It’s pretty amazing how easily an almost two-year-old finds it to repeat words and sounds you make. Greg likes to play a musical game with Eliza where he makes “bah bah bah” or “lah lah lah” sounds in varying patterns and she repeats them. This would be an example of a good mime. This morning at our usual diner for our weekly Saturday morning family breakfast, Eliza decided she wanted to take part in the conversation, so she kept saying, “So, um … “. This she has picked up from me. I think I start most conversations this way. I would judge this to be neither good nor bad, but a sort of annoying habit (of mine). Then there are the imitations you wish you didn’t know came from you.
Eliza and I were making hazelnut gelato this morning. She wants to help with everything in the kitchen, and I’m embracing this as best I can by having her stand on a stepping stool by me while I prep or cook. (You can see where this is going.) She was so helpfully stirring the cream mixture on the stove when she decided that our sweet gelato needed some salt. She dipped her left hand in the salt bowl I keep next to the stove, and as she lifted her hand to sprinkle a handful into the pot, I stopped her mid-move and said, “Oh, geez, we don’t want salt in our ice cream. No thank you. That would be bad” (or something like that). Yes, she got a little in the pot, but most of it went all over the counter and stove top. It wasn’t a big disaster. But my tone and volume made it clear to her this was a no-no. She looked at me and said, “Dammit.” I said, “Wha-hut?” And she said, “Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. Shoot. Dammit.” I started giggling, which is probably not the best way to react to behavior you want to curb. And as she continued to say it, I then explained to her that “dammit” wasn’t a good word and I was sorry for using it myself. She probably picked it up four days ago, when she grabbed my empty glass while I was nursing, started walking away, and after I asked her to bring it back and she didn’t, dropped it on the floor, breaking it into pieces around her bare feet. Or perhaps she heard it three days ago, when I walked into the kitchen for TEN SECONDS to get my pumping supplies and I heard a crash, and she had knocked over my full cup of coffee onto the floor, breaking the mug and making a huge mess.
The important thing is not how she came to know how to use the word “Damnit,” but that she came to know how to use it. In the salt mess of this morning, I realized just how much she is learning from me, whether it’s good or bad. This is the only job I’ve ever had where every word that comes out of my mouth is unforgiving; where someone else’s development into the person he or she is going to be is dependent on my actions. So, the first thing I’m going to do is switch to “Darnit.” The second thing I’m going to do is start counting in my head to ten before I say anything after an accident. She is a toddler and disasters big and small are part of the job. And third, I’m going to count my lucky stars that at least it’s “Damnit,” and not an uglier word. At LEAST I have that going for me.