I remember the first time Mark said “mama.” It had been a long morning, a long night, hell, a long stretch of countless waking hours since his birth just a few months earlier, and Feng was taking over my “shift.” “Finally,” I remembered sighing inwardly, feeling like a shitty person the second the uncharitable thought entered my mind. My excuse? I was looking forward to taking a quick shower or maybe going to pee, whatever basic need was most urgent and best accomplished outside Mark’s bedroom and without a baby strapped to my chest.
I grabbed my sweater off the floor, stood up and took a couple of steps toward the door, already trying to figure out how much I could get done in very little time.
I opened the door without looking back.
I turned around.
“Did he just…?”
“Mama! Mama! Mama!”
I was absolutely positive it was a brand-new sound for Mark and trust me, I knew every single sound he made by then. If there was any doubt left it might have been nonsensical baby babble, Mark grinned when I came back to him.
I don’t think I ever took that shower, although I’m pretty sure I must have gone for a pee at one point—“mama” is only human. Feng and I spent a few hours making him say “mama” over and over again, the sweetest two syllables in the world.
That’s pretty much life with kids. When you least expect it, you get completely overwhelmed by love and a primal instinct to protect, hug, and kiss them. I mean, you do love them all the time and unconditionally but you also have to be efficient, practical, didactic, strict and a whole bunch of adjectives that apply to everyday parenting and kind of get in the way. Unlike what perfect parents™ claim, I don’t spend hours gazing longingly into Mark’s eyes and congratulating myself for producing such an exceptional human being. There are plenty of moments when I’m happy to be alone or with Feng for activities best enjoyed without a screaming baby, a whiny toddler or a clumsy first-grader who…
“MARK! I CAN HEAR YOU NOT WASHING YOUR HANDS!”
Sorry. Yeah, so kids are loveable, but it’s a bit like life with a significant other—you probably don’t feel that burning passion every second of the day. The bond you have is strong enough to withstand arguments, time apart and all.
Yet, once in a while, you feel a wave a raw, primal love.
Last fall, we drove by the University of Ottawa and got stuck in traffic and in moving-day madness.
“What’s that place?”
“The university. That’s where you go after Grade 12.”
“So you gotta be…”
“Around 18. See that big building? That’s the School of Management, and this old one is the arts department.”
“But what are they all doing?”
“The students? They’re moving in! It’s the beginning of the term, so they live in residences for the school year. Like, they have their own small apartment, that’s why they bring furniture.”
“Yeah, Mark, you can go study there when you’re older!”
“I’d rather him to be a French student,” I joked. “Lower tuition fees.”
In the back seat, Mark was uncharacteristically quiet. “Sure,” he said eventually. “I can live there too when I’m 18. It’s just that… isn’t the university a bit far to go home every night?”
Feng and I started laughing because, well, it was kind of funny to picture Mark at 18 or 20 saying, “alright guys, gotta go home, bedtime is 8:30 p.m. and I really want a story tonight.”
Then, a second later, I was holding back tears because how can a 6-year-old who sleeps with a stuffed rabbit and a Winnie ever move out? And this is how, suddenly, I got the urge to keep Mark skin to skin against me, hidden under my zipped coat like when he was a baby, to help him navigate this broken world.
“You’ll do whatever you want,” I said. “You will always have a home.”
A few days ago, I discovered two giant bruises on Mark’s back when helping him taking a shower.
Mark shrugged. “I fell in the playground.”
“Why didn’t you tell us? Does it hurt? Okay, let me put some Arnica on it.”
The loonie-sized bruises were one hand apart, one a straight line, as if Mark had fallen on the legs of an upside-down chair—which may be exactly what happened, who knows. No big deal, we’re used to scrapped knees and other mysterious playground scars.
The next day, I noticed a certain awkwardness in the air when Feng came back from school pickup with Mark.
“Nothing… apparently Mark showed his cool-looking bruise to everyone at school!”
I winced, knowing exactly why Feng wasn’t super happy about that.
“Eh, Mark… it’s okay, we’re not mad, you didn’t do anything wrong,” I said. “It’s just that… well, what did you tell your friends?”
“I told them I fell at the playground and I got a cool bruise. Why?”
“Daddy is just a bit worried because people could think mommy or daddy did that to you, that’s all.”
“What? That’s just silly! Parents don’t do that!”
And again, I had this wave of overwhelming love for Mark, so smart yet so innocent, like most kids should be. Life may leave bruises on you, baby, but we will make sure you won’t get hurt too badly, I promise.
It’s not always easy to define love… but I’m sure that’s what it is.