Mommy Shark, Daddy Shark, Baby Shark (The Song Will Be Stuck in Your Head Forever)

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Shark in the bathtub, Ottawa, April 2018

On a quiet Sunday last fall, my in-laws decided that Feng and I had failed at parenting again. The situation was serious—at the ripe old age of 5, Mark couldn’t swim. Never mind the opportunity to enjoy water in Ottawa is pretty rare, he clearly had to learn this valuable skill as soon as possible, and we had to act fast—or at least that’s what a sheepish Feng claimed when he came home that evening with Mark, two Tupperware of homemade Chinese dumplings (because I also failed as a housewife) and a registration receipt for swimming lessons.

I was a bit annoyed. First, once again, I wasn’t consulted—it’s not like I’m the mother, right? Second, the lessons were every Saturday morning in the community centre next door to my in-laws,’ in their faraway suburb. Saturday is the only moment in the week when I can clean the house—don’t laugh, it’s kind of a priority by then—and I’d rather swim with sharks than spend 30 minutes at the poolside with my in-laws. “But you don’t have to come!” Okay, but third point—given the opportunity, I was technically the best person to teach Mark to swim and enjoy water. After all, I grew up by the ocean and spent my teens surfing and windsurfing, while the Chinese side of the family is… ahem, aquatically challenged.

But of course, it was too late for yet another what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-your-parents argument. Mark was registered for the fall session and I live by the “choose your battles” motto.

Mark loved the lessons and quickly developed a passion for swimming in pools, which led to endless fights when we were travelling last winter. “I don’t care if the hotel has a pool, we’re going to the beach. Sand. Sea water. We’re in Brazil, for fuck’s sake!” I think Mark could write the Lonely Planet guide to South American hotel pools—he tested them all after spending hours at the beach.

This spring, when I reenrolled at the gym, I saw a flyer for the upcoming spring swimming lessons session. I used the same tactic—I pretty much registered Mark without asking for anyone’s opinion. Hey, I read The Art of War too. It was perfect, I argued. My gym is close to home, it’s very clean and classes were on Fridays at 4:30 p.m.

And this is how I went from being the kid who, two and a half decades ago, was taken to activities to being the responsible and fun—for once!—mother taking her child to an activity.

The weekly adventure starts around 4:00 p.m., in the family locker room packed with other kids and mothers. Mark doesn’t want to chat with anyone (“I’m too shy,” he warns me every time) but for some reason, he likes to share random bits of information while taking off his clothes, and I’m always afraid he’s going to choose this precise moment to ask one of the “big” questions. I mean, I already had the “by the way, how did I get out of your belly?” and “are you going to die?” questions a propos of nothing while making dinner. Fortunately, so far, he mostly brags about the amazing new stuff he learned—“piece of cake… it means that something is really easy!” he whispered to my ear last week as if he was sharing classified info.

Then we wait for the swimming instructor, a pretty hot twenty-something dude who looks like he could play in a stoner movie. Other kids usually eat a snack, Mark would rather play absentmindedly with my belly button ring—(“Can I have one too?”)—and sing this annoying and catchy shark song.

At 4:30 p.m., the kids are taken to the pool and I move to the “café” where I don’t order a protein shake, whatever that is, but nurse a Coke Zero. Parents aren’t allowed at the poolside but I’m just behind the glass window. This is Mark’s time to shine and this is my time as a mother to watch him carefully because in thirty minutes, I’ll be quizzed—“did you see when I did that?” “Did you see me?”

As soon as I sit down and Mark spots me, I see him mouth “THIS IS MOMMY!” to the other kids, who naturally assume their mommy is here and look disappointed when they see me. Then he gives me a thumb up, winks and smiles.

And if he doesn’t pay attention, he gets splashed by other kids.

I don’t stare at Mark for the entire lesson because I want him to listen to the instructor instead of trying to impress me. But I remember, as a kid, how proud I was to show my parents skills they hadn’t taught me, and I want to give Mark the attention he deserves. Yes, even if watching kids blowing bubbles in the water is as fascinating as watching a curling game.

Thirty minutes later, we’re back in the locker room. Yes, I saw. I know, you did very well! You forgot to put on your underwear, take your pants off again. Yes, we’ll be back next week. Seriously, where’s your other sock? It’s okay you can’t sink in water, it’s actually a good thing. Do you have everything? Let’s go!

Now my in-laws are dead set on registering for Sunday singing lessons at the local Catholic church (?!).

I’m that close to claim that Mark is begging for drumming lessons—with them, of course.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. ” aquatically challenged” bahaha
    That’s great that he’s enjoying it though. And is it me or does he look more and more like you?
    I’m sorry your in-laws are so pushy.. Wish I had some relevant advice to give you….
    BTW my belly button literally felt funny and I sucked my stomach in when you described him playing with your ring. I absolutely HATE any sort of contact with mine and the Scotsman used to threaten me with touching it, making me squeal like a little girl lol

    • My mum also claims he looks like me, but honestly, I don’t see it. When he’s with Feng, he looks like Feng, and when he’s with me, he looks like me. It’s very subjective 😆

      I HATE any kind of contact with my ears. Like, don’t touch my ears, ever. Funny, isn’t it!

  2. Martin Penwald on

    I lived close to the sea too but I’m aquatically challenged too. And I’m not the only one among my siblings.
    Fortunately your in-laws didn’t decide that Mark needed to learn sky-diving or extrem fighting.

    • Interesting! Didn’t you guys go to the beach as kids? For us, it was the cheapest entertainment around, and I think all of us like water.

      • Martin Penwald on

        Oh, yes, my vacations were either going with my mom to the beach every day or going one week with my dad on the road. We rarely went on vacation in 20 years. A long week-end sometimes, but that’s it.

    • Oh em geee! I envy you both!!!!
      More over this part ===> After all, I grew up by the ocean and spent my teens surfing and windsurfing!
      it’s sooo cool thinking of you — wore a bikini – and hang up by the beach with your friends, Zhu! probably seeking attention from your crush too. hahahah

      • Trust me, I WISH there had been a potential crush around 😆 But you’re overestimating small French beach town… there weren’t many teens around, actually. As the oldest of the family, I was surrounded by a bunch of kids, i.e. my sister (six years younger), by brother (ten years younger) and my two cousins (ten and twelve years younger). So I was surfing/windsurfing to escape from “the babies” 😆

        Come of think of it, I wasn’t even wearing a bikini, but a full body wetsuit 😆

  3. How do you make a kid’s swimming lessons so interesting? That was a compliment. Somehow these daily life stories with all the details are so enjoyable to read. They’re certainly not my daily life.

    Ha ha, Mark’s going to have a lot of hobbies and skills if your in-laws keep it up…

    • Thank you so much, I do take it as a compliment! I think I generally find life pretty interesting, including mundane stuff. Or at least, I try to make it interesting… otherwise I’m bored!

  4. Martin Penwald on

    By the way, about the dumplings : my mom often cooks extra stuff for my siblings and their partners, and it doesn’t mean that they are unable to provide for themselves. And, hey, free food!

  5. C’est drôle ce que dit Helene je me suis fait la meme réflexion : il te ressemble de plus en plus 🙂 la vie avec tes beaux parents n’a pas toujours l’air simple, lol!

    • C’est marrant, moi je ne vois pas la ressemblance! Ceci dit, tu me mets des jumeaux, je ne vois pas non plus la ressemblance 😆

  6. I learned to swim and bike when I was 5 (in Hong-Kong… Is that a thing in China?). So I was quite frustrated when I couldn’t teach my kids to bike or swim at that age (we didn’t have the room for the bikes, or access to a pool in Brazil). As soon as we arrived in Canada, I looked for the local swimming pool and enrolled them for lessons (this topic actually deserves a few episodes on my blog. Really). Then last summer I bought them all used bikes and (yes!) they learned to bike with no training wheels. Phew! I have not failed as a parent after all! LOL

    • Feng learned to bike in Canada when he was 11 so not all Chinese kids are coached to master these skills early 😆

      Mark hasn’t learned to bike yet but he mastered the trottinette in France. I don’t remember learning to swim, or rather I can’t remember not knowing. It’s something you “pick up” when you live close to the seaside. Same with riding a bike, I don’t remember learning… but I know we all did at my grand-parents’ place (… at the seaside).

      How was your experience with the swimming lessons?

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