It takes me a second to realize that Mark snuck into my bedroom again.
At first glance, nothing was moved or touched—stealthy kid. But like in one of those “photo hunt” games where the goal is to find a number of differences between two near-identical images, I immediately notice he was here, even if briefly.
The last thing I remember writing on the small notepad by my computer is a document’s word count when I was invoicing a client the night before. It’s now open to a page that says: “TRN THE PIGE. I LOVE YOU.”
I’m a translator, after all, so it doesn’t take me long to figure out it means “turn the page.”
Okay, I need help for the rest of the message. I go downstairs and ask Mark. “Mommy, we’re going to play ball,” he shrugs, as if I had to focus on my reading skills because really, vowels are optional, aren’t they?
Then he goes back to watching horror movie trailers on the tablet. We don’t talk about the things we write—we write them, that’s good enough.
It all started because of the lunchboxes.
When I sent two-year-old Mark to daycare, I guilt-tripped myself into making unique, healthy and elaborated lunchboxes. It was a way to say “I love you even when I’m not physically here,” a way to apologize for no longer having him strapped to my chest 24/7, as a way to assert I was still a caring mother even if I was now entrusting him to the care of strangers who, for six hours every day, would “provide high quality, developmentally appropriate activities” or whatever the daycare’s mission statement was (I never paid attention, we just wanted a daycare that wouldn’t declare bankruptcy at this stage!).
The lunchbox routine hit a roadblock when Mark entered kindergarten. Not only meals had to be eaten cold but I also had to refrain from using a long list of ingredients, including eggs and nuts, because of national school policies regarding food allergies. To top it all, since kids don’t have a mandatory lunch break, Mark’s invariably reports he “doesn’t have time to eat”.
Goodbye, Pinterest-worthy lunchboxes. These days, my lunchboxes don’t show my love, they say “I’m putting random stuff in here just in case but hey, we both know you’ll eat as soon as you get home anyway.” A tiny sandwich, a piece of cheese, a couple of store-bought spring rolls once in a while, and that’s it.
To make up for these pathetic lunchboxes, I started writing notes to Mark. I’d leave them by his shoes, in the morning, with a cereal bar or a piece of chocolate. At first, I wrote the same thing over and over again—“eat lunch!” Then I branched out and started to draw or write different messages. I didn’t think much of it until I realized that Feng had kept the notes—we had quite a stack at the end of the school year last June.
The note routine became more interesting this year.
See, Mark can read now.
Allow me a brief moment of parental pride because 1) I gave birth to him and I guarantee you he came out without any reading skills whatsoever 2) I taught him to read 3) he is only 5, after all.
At the back of my mind, I knew that one day, Mark would be able to read my notes.
I didn’t think he would actually start writing notes to me, but I love it.
So now, we write random notes to each other.
Sometimes, it’s easier to write things than it is to say them. At 1 a.m., when all the chores are done, when Feng and Mark are sleeping, when the stress is gone and when all I have left to do is to go to bed, I want to hug them both.
That’s when I write my notes.
Love you too, Mark.