The Slippers

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Homework I gave to Mark, Ottawa, December 2018

There are two pairs of slippers at the door-sized gap of our doorless kitchen—a blue pair for Feng and a red one for me.

They’ve been there for years, having somehow survived my weekly rubber sole scrubbing and thousands of meals cooked in the kitchen—that’s pretty good for slippers that were probably bought at Dollarama. They’re falling apart now, but we pretend they’re just fine because getting new pairs would feel like a betrayal of those loyal slippers. I’m sure one of these days my in-laws will replace them behind our back, though.

Both Europeans and Asians agree on the fact you shouldn’t wear shoes in your house. I don’t even understand why some people do—I mean, it’s dirty outside, isn’t it? That said, unlike in traditional Chinese households, we don’t have a pair of slippers for each room, just these ones in the kitchen. We go barefoot anywhere else in the house.

Last weekend, Mark came back from my in-laws with a brand-new pair of red, fleece-lined slippers with a black-and-white football pattern at the tip. “I don’t want to scare you, but there’s a ball stuck to your foot,” I joked. He laughed—six-year-old kids are an easy audience.

Mark has never worn slippers at home. I remember buying him a pair of cute dog-shaped slippers in China, but he was at the stage where taking off clothes and footwear was a lot of fun so they ended up at the back of the closet pretty fast. He doesn’t like to wear flip-flops—he also has a pair of Batman-and-Joker Havaianas we brought back from Brazil—and warm slippers tend to be slippery. He doesn’t need indoor shoes anyway, it’s not cold at home and the floors are clean.

But he seemed to have adopted his new football slippers and he wore them all night.

Before he went to bed, I noticed that our slippers and his were lined up neatly at the doorway.

“Which one of you two did that?” I asked, laughing.

Mark turned around. “Oh… that’s me.”

I thought so. Feng and I just leave the slippers wherever they end up, under the table or halfway into the living room.

“That’s cute,” I said.

And also very unusual coming from Mark, the kid who has to be told three times to pick up his damn toys—I just step on a Ninja Turtle ten minutes ago and my left foot is still sore.

The following night, the shoes were lined up again—Feng’s pair, mine and Mark’s.

And suddenly, at 1 a.m., it hit me. Maybe Mark was telling us something. Maybe it was his way, subconsciously or not, to tell us he was feeling excluded, that he wanted to claim his spot in the family.

A family. A universal concept without a universal definition. Who counts as family to you? When do you become a family?

For years, my family was my parents, my siblings, my grandparents and a few selected relatives I felt close to. Feng was—is—the person I loved and I wanted him to join my family but just the two of us weren’t one in my head. Mind you, we got married in 2005 and I still look briefly confused if someone refers to me as the “wife.”

When Mark was born, I was too busy becoming a mother and adjusting to seeing Feng as a father to even consider us as family. It felt overwhelming. Besides, it was easier to think of myself as a member of my French family, an existing structure where I had a role, where I was someone’s child, where I had some responsibilities as the older kid but where there were older, wiser blood relatives who had the final say.

If we were a family, it meant that I was now one of the two people in charge of us and “us” included a needy newborn. If we were a family, it meant that I had to take care of everyone but that no one was here for me.

Kids will rock your world but at first, they kind of shatter it. I liked being a new mom but I couldn’t be a wife, a daughter, a friend, a sister, etc. at the same time. I think it was the same for Feng. We had to focus on Mark and build a new world with him, the rest could wait.

How did Mark feel? Parents are often asked if they start feeling like a mother and a father the second they see their newborn—does a kid feel like his parents’ child the moment he is held for the first time?

Mark is six now, these tough years are mostly behind us. We had plenty of time to adjust. Are we a family? Am I a good mother and a good wife? Does he feel loved? Does he understand that I love Feng and him both and that there’s enough room for everyone in my heart? Three is an odd number. It’s often Feng and I against Mark, Mark and Feng against me, Mark and I against Feng…

I spent the night analyzing the past few months. I worked a lot and I’m often the bad cop—“do your homework!” “Finish eating!” “Go to bed!” Then when I was done, I analyzed the past six years and two months. Does Mark remember these awful nights when he wouldn’t sleep and I was begging him to just let me rest for a bit? Does he remember all the arguments Feng and I had? Most of them seemed to be about Mark but really, we argued because we were exhausted and stressed out like most new parents.

The following day, I decided to have a little chat with Mark.

“I liked the way you organize the slippers at night. Why did you start doing that?”

“Dunno. I don’t like when it’s a mess downstairs.”

Hey, that’s MY line!

“Oh, okay. I thought maybe you wanted to have your own slippers and put it with ours so that you don’t feel left out.”

“Huh? Why would I feel left out? That’s just silly.”

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is called projecting.

Quick. Make a list of stuff you feel guilty about as a parent. Then fucking burn it, because chances are, your kids are just fine.

The slippers, Ottawa, December 2018

The slippers organized by Mark, Ottawa, December 2018

Note Mark left on my desk, he meant “beaucoup d”amour” (“a lot of love” in French), Ottawa, December 2018




About Author

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


    • I may make it sound worse than it is… I’ll get my money back eventually, he will pay for my retirement!

      Wait. I’m freelancing. No retirement fund.

      Never mind, you’re right, complete waste of time.

      • Martin Penwald on

        It’s not only you. I’m currently in France for vacation with my family, and I live with one of my nephew : he can be annoying sometimes because he doesn’t want to dress or go to bed, etc. I don’t think I’ll be able to yell at him to punish him if he behaves badly. But most of the time, he is very nice.

        • How old is your nephew? Kids under five are… ahem, occasionally challenging. I find it gets much better when you can talk things out somehow rationally when they get older.

          I remember feeling weird when I started “parenting” Mark, i.e. saying no for instance, when he was around one or two. Babies are easier for that, you just pick them up and put them somewhere safe if they are “exploring” a bit too much. But toddlers really test your limits and their own power.

          Alors, gilets jaunes dans ta famille?

          • Martin Penwald on

            Il a 2½ ans, il est beaucoup plus intéressant maintenant que plus jeune. Il comprend des trucs, se souvient de choses, on peut plus facilement interagir avec lui même si il chouine parfois pour des trucs qui nous semble sans importance. C’est clair qu’il teste ses limites, mais c’est normal à cet âge.

            Sinon, pas de gilet jaune (seulement dans la voiture parce que c’est obligatoire) chez moi. Le mouvement est assez vaste et engloibe un peu de tout, de l’extrême-droite à la gauche. Macron, comme Sarkozy, est le président des riches, et la répression scandaleuse des diverses manifestations qui ont eu lieu le mois dernier révèle bien un mépris pour la population.
            Le message est clair : « Si vous manifestez, vous risquez d’être mutilé ou pire, restez chez vous et fermez votre gueule. » Castaner ne le cache même pas.
            Et ce n’est même pas que je suis contre l’augmentation des taxes sur le gazole, mais ça va essentiellement toucher des gens qui n’ont pas réellement les moyens de déménager pour avoir un accès plus simple aux transports en commun. Et c’est sans compter que les politiques de Macron ont déjà eu pour effet de fermer des lignes ferroviaires ce qui a forcé une partie, certes minime, de la population à reprendre leur voiture pour aller travailler.
            Donc, cette taxe sur le gazole est essentiellement une taxe sur les pauvres, alors même que l’ISF a été supprimé. Ça alimente la colère d’une bonne partie dees gilets jaunes, mais dans le même temps, la gauche urbaine et aisée, qui peut se permettre d’aller au travail sans voiture, désapprouve ces revendications au nom de la transition énergétique. Chacun pense à sa gueule, ce qui arrange bien les bourges.

          • Je n’avais pas suivi les débuts du mouvement parce que 1) ça fait longtemps que mes parents n’ont pas de voiture, rapport au fait qu’on était pauvre avan tl’heure 2) chez moi c’est plutôt drapeau noir que gilets jaunes de toute façon. Je suis très surprise (… je ne devrais pas…) de la violence de la répression et du matraquage dans les médias français sur ces “méchants Français qui cassent tout sans raison”. La bonne blague, genre on l’avait pas vu venir que la misère faisait se révolter les gens… c’est pas comme si on ne savait pas ce qu’est une révolution, hein.

            Ceci dit, ça reste très dur pour moi de m’identifier aux gilets jaunes car comme tu le dis, le mouvement est beaucoup trop hétéroclite. J’ai les idées larges, mais pas au point de battre le pavée avec la bonne dame qui vote Le Pen, faut pas déconner non plus.

            Quant à Macron… le mépris suinte de tous ses pores. Je suis très heureuse de ne pas avoir voté pour lui.

            Bref, c’est le bordel.

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