“Adèle! Tell your fucking cat to shut up!”
In the stunned silence that followed, I realized how stupid I sounded. “Juliette… it’s a cat,” my dad reminded me. “He won’t understand if your sister tells him to stop meowing.”
Yeah, well, the entire apartment—seven of us—had just spent hours putting Mark to sleep and it was late. I was scared the cat would wake him up. I was afraid any noise might wake him up. Lights too… come on, lights off, people, now!
If I recall correctly, we ate dinner in the dark that night. I would have made everyone eat without knives and forks if I could have—you know, the clatter of cutlery—but even I knew it was pushing it a bit.
I’m not a dictator. In fact, I’m pretty laid back. But when you are exhausted, you can’t think straight. And I was often exhausted during the first couple of years with Mark.
We’ve all been very tired at one point or another. The fix is obvious—sleep, relax, whatever. But what if you can’t? Then it’s hell. And with Mark, we had stretches of crossing the Styx, day after day, weeks after weeks. All I wanted was to lay in bed, pull the blanket over my head and sink into a deep sleep… and fuck, he is awake again.
These were the darkest hours. I don’t like to remember them. But I can’t pretend they didn’t exist.
I remember the day we had a tough morning. Mark wasn’t cooperating, it was winter, and we were like rats in a cage at home. Eventually, we drove to Target, one of the closest stores, just to get out of the house. I stopped at the Starbucks at the entrance and ordered a coffee. Mark was fussy. I put him in the cart. He started screaming at the top of his lungs. I knew there was nothing wrong—he wasn’t hungry, his diaper was clean, etc.—he was just cranky. I tried to soothe him, pushing the cart around, the cup of coffee in my left hand. I just wanted to take a sip, a damn sip. I stopped the cart, Mark screamed louder. “Oh yeah?” I said angrily. I stormed out with the cart, threw the cup of coffee in the parking lot and buckled Mark back into his car seat. We drove home, I handed him to Feng and left, just like that. I took the bus, ended up downtown, and called a friend. I spend the afternoon sobbing on her couch, her two huge dogs nested against me (fortunately, my friend raised four kids alone, my mini breakdown didn’t faze her the slightest—been there, done that).
On yet another night of trying to make dinner with a very fussy Mark, I stormed upstairs, into the bedroom, locked the door and called my mum. Must have been the middle of the night in France but I was past caring about time zones. She picked up the phone. “I can’t do it anymore, I can’t do it anymore, I can’t do it anymore!” I repeated like a broken record for about ten minutes. Feng was standing at the door with Mark, helpless. I was helpless too. I really couldn’t do it anymore.
I didn’t live a particularly sheltered life before Mark and I had my share of tough life experiences. I sailed through. I’m not a drama queen. How could such a small human being create such a big earthquake?
I felt like a complete failure. I mean, having kids is hardly a unique event only a chosen few experience. Teens have kids. Single parents have kids. Some people have twins, or babies with a medical condition.
I had it easy, I thought. I only had Mark, he was healthy we had a roof above our heads.
When I had enough energy to think straight, I was realizing that my issues—or more precisely, the sum of little things that added up—were mostly environmental. Mark was a demanding baby: until he walked, he had to be held by either Feng or me, else he would scream—despite trying a thousand methods, I was never able to leave him in a crib or on a play mat. Feng and I had no sanity breaks: Mark was 14 months old when we first left him overnight to my in-laws (and this was because of the whole eye injury drama). Day to day, we had no help around and we were both freelancing full-time while caring for Mark. The weather conditions in Canada are brutal: winter is tough on everyone but being stuck at home with a cranky baby is pure hell. I tried too hard to handle everything alone, I tried too hard to be what I thought was the perfect mother.
It got better when I finally learned to ask for help, and when I finally looked around and realized that I was not alone in feeling like a failure.
We had plenty of great moments too, it wasn’t all dark, depressing and miserable. But I have to acknowledge the lows for two reasons: first, so that I don’t repeat the same mistakes; second to share the experience because I don’t think I’m the only one who went through these dark hours.
Maybe it was written somewhere that I had to see the lows to appreciate the highs.
I think I came out of it stronger. Hell, wiser too, maybe.