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With Mama

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Like everything, fatherhood suited Kim Taehyung.

Newborns are tough; whether you’re a noob or a vet. Even healthy babies are a handful the first few weeks and Chungae was no exception. She kept the both of you up most nights, opting to sleep during the day when it was least convenient. Even after she started developing a more conventional sleeping pattern a few weeks in, she was a fussy baby. Taehyung’s mother joked over the phone that her son had been the exact same way, assuring you that any other children the two of you may have would be a piece of cake by comparison.

He might say differently, but in your eyes, he’d taken to it like a fish to water. From the moment you’d handed him the custom teacup with the words ‘morning papa’ pressed into the ceramic bottom; your method of revealing your pregnancy, he’s been the best. Supportive, accommodating, perhaps a little overbearing. The two of you eagerly anticipated the arrival of your first child in the way only new parents can. Equally indwelled with the spirit of enthusiasm and anxiety.

When Chungae was born, Taehyung cried more than you did. Not that you didn’t, but by the time your daughter was laid across your bare chest you could barely keep your eyes open; hours of labor taking its toll. You’d both opted not to know the sex of the baby until after it was born; you were so sure it was a boy, but Tae, whether to pick opposite you or according to his intuition, picked girl. You weren’t sure if his tears were in relief in having a healthy baby or in some act of overwhelming love. Only that it made your exhausted eyes prickle with fresh tears.

Yet, Taehyung took it in stride like he did all things. When you cried from exhaustion during endless sleepless nights or from feelings of failure as a mother when your milk wasn’t sufficient for your daughter, he was there for you. Somehow, he managed to be all things for the two of you during the biggest transition of your relationship. He was your rock. Even when things seemed so out of control, he kept things grounded like only he could. And you loved him for it.

(There would come a time, you remember thinking one night, when he would need that of you. When he would need you to step up and be his rock. It wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ but of ‘when’. But that was marriage. That was all serious relationships. Those thoughts kept you from feeling guilty for feeling like you were only taking, taking, taking.)

So. Fatherhood looked exceptionally good on Taehyung. Everyone could see it but the man himself. He rocked a baby harness like it was fashion week. Nothing was sexier to you than your husband burping your baby shirtless while you drifted in and out of consciousness on the sofa.

Before you knew it, sleepless nights became a thing of the past. Taehyung’s office/studio became a nursery, and the two of you were able to be alone at night again. His canvases and painting supplies still lived in Chungae’s room, but were stored carefully away where fat little hands couldn’t reach them.

Taehyung had never set out to become an artist. He had a degree and well-paying job in marketing yet found it largely unfulfilling. For as long as you’d known him, he’d carried a small book everywhere with him, doodling or drawing his ideas, pressing interesting looking leaves between the pages. He often painted, and when the two of you moved in together after you got engaged, you realized how much the medium meant to him. Different then drawing, different from pastels. The often strange way he understood the world made perfect sense in acrylic on stretched canvas.

His hobby became a way of earning money after he began doing commissions. People will pay a lot of money for the things that interest them and for those who didn’t want to pay, Taehyung blocked them. Your typically uninhibited and confident husband was anxious about one thing it seemed and that was putting his own original art out there.

“No one will buy it,” he insisted. But you didn’t think so. You pushed only a little; he was a grown man, he would do what he wanted anyway, but it was enough. While not nearly as popular as his other work, the more personal creations did in fact sell.

Which brings us to the scene playing out before your eyes.

You knew Taehyung was in the nursery/studio, but the last you’d seen your daughter she’d been playing with the wood blocks your mother had gifted for Chungae’s first birthday just a month ago. When you’d looked up from your book, panic gripped your chest when you couldn’t immediately see your baby. She was mobile now, and that fact alone filled your poor heart with terrifying possibilities. You stood immediately. The apartment was small; she couldn’t have gotten far. You’d hear her if she cried, wouldn’t you?

Making you way down the hall, you scanned every room you met until you got to her bedroom. The door was open, of course (the only door that closed was your own and the bathroom, the others permanently baby proofed), and there she was with her sweet hands covered in thick purple paint.

“Oh my God!” you exclaimed in reflex. You could imagine it now: your precious baby sticking her curious hands in her curious mouth and you sobbing over the phone with poison control while Taehyung lay unconscious behind you, because the motherfucker was sitting on the floor right beside her, looking fond.

Your outburst got his attention, and he must have seen the devil in your eyes because his grin fell, eyes widened. He immediately put down his brush and reached for Chungae’s hand, engulfing her entire fist with his much larger palm.

“Baby, I can expla- .”

“Why the hell are you painting on the floor?” You growed, diving in immediately and scooping up your baby, getting a blouse full of paint in the process. Small price. You stormed out of the room, taking Chungae to the bathroom and running her chunky fist under the faucet to wash away the paint. She went along with it quite passively.

Taehyung was right behind you.

“My knee hurt so I didn’t want to stand,” he explained, “And I swear didn’t think she’d come in while I was working. She stuck her hand in the paint before I even knew what was happening, I swear I wouldn’t have let her eat much of it.”

You swear your neck crack at the speed in which it turned to him, eyes blazing. “Much of it?” You ground out, royally pissed.

Taehyung looked afraid. “It’s non-toxic I swear! She would have cried the second it touched her tongue.”

“Oh, I suppose that makes it so much better.” All the paint having been washed off your baby’s hand, you dried it on the hanging towel and stalked from the room.

Though outwardly fired up, you were relieved to hear the paint was non-toxic. Still, your adrenaline was pumping and you weren’t done being irritated at Taehyung’s shortsightedness. He was supposed to keep her from getting into things that could harm her!

“I’m so sorry, truly,” Taehyung said, reaching out to grip your shoulder, and you could tell he meant it. “But when she did it, I had an idea. What if I let her make a mess of a canvas and then I could, I don’t know, add a little here and there and see how it turns out? We could hang it above her crib.”

He looked really into the idea. Despite the scolding a moment ago, your unflappable husband had returned. You looked between him and Chungae, who grunted, apparently in agreement. Despite yourself, you find the idea… precious.

“Fine,” you decide, turning toward him. “But keep her hands out of her mouth! Actually, just use the baby safe paints to be safe.” Because of course you had those. How couldn’t you?

Taehyung beams brightly and reaches for his daughter, bringing her close to his face as he giggles in excitement.

“Change her when you’re done!” you call to his retreating back, looking down sadly at your ruined blouse. He merely coos at Chungae about giving mommy a heart attack to which your child responds with garbled enthusiasm. Traitor.

A day or so passes before you see the finished result. When you ask him how it went after dinner, Taehyung decides to make it a surprise on the spot. Which you don’t understand but let it go because it’s honestly low on your concerns at the moment. Because you’re apparently banned from the nursery until it’s finished, Taehyung is solely responsible for the bedtime ritual. An arrangement you’re not opposed to. Chungae is an easier baby now that she’s a little older, but she hates bath time and cries (loudly) the second she’s in the water. Bath toys and fun animal wash mitts be damned.

You don’t know why he’s dragging this out. But the extra twenty minutes at your disposal in the evening is a gift you won’t question. Besides, there’s nothing keeping you from the bathroom so you’re on call to help if the need arises.

It’s another quiet day when Taehyung decides the time has come. He’s in his studio while you’re reading to Chungae, pointing out the farm animals and mimicking their sounds. She giggles uncontrollably at your impression of a cow. You’re near the end of the book when you hear the shuffle of Taehyung’s slippers as he comes down the hall, pausing at the doorway and calling your name.

“It’s ready now, if you want to see it.” He’s wearing a paint-stained smock over a pair of loose pajamas, his hands buried in the pockets and a coy smile curving his lips. He looks soft and relaxed and you can’t believe he can manage to look so handsome with such little effort.

“Sure,” you chirp, setting the book down and situating Chungae on your hip as you rise. You’re still wearing pajamas yourself, and you can’t help but grimace at the small tear in the bottoms along the seam of your thigh. While you love the casual intimacy you and your husband share, you wish you had the energy most days to make more of an effort.

One day. You remind yourself. Not today, but someday again. Hopefully soon.

You follow your husband down back to his studio. The canvas is much larger than you expected and is obstructed by a sheet. He must see the confusion in your eyes because he chuckles and gestures to an unfinished canvas propped against a storage cabinet, the wet paint reflecting the overhead light.

“That’s been done since this morning,” he says gesturing to the covered canvas. “Wanted to give the paint a little time to cure before I covered it.”

“Why?”

“For the dramatic reveal. You’ll see,” he says with a wink. Always a perchance for the dramatic and exciting, that one. It made your lips curl into a fond smile.

Taehyung undid his smock and hung it on the hook on the door, reaching out for his daughter so they could both present this painting to you. As if it was suddenly a gift to you, which further confused you. This…was your daughters’? Technically? Why the pomp and circumstance?

“Do you need a drum roll?” you joked, humoring him. He rolled his eyes while positioning himself in front of the easel.

“Without further ado,” he began, bouncing Chungae for effect. “I present to you, the debut work of emerging artist Kim Chungae and her father, master doodler, Kim Taehyung. It’s called, ‘With Mama’.”

You don’t know what you were expecting.

But it certainly wasn’t this.

Instead of glorified finger painting, messy and unceremonious, the finished painting looked intentional. Every line, every curve a clear pathway, drawing the eye over and under. There were movements of bright colors, pinks and blues and yellows beneath the more toned down blues and greens and greys. The swirling and diving shapes created something which looked at first glance to be two entwined figures but looking closer the subject matter became clear. A woman with her hair wild behind her, cradling a smiling baby. It was all very stylized; it could be any woman or any baby. But you knew it was meant to be you holding Chungae.

It was beautiful.

Taehyung’s voice brings you back from your surprise, his voice soft. “You should have seen it, our girl’s a natural. I didn’t do much; just put a story where she made the shapes. Do you… like it?” He doesn’t sound uncertain, not really. He’s confident and comfortable in his craft but he does love it when you love what he’s made. Which is nearly everything so far.

“Like it,” you breathe, taking a step closer and eyeing the canvas while your hand blindly reaches out to touch Taehyung’s broad shoulder. “I love it. How…” you can’t help the laugh that bubbles from your throat. “How the hell. You’re too damn talented, Tae.”

He chuckles cutely at the praise but denies it all the same. “Nah, just a talented co-artist and beautiful subject matter.” He’s so damn cheesy but you’re besotted all the same, cooing at his sweet words.

You decided to throw out your original plan of hanging it above Chungae’s crib, instead hanging it in the living room. You would’ve seen it every day regardless, but you like how it looks in the room your family spends most of the day in. It inspires you to finally create the gallery wall you’ve always wanted, gathering pictures of your little family that had been scattered throughout the apartment and giving them a home. It’s a little crooked but Taehyung tells you it’s perfect. His and Chungae’s painting at the center.

You still can’t believe Taehyung made that from whatever Chungae put down on the canvas. Part of you wishes you’d been privy to the whole process, that you’d seen her little hands making a mess. And that night, after Chungae is in bed, you tell Taehyung as much.

“You should paint something else,” you suggested, sinking into the couch cushions beside him while he looked for something to watch on Netflix. “With Chungae, I mean.”

Taehyung’s eyes flick to yours briefly, before returning to the television. “Hm? I thought you wanted to wait until she was older?”

“And I still kinda do, but I also wanna see what else you can create,” you explain. “And I didn’t get to see what Chungae made before. She could’ve had a genius composition you totally wrecked with your collaboration.”

“Hey!”

You laughed. “I’m kidding, but seriously. Consider this a gentle poke in that direction if you feel so inspired.”

He happily agrees to consider it, pulling you closer to him and tugging a blanket over your laps. The two of you settled in for your movie, finding comfort in the routine of it all after a day like any other. Tomorrow would likely be similar, without perhaps the pomp and circumstance of Taehyung’s dramatic reveal. But who could tell? You never quite knew with Taehyung but in all honestly you wouldn’t want it any other way.