Dear Ethan and Maya,
This month we’ve done quite a lot of house maintenance. Repainting, fixing, assembling, powerwashing. We tried to finish everything when the weather still allowed. And it wasn’t an easy task, not because it involved a lot of physical work. Well, it did. But it also involved your father. And the next thing you know, when it comes to a project like this, he doesn’t normally function well. I think maybe fatherhood has really stressed him out that a section of his brain got deteriorated. And that section was supposed to be in charge of REMEMBERING THINGS. He can function now without it, I guess, only because I am very good at jolting him out of his perpetual daydream by ramming him in the chest with my forehead.
So with my supervision, we also converted you to a big girl bed, Maya, and removed the safety gate for stairs. I’ve mentioned why we had to change your bed, thanks to your brother. He was also the main reason why the gate needed to be gone because we discovered that he was able to lock and unlock the gate. When you guys wanted to go to the playroom downstairs, you would just go because he’s all capable to open the gate. So Maya, what would you do if he’s not around? You would bang it so loud like it would unlock itself if you go louder, or try to climb over it, without once pausing to realize the steepness of the staircase behind the gate with which if you roll down you could land yourself squarely in the room of an intensive care unit. All I have to say is you can be very determined yet very airheaded.
Ethan, this month marked another chapter of your life. You started kindergarten. And you love it. Except you have a hard time believing that eating at school is not going to kill you, and you refuse to touch your lunch. I received emails and messages with comforts and advice. One of them suggested that maybe you are bullied at school for eating “weird” food. And honestly I really hope that this is the reason, because at least there is a reason.
Despite the fact that we don’t speak French, we sent you to a French immersion school. We don’t have any academic reasons, except you said you wanted to learn French. And we’ve never doubted about this. When your sister was still a baby where letting you watch YouTube wouldn’t cause any casualty, you always chose to watch videos in French, and you could sing along to every number or alphabet song. You would go un-deu-trios…cat-san-sit all day long. After a week at school, you’ve started to come home telling me the French words that you’ve learned. And your love for Spinderman song has been gradually replaced with a raging passion for French songs. You will sing in French involuntarily even though you haven’t really picked up the correct pronunciation. There is one particular song where you are singing “tres bien” up a string of notes, then “au revoir” down a string of notes, and then back again as the evil squid witch steals her voice. First time I heard you singing this, I stopped whatever I was doing in the kitchen to listen more intently. That’s where you started this dead sounding REVOIRRRRRRRRR, like a sick cow had fallen over in the mud. As the song grew louder, so did your forlorn accompaniment until the entire house was filled with the sound of your voice. I couldn’t see your face, but knew you probably had your hands above your head and were feeling it every bit as much as a French tenor singer. I lingered for a second on the thought that one day your sister will go to the same school, and she might really like French as much as you do. What that means about the years to come and the things we will look forward to is during dinner you and your sister will start chatting about where to hide your weeds in front of us, in French.
Maya, how you’ve started to love to talk recently! Although sometimes what you say doesn’t make sense and we just nod like we know what you are talking about. This is good practice for adolescence when you are going to pick up all sorts of slang from your friends at school, and your father and I are going to indulge you and say, wow, I can’t believe that happened, tre bien! when we don’t understand a single syllable that comes out of your mouth.
So you’ve developed a certain way of speaking about things when you do not know the name of something, and instead of asking us to help you identify it you will simply refer to it by its color. One morning when you couldn’t find THE PINK! THE PINK! WHERE IS THE PINK! I looked at your father with a hopeful gaze that said, please tell me you know what she’s talking about. Except he was giving me the same look, and so we went searching for something pink in your room. We asked you to elaborate a little bit on the characteristic of The Pink as there are so many pink things in your room, you said PINNNNNNNKKKKKK! IT’S PINNNNNKKKKKK! WITH PINNNNKKKKK ON IT! Thanks for the clarification.
Eventually we found a pink unicorn toy underneath your pillow where you had slept with it the night before. But this search has become frequent – we’ve done a hunt for The Yellow, The Red, and The Brown all within the past month – that you father and I have started to speak to each other exactly like this. I will ask him where he put The Blue, and he’s all what? And I’m all, THE BLUE! THE BLUUUUUEEEE! And he’ll go, oh yeah! The BLUE! I put it on the thing over by the stuff.
Recently when we are sitting down around a table for breakfast, lunch or dinner, I’ve noticed that I have to keep telling you both to put your feet down, swallow your food, be careful and don’t drop ketchup on your shirts, etc, etc, because you never eat properly. You will sit with half of your butt, another half hanging over the edge of the chair ready to take off. When you are finally willing to take a damn bite, it takes forever for you to swallow, because your mouth is too busy chewing that piece of paper towel.
There are times when I’m scared that I do too much of this, this reminding. This, well, nagging. It feels like nagging from my end even though I always try to do it in the gentlest way possible.
“Hey, remember what I said about putting your feet off the chair?” Or “You are about to drip gravy onto your lap, can you eat over your plate?”
Instead of “PUT YOUR FEET DOWN! OR I CHOP THEM OFF!”
It’s a matter of balance, I guess. Gentle repetition. Although sometimes the 30th repetition can be a little less gentle and a little more on the side of NO, REALLY. DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT I SAID? HOW IS YOUR HEARING?
Kids, I have to tell you I grew up with this – all those lame and awful things that my mother repeatedly drilled into my head when I was a kid. And believe it or not, it worked! I eat with my feet on the floor. I don’t need to be reminded to say thank you or please. And these qualities did not just grow in like your teeth. There were reminders and more reminders from my parents.
I think what I am struggling with is that I don’t want you to remember your time with me only as one long string of instructions: wash your hands, brush your teeth, clean up your room. And I know you won’t, but sometimes when I am right in the moment of instructing you I feel guilty. It’s an involuntary feeling, and the way that I work myself through it is to remind myself how grateful I am that my own parents taught me these values. They loved me enough to show me how to be respectful of other people. They loved me enough to want me to be civilized. And I want you both to know that I do all that because I love you.