I think one of the ways God keeps us parents humble is by creating our children to mimic everything we do.
Just when you feel like super-mom because you mastered the never-ending to-do list all while keeping the family happy… who am I kidding? That never happens. Let me try that again…
Just when you feel proud
for being a parenting rockstar, because your children never fight, for making it an entire day without screwing up in the parenting department… UGH.
Just when you feel good because you finally had ONE positive parenting moment, you overhear one of your kids on their “phone” say in a remarkably familiar tone, “You have got to be kidding me. What an idiot!” Or the other child drops a toy and says in frustration with a furrowed brow, “dogGONit!”
Yep, there is no way one can get a big head with the little mini-mes running around highlighting every one of your flubs, parenting or otherwise. And it isn’t just the things you say. Their mannerisms, body language, and how they react to things can often mirror each other and mom and dad. (Although I have no idea where Annalise picked up that eye roll with a sigh thing. Seriously. Just don’t ask her dad about it.)
What I’ve begun to realize is that as they get older, the mimicking changes a bit.
A 2-year old often mimics immediately and verbatim – or as close to verbatim as was understood. I say, “Jacob, come here and give mommy a kiss.” He says, “Give mommy kiss?” I say, “Why is your shirt all dirty?” He says, “Because my shirt all doody.” I get frustrated and let out a loud “uuugggghhh!” Jacob does the same, and then looks at me with a big dimpled grin, apparently proud of his ability to remind me that he is always listening and capable of repeating anything. Anything.
The 2-year old also mimics seemingly mindlessly. At least the chatty 2-year-old does. What I mean is, while his mouth is constantly moving, he can hear something from a distance and add it to the continual chatter.
Example: While in the grocery store, Jacob was telling me a story about Maggie, the dog at Bev’s house. Despite his sister constantly interrupting him to tell me we should buy this or that, or that we really neeeeeed fruit snacks and chocolate covered granola bars, and even though I wasn’t fully focused (I did slip in a number of “Uh-huhs,” and “Oh, wow!”s so he knew I was “listening”), the boy just. didn’t. stop. talking. You’d think that while one was so busy ignoring his sister and telling every detail of his interactions with a puppy, one would not be aware of other sounds, such as the background music and intermittent advertisements being played in the store. But you would be wrong. Because as he told his never-ending story, he’d take a break to comment on whatever it was the nice lady on the loud speaker was advertising. “And den (then) Maggie wunned (ran) over and… she said choc-o-wat, Mama. Choco-wat nummy. Wight, mama? Wight? It nummy. We should get some of dat too… and Maggie wunned over and fall down wif a big cwash! She cwashed and it was so funny! And… she said da qwackers on sale. Did you hear, mama? Da qwackers nummy, too. Day on sale!….And den Maggie got up and…”
How does he do that? I can barely hear him and Annalise and pay attention to my grocery list without running the cart into things. He can tell a story, block out Annalise-noise, hear and repeat commercials, and continue his story where he left off, all the while pointing out things he’d like to buy as we pass them. He is the only male I know that can successfully multi-task.
The 2-year old has an unusually keen sense of hearing. He can pick up on whispered phrases, but he is most talented at catching things said in another part of the house. While he and his sister argue over a toy for the thousandth time, one parent (not mentioning any names) overhears in another room and says in frustration, “My gosh guys, c’mon!” Immediately we hear Jacob shout, “My gosh, guys, c’mon!” Followed by Leesie shouting, “JACOB! DON’T. SAY. GOSH! MOMMEEEEE! JACOB SAID GOSH!” Great.
Jacob is so good at repeating everything – at any time and from any part of the house – that I called him my little mocking bird. His reply, “I am not your walking-bird! I Jacobpweestman!” He then walked out of the room chattering, “walking-bird, walking-bird, walking bird…” Exactly. And how I love you, my little mocking bird.
4-year-old mocking birds mimic differently, for they are a bit wiser. These older and wiser mocking birds choose phrases they like and try them out at a later – and sometimes very random – time. This is their way of testing a phrase to see if it they want to add it to their repertoire.
Example: In a fit of anger for being put in time out, my sweet girl hollered from the corner of the hall. “Well… You… YOU… You’re just JEALOUS!” (Like I said, phrases are tested out at often very random times.)
So where’d that come from? I don’t recall ever using that phrase in front of her – or come to think of it – at all. It isn’t a word I use much, and certainly not in that tone. But she heard it somewhere and decided to try it out. Multiple times a day. For several weeks. And not once was it used correctly.
“Annalise, can you please pick up your toys?”
“No! You’re just JEALOUS!”
“Leesie, don’t talk to your brother like that!”
“You’re just JEALOUS, mom!” No. Actually I’m not. I’m really really not.
Or to Jacob, “Go away! You’re just JEALOUS!”
I explained to her that: 1) She clearly didn’t know what the word jealous means and was using the phrase incorrectly, 2) She was obviously trying to be mean, and that wasn’t okay, and 3) If she continued to use it, there would be consequences. Not because the actual phrase was mean, but because her intentions were. (After explaining that one, she tried out the word “intentions” for a few days on me… until she couldn’t remember what word it was anymore.)
“You’re just jealous!” was also then adopted by brother-mocking-bird, who used it on me a few times as well. It’s very difficult to keep a straight face when a super-cute-toddler-trying-(unsuccessfully)-to-have-a-very-stern–face says to you, “You so jealous, mom!”
Jealous? Of wearing diapers? Of having to depend on others to feed and clothe me? Of playing all day? Of daily naps? Of having no responsibility whatsoever? Yeah, actually. Maybe I am. Except for the diapers part.
In any case, I’m glad that phrase finally ran its course and was not permanently added to the 4-year-old’s repertoire.
It can be very obvious when a 4-year-old mocking bird is trying out a new phrase, even when it is used correctly. They will often say it more than once, and they may look at you to study your reaction to their latest verbiage.
Example: We were on a walk, when we noticed a lady walking her boxer up ahead. Annalise’s Uncle Tom also has a boxer named Elby. While boxers can look very similar, this one was pretty different from Elby and clearly not him. Nevertheless, Annalise decided it was a good opportunity to test a new phrase. In a bit of a chatty middle-school-girlish voice, she said, “Woah! I saw that dog and thought it looked like Elby. But then I was like, what the heck? How could that be Elby out here? And Uncle Tom isn’t even around! So, what the heck???” Quick glance at mom to read my reaction.
I was like??? What the heck???? Is she a 14-year-old from the early 90’s or something? And where did she hear that phrase in the first place? What the h…. Ohhhh… Never mind. Turns out I am the 14-year-old from the early 90’s. And she is just my mocking bird. But I would never tell her that. Because she is wise, and sensitive, and she is ever-trying to be her own person. Only while doing so, she ends up a lot like me. How I love you so, my beautiful and wise 4-year-old mocking bird.
The best (or worst, depends on how you look at it) of the mocking bird mimicking comes, not in words and phrases, but in actions. In moments where you see your little birds doing exactly what you would do. It is the best, because you know how much they really are like you, and somehow, that is comforting. But it is also the worst, because you know how much they really are like you, and that is also very very frightening.
Example: Jacob loves his little cars. He has oh-so-many of them. More than a 2-year old needs, for sure. He sleeps with them, carries them around the house, and takes them everywhere we go in the car. This morning, we heard him talking loudly in the other room. We weren’t sure exactly what he was playing, but his voice was boisterous, as though he were announcing something. This went on for a few minutes before Matt came to me and said, “Come here. Come see what your son is doing.”
My son? Why my son? Is he being naughty, so you don’t claim him? This is what I found:
Not naughty. Just organized and categorizing. Disney cars on the right, other cars on the left/back, larger cars on the ground. And all lined up neatly. (His loud talking was introducing each vehicle “on stage.”)
Yes. My son. How proud I felt. My boy. Linear thinker. So neat. So organized. Just like his mama, who keeps all the pencils in the container with the erasers at one end, turns all the mugs in the cupboard so the handles face the same way, stacks things in cute organized bins including one labeled “Labels,” and always – always – straightens poker chips when playing Texas Hold ‘Em so the white marks on the rim of the chips make a straight white line all the way down. (Clearly, I just play for fun with friends. I’m not sure that kind of behavior would be allowed in casinos. I don’t care which stack is bigger… just give me the straight chips.)
Unnerving chaos: Better, but still needing adjustments:
My mocking bird. Organizing his cars. I must get a picture. I grabbed my phone, doing my best to overlook the small gap between two of the cars and stopping myself from straightening the one that was slightly crooked at the end. He will learn. Noticing those details will come with time.
And then, just as I’m about to snap the shot, my 4-year-old mocking bird jumps up. “Wait! Let me just straighten this car and push these together,” she says while scooting the row of cars over, ignoring the protests from her brother.
Ah, yes. And there are drawbacks to my OCD behavior. I recall that now. Over-organizing. Wanting things my way. Not being happy with good enough. That’s right… just when I start feeling proud, my mocking birds remind me of my faults and keep me humble.
But oh, how I love those birds, my gifts. I must do better, for them. They motivate me.
And so my prayer:
LORD, just for today, give me the strength to be patient and loving at all times. To keep my cool, but to be warm to the little ones around me. When I am proud, remind me that “everything good in me is You, everything else is just me.” Help me to model less of me and more of You. And for my little birds, help me to speak JOY, GRACE, and uplifting words of STRENGTH, so they will do the same. ~ Amen