a bogey, e.g. he would ask for a bogey of butter (where he would dip his finger in the butter and get a bit on the end of his finger).

    1. Zhu February 25, 2015 at 10:42 pm

      😆 Yep, you really have to be clear sometime with toddlers.

  3. Gagan February 26, 2015 at 2:48 am

    What fun!

    The closing part is absolutely wonderful.

    1. Zhu February 27, 2015 at 9:55 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  4. Christiane March 5, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Awww cute 🙂 It is so refreshing when they can make short broken but still understandable sentences.

    1. Zhu March 5, 2015 at 10:08 pm

      You will loooove the first “mama” 😉


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