Mirror, mirror on the wall…

We’re all aware that toddlers repeat things we say. We watch our language around them. Switch to another language if need be (Bengali, French, Klingon, whatever). Laboriously spell stuff out (“c-h-o-c-o-l-a-t-e”).

But what we often forget is that they’re also constantly observing what we do. They’re not just little parrots; they’re also little mimics, mirroring our behaviour, learning how to be. I got a taste of this recently when my toddler was playing with her building blocks, and she got frustrated because what she was making wasn’t “perfect”.

I was shocked. I come from a family of perfectionists, and I’ve watched as we’ve all made ourselves miserable, setting impossible goals and beating ourselves up for not being able to reach them. So I decided early on not to be that way with my daughter. I don’t correct her when she mispronounces words in rhymes — I know she learns and corrects herself with time (we’ve progressed from ‘wheeshondabash’ to ‘wheels on the bus’, haven’t we?). I don’t insist that she colour within the lines — I know she’ll hear enough of that in school. I let her do her thing, and try not to nitpick. But I realised I use the P word when I do things for her. I’m not satisfied unless the dosai I make for her is ‘perfect.’ I berate myself when I ‘mess up’. It doesn’t matter what I tell her; she’s still watching me and learning to want things to be ‘perfect.’

I was equally appalled when she claimed the other day that she was “too lazy” to do something I asked her to. Yikes! She had to have learnt that from me. I say it all the time. “Nah, I’m feeling too lazy to go for a walk today.” Or, “Too lazy to cook, let’s order in.” I hadn’t even realised she was picking this stuff up. Obviously, I should start spelling out l-a-z-y. Or, better still, try not being lazy (ha! fat chance). Naturally, I started fretting. What sort of horrible example was I setting for my kid? I mean, by the looks of it, I was teaching her to be a lazy perfectionist, and if that isn’t a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is.

Of course, it’s not all bad. I’ve watched her very kindly teach a friend a nursery rhyme, and then clap for her, saying, “Very good!” Or heard her pay our neighbour a pretty compliment, telling her how much she liked her new dress. I knew she’d learnt those behaviours from me, and it felt good to know she’d picked up something good.

At other times, it’s just been hilarious to see her reflection of my actions. Like when she pretends to be working on her laptop: “I’m very busy, amma, don’t disturb me!” or pretends she’s late and runs around in a flutter saying, “Oh, where’s my phone? I can’t find my phone!” (It’s amazing how accurately she mimics my flustered tone. Well, maybe not that amazing, considering how often I say it. Nowadays, she’s taken to handing me my phone as soon as I get dressed to go out: “Here’s your phone, amma!” Saves time, on the whole.) Then there was that phase during her potty training days when she’d cheer for me every time I used the toilet: “Good job, Amma! I knew you could do it!”

Less funny are the times when I get a live demo of how annoying I must sound to her. Like when I’m worked up about something and she says, hands on hips, “Amma! You have to calm down!” Or when I drop all the vessels I’m carrying with a crash, and she wags her finger at me, saying, “Amma! I’ve told you… be more careful!” Talk about getting a taste of your own medicine. I swallow my words, force a smile and say, “Yes, of course, you’re right, baby.”

More and more, though, I see her reflect things I don’t always recognise — things she learns from teachers or friends. And I realise that I can’t control who she becomes. I can only do my best. I’m not perfect and neither is she, and that’s just fine by me.

Divya Kumar is a freelance journalist and stay-at-home mom. When she's not hanging out with her three-year-old daughter, she can usually be found writing and posting about her online

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2021 1:16:59 AM |

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