Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Sonic Mama

As regular readers might know,  I have two children: the oldest boy is three and the youngest is a year and a half. They are talkers. As a language teacher, I was expecting my bilingual male children to be like many other bilingual male children and start to speak late because, y'know, that's what The Experts say happens - no, no, that wasn't the case. From the moment they rise to the moment we press them into a horizontal position in their beds, they never shut up. They even talk in their sleep.

Their favourite thing - above raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens - is to say, "Mama?" about a thousand times a day. A thousand times a day EACH. I wish I were exaggerating but it doesn't feel like hyperbole: every breath they draw seems to exhale a Mama somewhere. Sometimes they Mama even when they don't mean to, when playing with their cars ("Brrrrmmm brrrrmmama...") or when they've discovered something interesting ("Oh, Mama!"). I answer, "Yes, love?" because it's easier to answer that way than figure out which child it is and sometimes it serves as a double-answer if I'm being Mama-ed in stereo. Everyone's happy with that answer.

And I can often ignore it, but not for long. The MPMs (Mamas Per Minute) increase and become increasingly frantic because - heavens above! - I might've disappeared! I might've been abducted! Or, God knows, I might be sitting down with a cup of tea and a book or writing a message to another literate, full-sized human being on my phone. If they can't see me, e.g. if we're separated by the insurmountable obstacle that is the bathroom door, the MPMs might increase to a wail, "Maaaaaaamaaaaaaaaa!". And if I'm resting - the cruelty! the neglect! - they'll Mamamamamamamamama onto the bed and I'll be given a couple of seconds of ominous silence and feathery smallchild breath on my cheeks, till they try to poke my eyes open.
"Mama?"
"Yes, love?" I'll say to the little faces pressed up against my own.

I say "Yes, love?" oh, hundreds of times a day. Sometimes there's an answer:
"I'm a baby octopus now."
Or: "I want to run away and away."
Or: "My feet smell disgusting"
However, there often isn't. The child in question stares at me blankly and visibly racks his brain to find something to tell me: "I like owls."
"That's super," I'd say. "What's your favourite owl?"
And off the child goes on an owl monologue, punctuated by - you've guessed it - twenty million Mamas.

Yes, yes, it's lovely and sweet, but also exhausting and relentless and head-wrecking. When I come in from work, I just want five minutes of peace and quiet, preferably with a cup of tea, and instead I'm bombarded by two children climbing on to my knee, up my sweater, into my face: "Mama! Mama! Mama!"
"Yes, love?" I answer. "Yes, love? What is it, love? What would you like to tell me?"
Exhausted. Weary. Fed up.
Mamamamamamamama.
Go away, children, and just leave me alone.

"What flavour would you like?"
"Blue!"
And then today I learned something interesting. I went out for a walk with my oldest boy and he had an ice cream, his first of the year. I sat on a bench and he sat on my knee, holding his ice cream and delicately eating it with his plastic spoon.
"Mama?" he said, squirming around to face me.
"Yes, love?" I replied automatically, distractedly.
He repeated it, but he said, "Yes! Love!" and turned back to his ice cream with a grin on his face. And then I realised that what I'm saying to my children and what they're hearing are two different things. I say, "Yes, love?" and they hear: YES! LOVE! and they seem to need to hear it hundreds of times a day. They use it like a bat's sonic signal to locate me and I answer. I didn't know that. I'd never thought about it. To them it's not a question, it's an affirmation. Now I know.

This evening my youngest son wouldn't sleep. He told me about trains and dogs and Papa and more trains and Papa and then there was something indistinguishable about a monster truck ... till he finally fell asleep. Drifting away, his eyes rolling, being pulled downwards into soft sleep, he whispered, "Mama?"
I watched his lids fall, kissed his forehead, and gently I replied: "Yes. Love."

3 comments:

Emm.A said...

what a sweet blog post and what a great thing to learn.
I love the fact that you post more often again. I always loved your posts and your style of writing. Great to have you back!

Noémie Roy Lavoie said...

I love your posts and your style and I'm an unabashed fan. This was adorable and so endearing.

Rachel said...

What a wonderful post (I have no idea how you found the time to write it). I felt your exhaustion right through, then the end was just beautiful.

I observed to a close friend with a four-year-old that a key parenting skill seems to be ignoring your children. She was quite put out by this, but seriously, we'd just had an adult conversation for about half an hour! There were a lot of half-acknowledged 'Mama's in that time.