When we were traveling and ate out pretty much every night, our meals followed a predictable pattern. We would sit down in a restaurant at the end of the day. “I eat!” Mark would claim. A basket of bread rolls or some cheese would be brought to the table, and Mark would wolf it down.
“Finish,” he would state two minutes later. “Mark go!”
“Mark, we haven’t even started eating,” I would sigh. “Our food isn’t ready yet. You sit here. You’re finish, but we are not.”
“Finish!” he would insist.
At this stage, I knew that unless something catches his attention—French fries in Feng’s plate, the TV, another kid, people smiling at him—dinner was over. We had to eat as fast as we could while chasing Mark around the restaurant or cleaning up his mess, because when Mark is bored, nothing is more fun than shredding paper napkins with a knife or trying to balance a glass of water on the edge of the table.
It sucked. Forget about enjoying some good food and air-con. Forget about eating, most days. Mark is hungry, he eats, once he is done what we are doing isn’t even relevant to him—we have to move on.
Children are selfish little monster.
I can’t even be mad at Mark—although some nights, I did get mad at him and try to make him understand that we have needs too—because young kids naturally assume the world revolve around them.
Even though I know this behaviour is normal, it’s very draining.
I spend a lot of time and energy providing for Mark. I pack snacks, wash his clothes and make sure he is dressed for the weather, I wash him and change him as needed, I entertaining him, keep him safe, clean up after him… he always comes first.
But unfortunately, this is “behind the scene” work. As far as Mark knows, he is my job (and Feng’s) and we have no life outside him.
“Daddy, mommy, dodo!” he shrieks at bedtime. Uh… sorry, Mark, but we have different bedtimes. Also, last time I checked, you didn’t have to do the dishes, clean up the kitchen and complete work assignments. And maybe I have plans with your dad, ya know?
Most days, I feel like I start the day as a giant yummy chocolate cake fresh out of the oven. But hours after hours, minutes after minutes, Mark grabs bites of me. And at the end of the day, there is nothing left but useless stale crumbs. “Need… shower…” I grumble around 7 p.m.
“Mommy shower! Mark shower!”
“Uh, uh, I’m showering alone.”
But I know that if Feng doesn’t pay attention to Mark, two minutes later, I will hear the bathroom’s door open.
I’m trying to teach Mark that if he hits me, it hurts. That I would rather him not to step on my feet—seriously, Mark, I’m not a stepping stool. And if he could stop sitting right on my bladder… it wasn’t comfortable when he was in my womb, and the 13-kilo weight is now frankly painful—sit on my lap, or better, a chair!
But if I take a seat, Mark wants it. If I eat something, he wants to taste. If I drink something, I have to share—unless it’s “mommy’s juice”, where he just pretends to drink my coffee but drools all over the lid. If I put cream on, he wants some. He even steals my gloves, my hat and occasionally my shoes.
And I feel like a complete idiot when I moan “Mark… it’s miiine…” It takes me back twenty some years ago, when my sister was a toddler and I was the six-years-older big sister. I was too old to actually fight with her—even I knew it wouldn’t be a fair fight—yet I was really annoyed when she was going through my stuff.
I mean, I want to teach Mark to share, so shouldn’t lead by example?
Problem is, this is not a fair trade. I don’t want to finish Mark’s apple juice, I’d rather have a coffee.
Empathy is a sense that has to be nurtured, and even though Mark is too young to predict and understand other people’s emotions, I try to work on this.
“See the kid crying? Maybe he will be happy if you bring him a toy.”
“Look, the dogs are sleeping. Maybe you want to use your quiet voice and let them dodo.”
It will take months, years for Mark to develop skills like patience, logic, problem solving, tenacity, etc. But empathy is at the top of my list, because I can’t help thinking we all need a solid dose of it for the world to fare better.
Putting yourself in someone’s shoes is the best way to, if not accept, understand people’s choices and reactions.
I’m yawning. Mark noticed.
We will get there.