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This Odd Number – It’s Hard To Be Three At Home

Mark, May 2015

Three is an odd number. Inevitably, alliances are formed, bribes are offered, protests are fomented and plans to overthrow the authority and seize power are made.

A Game of Thrones season spoiler?

No, just life at home.

Feng, Mark and I. Three strong-minded protagonists willing to do whatever it takes to achieve personal goals—complete a work assignment, watch a game on TV in peace or bring a huge plastic truck into the bathtub.

Feng and I are an unlikely couple, two pieces of a jigsaw—one made in France and the other engineered in China—put together by luck. We met thousands of kilometres from our respective homes and the initial odds in Vegas probably wouldn’t have been in our favour. Well, take that, probability rules! Three languages, three cultures, ten years and close to thirty countries visited later, here we are in Ottawa with a kid.

We had always been fairly independent of each other. Some couples share everything in their relationship—thoughts, friends, activities, bank accounts, interests and the past. We never had that “comfortable” cocoon—I would have found it suffocating. We agree on the big picture and share the same life philosophy, but we also give each other a lot of flexibility, including the freedom to choose what’s best for each of us. I trust Feng to make good choices and he trusts me.

Keeping some freedom was probably needed given our very different cultural backgrounds. Feng is a scientist, I’m the creative one. He is logical, I’m emotional; he likes cooler weather, I like hot climates; I’m a sea person and he likes land best; I read while he watches movies; I crave bread and dairy products while he enjoys rice and meat. The list goes on and on.

Yes, we are different, but we also have plenty in common—we are both self-reliant, liberal (philosophically speaking), open to change, we love travelling, we enjoy the same music and have the same ironic and caustic sense of humour. We’ve learned from each other too. My money management skills are almost as good as the average Chinese toddler now (not bad for a Westerner) and he can kind of understand art.

In short, we are more complementary than symbiotic.

Eh, whatever works.

Then came Mark, our little earthquake.

I knew way more about babies than Feng. I’m the oldest child, a few of my friends had kids and I carried Mark for nine months—all this kind of gave me a head start in parenting.

However, since this is the fucking 21st century, Feng was also involved as the father.

Newsflash. When someone is sharing duties, that someone is also entitled to an opinion. Unfortunately, I missed the memo.

Do you know these cute couple finishing each other’s sentences?

Well, this was not us.

Every single time. I’d start saying “I think we should…” and Feng would suggest the very exact thing I was trying to avoid. And vice-versa.

“I think we should…”

“…—Put him to sleep,” Feng concludes as if it went without saying.

“What? No! I was about to say I think we should skip his nap today!” I’d protest.

And then we would argue.

These were not the kind of arguments where one person is right and the other one is obviously delusional. There is no perfect recipe to raise a kid, no perfect answer. For instance, when Mark was a baby, Feng didn’t want to feed him right before bedtime because he argued that sleeping with a full stomach was not comfortable. On the other hand, I wanted to give him a bigger bottle at night because I was afraid he would get hungry and wake up. It was a matter of choices and perspectives.

Enter the two pairs of in-laws, our unofficial “advisors” who also don’t have a thing in common. My parents would let Mark run around naked while Feng’s parents insist on him wearing at least three layers of clothes. My in-laws think my parents starve Mark, my parents consider forcing food upon a kid is cruel. The list goes on and on. Their advice, passed on to us, led to more arguments.

I think we argued more in the past two years than we ever did. At the heart of the arguments was Mark, always Mark. We had different expectations and different methods. Sure, I had my experience with kids and the proverbial mother’s instinct—yes, there is such a thing. Sometimes, I just know. Can’t explain, but I know. On the other hand, I was sleep-deprived, and occasionally depressed and I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight—Feng did provide a new perspective, except I tended to see it as an insult to my parenting skills. And Feng can be stubborn too, he is often convinced that he knows best.

Parenting is tough, and when you don’t know (which is like 99% of the time), you tend to rely on your own experience and education. Chinese kids are treated like little emperors and given a lot of leeways until they enter the academic world (where they are expected to stop goofing around and get good grades). French kids are expected to behave and not bother adults too much. Canadian kids are, according to Feng and I, overprotected.

So, it’s often two against one: Feng and I against Mark (“No, I’m sorry, you can’t drive the car”), Feng and Mark against me (“He doesn’t need to eat another candy, that’s enough!”) or Mark and I against Feng (“He can jump from the rock, he does it all the time with me”).

It takes time to be a strong team.

I have faith.

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