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Oui! Non! (Or Discovering the Art of Parenting)

Something Terrible Happened: Mommy Said No (Ottawa, August 2013)
Something Terrible Happened: Mommy Said No (Ottawa, August 2013)

Something weird happened lately—I think I am really starting to be a parent.

“It’s about fucking time,” you are probably thinking. “Mark is almost eleven-month-old!”

Yeah, well, it is not that simple. At first, you are so tired, dazed and confused that your only goal is making it through the day. For that, you divide your time between: 1) What has to be done (feeding, changing, bathing, putting to sleep) 2) What should be done (cleaning, working, eating, taking a shower) 3) What you wish you could do (take a break, enjoy the moment). Honestly, I barely remember anything from October to January. I can picture myself—well, a very bland version of myself—circling the block, in the snow and in the dark, trying to take a sanity break. I’d invariably feel guilty about it, and I would rush home, even more stressed out than I had been, to a crying baby.

Rinse and repeat for days, weeks and months. Honestly, I have no idea how we made it through these dark and cold months.

I had never felt that tired and lost my entire life. I think I must have looked okay—and I probably sounded somewhat coherent because no one really questioned my work or my sanity—but trust me, I was not.

It got better, little by little. Not fast enough, mind you.

The following few months, I have been successively and sometime simultaneously: a human pacifier, the lady who changes diapers, the lady who gets soap in Mark’s eyes during bath time, a nice pillow to sleep on, the lady who makes bottle after bottle of formula, the lady who takes picture, a face to smile at, a face to scream at, a face to look at.

A baby’s needs are very primal. And as a mother, my role was basically to meet these needs. Our days revolved around feeding, cleaning, sleeping. No time for anything else. For each problem, there was (hopefully) a basic solution. Mark cried because he was hungry, uncomfortable, tired, wet, etc. It was just a matter of figuring out what was wrong and the world was peaceful again—at least for an hour or so.

Problem, solution. I’m telling you, babies are straightforward human beings. They just need a good instruction manual.

But Mark changed. He is no longer a small baby.

It all started in France. Suddenly, Mark simply refused to be fed by anyone else than me. Usually, Feng gives him a bottle or two during the day—we split the job. Well, it wasn’t working anymore.

The first few times, I gave in and fed Mark. After all, he had to eat. I figured he was confused, adapting to a new environment.

Eventually, I got tired of it. One morning, Feng was attempting, once again, to feed him. I was working on the computer. I heard Feng sigh. “He is not eating, Juliette.”

I was busy and stressed out. I had to finish my translation and mail it back. I got up and walked to Mark, in the couch with his dad.

“Alright buddy,” I said, somewhat angrily. “Enough playing around. Either you eat with your dad, either you are skipping that meal. Your choice.”

Mark cried for a minute or two. Then he ate. With Feng. After that, he didn’t fuss around anymore and his dad was able to give him his bottle without drama.

That’s when I realized that Mark was now a smart little kid, able to “fool” us and able to “manipulate” us to get what he wanted. I know, these are strong words, hence the quote marks. Still, he seemed to understand the world and people more than we had thought.

Around the same time, he started crawling and exploring his surroundings alone. Obviously, he was attracted by the very same things we didn’t want him to play with—power outlets, wires, fragile stuff, etc.

I started to say “no” and “non”. And Mark clearly understood the meaning of these little words. I’d say “non” with a I-am-not-kidding face and he would stop right there and look at me, as if thinking “meh, you are NOT fun!”

When crawling on the grass, he tried to eat leaves and flowers. “Mark… non!” I’d say. He would stop, stare at me and slowly bring the flower to his mouth, almost defiantly. “Non.” He’d put it back on the ground, smiling. I’d look away and he would glance at me. “Non.”

We could play that game for a good ten minutes. Yes, kids that young can apparently try to defy authority. I had no idea.

Setting limits for a baby feels weird. But apparently, that’s what he needs, and it’s working.

He is young and he doesn’t understand everything. I didn’t get mad at him when he broke a salad bowl at my parents’ place—that was my mistake, it was within his reach and it shouldn’t have been. I am not going to be mad at him because he is attempting to chew on shoes or because he tore paper into pieces—he is experimenting. But I do take my “deep voice” if he messes around with his food too much (i.e. throwing it on the floor to call for attention) or if he decides to scream on top of his lungs because I am not looking at him.

And he seems okay with that.

Parenting starts earlier than I had thought. Kids are smart, they understand. They test the limits you set.

Gee, this is just the beginning, I’m afraid…!

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