As the days and months go by, I’m realizing parenting is like writing a story: In both, you create a world.
Amazingly, sometimes your child does something quite noticeable that reflects this world you’ve created for him - this world of your home, of the places you bring him, of the things you show him. This world of the songs you sing, of the things you say, of what you find funny.
My son Julien looks up at me in the bathtub with a sly smile, and I know he’s hearing the echoes of my laughter from a few days before. Then, when we were in the same positions, I'd asked him if he was ready to come out of the bath, and he shook his head “No,” with that same sly smile. “Are you lying?” I’d asked playfully. He’d responded with a growl, and I realized he’d heard the word “lion” instead of “lying”. I’d laughed the best kind of laugh (something he seems to know already): honest and open, showing him glimpses of my real self, untempered by the considerations and concessions of parenting.
Ever since, there’s been that moment. He looks up at me with that smile. Sometimes, I play the game, asking him again “Are you lying?” and waiting for the growl. But I worry that he won’t learn what the phrase really means, so other times I just grin back and tickle him.
That accidental pun is something I never want to forget, and strangely and wonderfully, Julien helps me relive it every day.
And there are so many other things. Little snippets of songs, little expressions. Lifting a toy phone to his ear and saying “Allô”, just like he saw me do when one of his friends at daycare wanted me to play with the toy phone there.
Another day during bath time, a little gnat flies past us. Julien points, and says “Là! Là!” (“There! There!”) in the exact tone he’s heard his father use when he’s trying to show him something.
There was a mystery I wrote about a few months ago: For some reason, although we always used the English or French baby words for it, Julien decided to call his pacifier tétine, the normal French word. A few days later, it clicked: Whenever we go to the boulangerie (which is almost every day), the baker asks him to take out his tétine and gives him a little piece of bread.
Of course, Julien has his own voice, not just echoes. For example, he absolutely loves cars, trucks, and trains. The boyfriend and I never did anything in particular that would encourage him to feel this way. We don’t even have driver’s licenses.
And some echoes are also already a mix of imitation and his own identity. I still can’t help marveling at his first joke, which started when he was a little more than a year old. One day, he looked up at the whale mobile in his room and said, “Chats” (“Cats”). “No,” I told him, “Whales”. Ever since, sometimes when w'ere in his room he gives me a joking glance, then looks up at the mobile and whispers, “Chats, chats,” knowing I’ll laugh and insist again that they’re whales.
I wonder what he’ll be like when all of his echoes and individual features fuse together? Sometimes I’m afraid, because I know that not everything in our world is perfect. I worry at how easily he gets frustrated – just like his father and I do. I worry that he’ll be as anxious as I am, even though I try to hide it.
To stay calm, I focus on what I see already, overall: A happy boy, with a sense of humor, who’s also a bit of a ham (A late walker, whenever someone is talking to us on Facetime, he stands up proudly and prepares to take a few steps, shouting “ ‘vo!” – “Bravo!” – to encourage them to praise and notice him. Sort of a proto “Make some noise!”).
One of our favorite books to read together has a picture of someone standing at one end of a winding path. When the story mentions the character walking along it, I trace the path with my fingers. Recently, we were reading a book that shows a little truck going along a twisting street. Julien reached out a finger and traced the street – inexpertly, still – knowing what it means.