As my columns have stacked up over nearly three years, I’ve wondered how long I can get away with obsessing about myself in print. Admittedly, the column is called “Beijing Baba,” so I have a fair amount of license to do so, and describe the pleasures (and the pains) of being a learner parent. Still, I’ve felt lingering guilt that the real central character has been left loitering offstage. After all, what is a baba without his erzi?
One problem with putting more of my son Daniel into my ramblings is that kids’ emerging personalities are like incomplete jigsaw puzzles, with the pieces making different patterns on different days. Bearing that in mind, however, to provide an antidote to suspicions of my utter self-obsession, here is a sketch of my son Daniel, aged 2 and a half.
If he knew what a column was, Dan would be thrilled to find out that he was the subject of one. The first thing that stands out about him at the moment is his complete and absolute narcissism. (Yes, he takes after his dad, but at least it’s normal in small children.) Ruirui, as he usually refers to himself in his Chinese nickname, is lihai (awesome), which he will incessantly tell anyone who will listen, or just repeat to himself. He can beat off wolves with sticks, and shoot up baddies with his gun (“Doo doo doo doo doo!” with gusto). He is not scared of falling over. He does not fear fireworks. Lo, he is a courageous hero. “Ruirui zhen lihai.”
The second striking fact is that this front is complete “rubbish.” He’s a scaredy-cat. “Roar, Daddy,” he’ll command. I roar. He screams, flees and starts blubbing in the nearest woman’s arms. “I’m not scared of fireworks,” he pronounced with complete assurance on the eve of the October holidays. A minute later, at the first bang, he bolted up in bed and held open his arms: “Daddy, cuddle me.”
That leads to a third, heart-melting feature of Daniel – he’s harboring a healthy father-worship complex. Daddy, he believes, knows no fear. Wolves, fireworks, even the dark – none of these hold any sway over me. He doesn’t yet realize that Daddy knows everything as well, but he’ll get there in the end.
Perhaps then he’ll listen more than talk. I know kids tend to witter on aimlessly, but I’m sure that my son is a special case. Daniel is never silent. Giving him a ride on my shoulders is like being given a free trial of schizophrenia, harried by a little voice that sings a constant commentary on all things within and without consciousness. From where came the impulse, for instance, let alone the ability, to name any make of car in a city full of them?! “Ruirui lihai ba.” Yes, Ruirui lihai.
I know these characteristics aren’t fixed in stone. Right now, he just thinks he’s independent and knows it all. “Leave me alone,” he’ll say in response to some parental imperative, hunching his shoulders and flicking out his arm like an old crone. But he can’t even wipe his own bottom. One day, he’ll learn to do that, and more. He’ll work out how to pull his trousers up, tie his shoelaces, and even go out the front door on his own. He’ll know he knows it all (and Daddy knows nothing.) For now, though, this is the boy that I love.
When he’s not busy raising his son, Martin Adams is a freelance writer. During his three and a half years in Beijing, he has also been a
warm-weather kung fu practitioner.