You…are one. Just like that. If I thought time had flown by with your sister growing up so quickly, then ‘fleeting’ is just about the right word to describe your first year.
A little more than a year ago, you came into our lives, achingly tiny and definitely quieter than your sister was at your age. As I cradled you in my arms after you slipped out, I couldn’t believe that you were mine, that you were finally here, even if I was deathly afraid of becoming a mother of two. Back then, I knew that labour, whilst painful, would be easy because it is transient, but parenting…that’s an entirely different matter altogether; what I do today, tomorrow and forever more will influence the both of you, and even at this point, three and a half years after becoming a mother, I am not sure if I can say that I have done a decent job of raising you two. I…can only try.
That night, the first night you were brought to my ward whilst Papa was fast asleep on the makeshift bed, I drew up my legs and had you recline on my thighs. You were sleeping soundly and made the cutest gurgles as you fluidly but slowly moved your head around, as if you were still in my watery womb. I took a good look at you and marvelled at how every bit of you is a little bit of us, and by us, I mean Papa, your sister and me. I whispered I love you, and asked you to forgive me if I should ever let you down, because the days ahead would be tough. From the day I found out I was pregnant with you, I knew that I would not be able to have as much time alone with you as I did with your sister, and that guilt has faithfully shadowed me to this day. I suppose that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because the guilt, whilst crippling at times, mostly motivated me to be more of a mother than I already was to the both of you.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope. Of course, I didn’t. Do I pay more attention to your sister because you wouldn’t remember a thing? Or do I pay more attention to you because you need me to survive and that it is only fair that I spend one-on-one time with you, having had 2 years and 7 months of alone-time with your sister? I’d be honest with you, my son, it has been a little bit of this and a little bit of that to get us through to this day, and by God’s grace, things fell into place. I crumbled…more times than I care to admit, whilst trying to cope with chores, caregiving, postnatal depression and a severe lack of sleep. I flared up much too often, I cried so hard I thought I wouldn’t stop, and I…was truly lost. But God went ahead of me and gave me two children who would make our family of four work when I fell short. Your sister has never ever been jealous of you, not for a second; she, somehow, set aside her own needs and wants, and grew up overnight to be a true-blue jiejie to you. And you…you wait in the wings for me. You always do. I should have known, from your gentle cries back when you came into this world, that you would be this way.
You wait. I can see that you yearn to be with me through those piercing eyes, and I know that you try your best to hold off the crying until your tiny being can’t cope any longer. Of course, as you grow older, you make your demands known a little louder than you used to, but you wait with great patience that I have yet to see in a child your age. “Mama? Mama? Mama?” You would go on umpteen times, rather gently so in a hopeful manner, until I get a breather from what/who I am busy with and call out cheerfully, “Yes, Ethan?” You would then break into the biggest toothy grin, one that seizes my heart, with your sparkly eyes disappearing into happy commas on your ‘meatball’ face and that cute wrinkle on your nose. I wish I could respond more promptly, Ethan, and God knows that I try. But maybe, I have yet to try my best, and I am deeply sorry for making you wait much too often. I promise to try harder.
To be honest, I had been concerned that I wasn’t interacting with you sufficiently in the past year. Whilst you are a lot more active (and infinitely more fearless!) than your sister was at your age, there were times when I thought you were a lot less verbal than she was. I thought that it was because I didn’t read or sing or talk as often to you but lately, you have been yakking away so much that I struggle to keep you quiet, so I guess my concerns of shortchanging you are unfounded! We skipped all the baby talk, as with your sister, and just as I thought I should have gone down the ‘mum mum’ (baby talk for eat) or ‘xu xu’ (baby talk for pee) route, you demonstrate a sudden understanding of what we have been saying to you. We would ask, “Do you want to eat orange?” You then scan the dining table until you spot ’em slices of oranges tucked away in a box, and you do that comma-eyes-toothy-grin-wrinkled-nose thing to mark your way of saying yes. You have yet to learn how to say ‘more’ but you indicate that you want more of something by pointing with your stubby little index finger and sounding, “Mmm?!” Aside from Papa and Mama, you have also learnt to address your sister (Daa Daahhhhkr), name the ball (BAW), light (wight!), clock (awh!) amongst others, all in a matter of one to two weeks! The one thing that you are so very resistant to learning is taking no for an answer. You would wriggle out of ANY seatbelt on all types of high chairs we have put you in, stand up and climb onto the dining table, and be purposely oblivious to calls of stern disapproval. You would dive headfirst from the bed, only to be caught in the nick of time by us, and meet our pleading ‘No’ with a death stare. ‘No’s do not work on your repeated attempts to pull off plugs and yank off wires, and we know you are choosing not to listen to us because of your defiant, pursed lips and cold eyes as you do what must not be done. At times, you even scream at us, as if to rebel against us, when we are stern with you. Oh, the thrills of making peace with a toddler who doesn’t.ever.stop and must lay hands on everything he sees. Having said that, it’s still fun being able to interact with you as you begin to understand more of our world, because you see, Mama sees the world through your eyes when we do that and it’s l i k e m a g i c.
Of course, my heart aches each time I realise how much you have grown. I took a photo of you for every milestone you made, and for every week that has gone by since you were born, and I can’t help but wonder if this is the last of the first. You know, the first of everything that marks a baby’s life. I am pretty sure that I have no room left in my heart for another child, and that any traits required of a mother to do this gig will be left wanting in me because I know that I am incapable of caring for the two of you properly, let alone three. As your firsts are likely my lasts, I try to hold onto whatever moments I have with you, relish in the joy and tears that come with being your mother, and remember every part of you that makes you a baby, less of a baby and more of a toddler, but perhaps I am old and befuddled, most things…everything is slipping away from me like sand through desperately clenched fingers, and the only thing I have left is not the past, but your here-and-now with me.
So here and now, it is.
I will hold you for as long as you would let me. I will smother your meatball cheeks with wet, slobbery kisses for as long as you do not push me away. I will call out cheerfully, “Yes, Ethan?” for as long as you need me, even when you find me a nag. And I will love you till the end of time, even if you stop loving me. Forgive me if I am not a perfect mother, my son, it is true that I will never be one. But I…will be the one who loves you the most, and I hope I will, more often than not, be more than enough for you.