My daughter Sadie was considered a late talker. There were several pediatrician appointments where I had to answer the standard, “So, does she say at least ten words?” or “So, is she now saying at least 20 words?” questions with, “Umm no, actually she still says zero words.” Actually I’m pretty sure she said ‘thigh-high’ when she was 7 months old, but besides that? Nothing. I had to make a conscious effort not to pressure her, and not to get panicky that she wasn’t talking, when all her little friends were asking for “more” and saying “bye-bye” and yelling “mama!”. She’s always been very physical, and several girlfriends of mine reassured my by saying they’ve noticed that kids who are extremely physical tend to talk closer to 2, maybe because they’re simply extra focused on mastering their movement skills instead.
And sure enough, when Sadie turned 21 months (yes we still count in months, as annoying as it sounds) the floodgates finally opened. She went from saying almost nothing at all to learning 5 words a day, every day. Tons and tons of adorable words that most people can’t understand. And it’s just as much fun as I have been anticipating. Except when I’m alone with her and she bumps her head and she tearfully says, “Papa?”. Yeaaah, then it’s not quite so fun. Before she talked it was easier to pretend I was her one and only.
By far, her favorite thing to say is “okay”. She uses it in place of the word “yes”. She quietly says it to herself as she is playing. She yells it to announce that I’m being instructed to read her a book. She gasps it through her tears while taking deep breaths to calm herself down after a tantrum. She says it to dismiss me when I’m getting a little too kissy-face for her liking.
Here’s the crazy part. All of that is me. To the letter. I say “okay” probably 50 times a day. No exaggeration. I use it for just about everything. I use it in the place of “yes”. I say it when I’m starting a new activity, to mentally focus myself. I say it with satisfaction when I’m wrapping up a project. I mutter it to myself repeatedly when I’m confused by something. I say it verrrry slooooowly when someone says something that I don’t agree with and I’m trying to organize my thoughts. I exclaim it when I’m excited. And she has copied my inflections EXACTLY. It’s really weird to hear.
Actually it’s scary. And sobering. Not because she copies me saying “okay”. But because I realize now just how closely she is watching me. How closely she is listening to me. And thank the LORD that her first Sadie-ism is something positive that she has chosen to pick up from me. Cause man oh man… it could have easily gone another way.
She could have chosen to pick up my sigh when I look in the mirror and notice how tired I look. She could have chosen to copy how I tend to say, “Hellooooooo…?” in an irritated tone of voice when we’ve been waiting for the elevator for 4 minutes and I’m impatient to get out the door. She could have chosen to imitate me saying, “What is going OOOONNN??”, which is my phrase of choice when I have technical problems with something in the house. She could have picked up my “Are you freaking KIDDING me??” when we just barely miss the subway, even when there is no deadline to get where we’re going. She could be wandering around self-consciously touching her adorably round baby belly to check if it’s hanging out over her waistband, the way she has seen me do.
She could have latched onto any of my not-so-admirable habits, but she didn’t. She chose something lovely. “Okay” is a positive word… full of possibilities. Full of hope. Fresh starts. Allowing yourself to feel satisfaction for a job well done. It’s about eagerly looking ahead, but also living right here in the moment. That’s what the world is about to toddlers, I suppose. And the fact that she chose this mama-ism as her first Sadie-ism is such a blessing to me because it gives me a chance to look at myself BEFORE she starts picking up those other bits of me that make me cringe. I want to be exactly the way she sees me. Kind. Wise. Strong. Compassionate. Patient. Good lord. Help me be patient.
My wish is that my child learns all of these things from watching me. I want her to emulate a mother who displays generosity and gentleness. Self-confidence. Empathy for others around her. Curiosity. Joy. Not eye rolls and sighs. It kind of feels like I’ve been given the amazing gift of time…that I’ve been given a little flick on the forehead to help me realize that it’s not just about what I actively teach my daughter. It’s about what is MODELED to her.
If I talk to her about treating others with compassion, if I tell her that we never know what someone else is going through, so we should always be kind and loving, even if someone treats us poorly, but then I turn around and mutter “Geez, what was HIS problem?” after being given major attitude from the guy behind the counter at FedEx, which of those is going to make a bigger impression on her? I’m pretty sure I know the answer.
So for now, I’m going to relish every instance that my daughter parrots something I’m proud to have modeled for her, and use those moments as fuel and encouragement in my difficult quest to do as I say. To walk the walk.
Anyone else have this experience? Have you seen a behavior in your child that makes you cringe because you know they got it from you and it’s not what you want for either of you? How have you handled it?