When I had my daughter, I was open to being surprised and ready to be a mom. When my son came along, I was quite sleep-deprived after 2.5 years of motherhood and full of preconceptions. I will admit that I expected my son to be similar to my daughter, also half my husband and half of me, I mean, how different could he be right? I was wrong.
My husband is a fun man. He loves the outdoors, can fix almost anything with his hands (which also means he takes apart all kinds of things), and tells all kinds of childhood stories that make me laugh all day long. From pranks like swapping the maple syrup out for dishwashing liquid to scaling fences, climbing onto roofs and having adventures on his skateboard with his dog Tommy, I see that twinkle of mischief in his eyes from childhood photos even today. Those are all things I love about him, after all, who doesn’t like a partner who makes them laugh? But never did I imagine I’d have to live with all of this in a very small package.
When Nico was 7 months old, I brought him to a playground for the first time. It was great to talk to other moms, other nannies, other adult human beings. I was chatting with a nanny when she asked if that was my son over there. My child was halfway up the chain link fence. I ran over and grabbed him with an awkward smile. I cannot remember if I enjoyed the conversation, or many conversations after that, because plenty have been dropped just to keep Nico alive.
Hire me. I miss my career.
My daughter was 18 months when I sent her to preschool. I cannot say that I had the same level of patience when my son came along. By the time he was 11 months old, I needed to remember that I was a person. I missed the excitement of working through a tough problem, the exhilaration that came with completing a challenging and amazing piece of work, and the feeling of accomplishment that came with hard work, stress, and overcoming obstacles. I started applying to jobs and when I was offered the position of Web Editor at Facebook, I decided to send my son to daycare and agreed to commute to Menlo Park from our home in Berkeley. In case you don’t understand why that’s crazy, my commute was five hours, two and a half each way.
Each morning, I woke up at 5.30am, prepared lunch boxes for both kids, and rode my bicycle to a nearby train station. There, I would lock my bicycle in a cage and wait for my two-hour shuttle ride followed by a 25-minute one to bring me to my office building.
Each day was filled with ups and downs. Some mornings, locking our front door knowing my children wouldn’t see me till that evening made me sad. Other days, the cool fresh air energized me and made me feel like I would be creating amazing things at work that day. The pendulum of emotions was just an echo of all of motherhood.
Every afternoon at 3pm, I ran out of my office at 3pm to catch the 3.20pm shuttle. It was scheduled to bring me back to the train station at 4.47pm, where I had exactly 13 minutes to ride my bicycle to pick up Nico, and then 30 minutes to pick up Katherine. I signed up to do that with my sleep-deprived head.
Life was stressful enough with each day feeling like a game of the Amazing Race. Of course, just as life went, occasional hiccups were thrown in to shake up any regularity I felt I was reaching.
One day, the shuttle I was on was caught in a traffic jam and I avoided looking at my cellphone to avoid becoming more anxious. I raced by bicycle to my son’s daycare, only to find it empty. When I finally looked at my phone, I realized it was 45 minutes past pick up time and the caregiver texted to say she had brought him along to the older kids’ martial arts class. I rode to pick up my daughter first since she was nearby, and then to pick up my son. Other than the anxiety, the hiccup also cost me $85 in late-pickup fees. Both schools charge $1 per minute in cash past pick-up times.
Pepperoni & testosteroni
I’ve always wanted to be a mom, even planned to have two kids since I quite enjoyed my older brother’s company growing up. But I guess I didn’t have to raise him.
My daughter was easy. When she was little, we were at the Chinese restaurant when she tried to touch one of those metal teapots. We said: “No!” and pulled her hand away. She tried again and we pulled her away again. The third time she tried it, we let her touch it. It took barely a second for her to realize it was hot and she shrunk her hand back. Long enough to know it’s hot, not long enough to burn. Now when we say “no”, she listens.
Nico, however, is another specimen altogether. We say no and he either does it anyway, or waits till we’re not watching to do it.
When he was 6 months, we took apart the crib and gave it away. He had learned to climb it and fling himself out of it. At 7 months, I called the Poison Control Hotline for the first time after he found a blue marker and licked it till his tongue was blue. They said it was probably okay since it was Crayola brand and told us to monitor for unexplainable behavior. The thing they don’t understand is that Nico was quite inexplicable to me.
One day after a long day at work, I arrived at his daycare to pick him up when his daycare provider said to me: “Hello, your son took apart our carbon monoxide detector today”. He was 12 months old. “Uh, I’m sorry,” I said. “He found a screwdriver.” We stood in awkward silence for a bit before I said goodbye and left. I didn’t know what else to say about my wet gremlin.
On Father’s Day this year, Nico spilled almost two litres of vegetable oil in our living room. He has since also dismantled a microwave, plucked keys out of a laptop and one morning, I came downstairs to find that he had unscrewed every single lightbulb in the house and lined them up on our kitchen table. Inexplicable.
I have concluded that my son is made of pepperoni and testosteroni. He eats a lot, and does many things I have since chosen to just blame on testosterone since my daughter would never do that, like climb on the laundry basket, open the bathroom window, and climb out. I arrived just in time to see his little curvy buttock go out the window.
Feed me mama, I am dying.
My son eats more than my husband. Once he had one tooth, he enjoyed New York strip steak and potatoes, grilled salmon, noodles, fried rice, and every fruit you can imagine. We buy two bunches of bananas a week, grapes, cherries, blueberries, strawberries, about 10 apples, about 10 tangerines, and sometimes a watermelon or cantaloupe. The fruits are usually finished by the end of the week.
I have also taken to blaming my 2-year-old’s impossible diet on genetics and testosterone. Like a smaller version of my husband, he’s constantly moving and up to something.
I was very happy to be invited to a friend’s house one day. She had her baby boy just a few months after Nico was born and all four of us had been on many walks together.
Over at her house, while her son calmly explored the toys in front of him and enjoyed his bouncer, my son explored her giant indoor plant, the kitchen oven, the trash can, and climbed the back of the couch onto a dining table chair and then under the table. He was 8 months then. It was exhausting and at one point, she laughed and said: “Now I understand why you’re tired.”
When she served lunch, delicious curry ramen with egg, my son sat down and waited for his food. Then he ate like he was already in the Singapore army. He will sit for food. But once he is done, he is off again, over, beside, under and all over.
My son is a specimen. I’m sure my daughter is too. People keep marveling at the possibility of a baby taking apart a carbon monoxide detector, just wait till they hear how he takes apart the bicycles at our bicycle shop. For now, nothing seems too big a mountain for him to climb and I hope I raise him to continue believing this.