Having a toddler is like having a permanent voyeur living in your house. They see and hear everything. Except of course, the things you want them to see and hear. I still have to show Harrison how to put his underwear on right side front every day.
"Remember the tag goes on your bottom, sweetheart."
He doesn't find underwear placement terribly fascinating and thus it gets a microscopic amount of his attention span. It doesn't matter how many times I've shown him. Nor does it matter how many times I ask him to carry out a request. I could be talking to a stone wall, for the responsiveness I'm getting.
"Hey buddy, please take your plate to the sink?" "Harrison, I think you forgot you plate, sweetie." "Where you going little man? You still haven't cleared your plate." H-a-r-r-r-i-s-o-n... come back in here and put away your plate, please."
Then there's the full cursing tirade I'm having while driving. That he's listening to. His little ears tune in like a satellite and he starts rapid fire questions to make sure he understands the full scope of what is happening.
"Mommy, was that other driver being rude?" "Are you very angry with them?" "Why did they turn that way?" "Did they almost crash us?" "What exactly did you just say?" "But what was that other part?" "No, not the watch out part.. .the other part. What was that last word you said?"
"Rick," I say. "He looks a bit like a guy I know named Rick... so... I just called him that."
He's not fooled. He's not sure what I just said, but he's confident it wasn't Rick. I can tell he's planning to listen harder next time, but I fear that won't keep me from calling out a "Rick" the next time I see one.
You can also never... ever... ever talk about someone who your child knows in a way that you don't want repeated. If you do, then you are sure to face that moment when you are having a conversation with said person and your tot struts up to say
"Mommy says you only talk to her when you need something. What are you needing today?"
At which point, you are totally busted. There is no explaining that comment in a different context. Just fess. It will be a good lesson for everyone involved. That's the thing about having a behavior sponge around all day. It really does make you mindful of your actions.
I tend to see the world through Harrison's eyes quite a bit. I wonder what does and does not seem cruel to him? He's so innocent and untouched by life, up to this point, that his vantage seems much more pure than mine. Explaining the hows and whys of the things you do, a small person can either validate the way you do things or make you think your actions are ludicrous.
Harrison is like my moral compass. If I can't tell him why I do something the way I do it, then maybe I shouldn't be doing it, right? Obviously, there is the concept of age appropriate understanding, but let's take meat production standards for example. It's one thing to explain to a child how a local farm operates and a whole other thing to explain how a factory farm operates.
Now consider the concept of bullying and violence. Is zero violence really a reasonable policy? You can read some of my thoughts on that matter here.
The bottom line is that I would looooove to live in a world without violence, but until that actually happens, will I teach my son that he's not allowed to stand up for himself? Uhhhh, no.
Trust me when I tell you that I find it just as terrifying as you probably do that I am the one Harrison is watching and learning from. It's no small responsibility, this example business. At least I am aware of it, and I am doing my absolute best to be the person I want my son to mimic.
I'm not getting it all right. I'm probably not even getting most of it right, but with a little luck and a lot of conscious behavior, I will raise a kind and considerate boy that will think about the effects of his actions.
Ok, so maybe he will let some curse words fly. Maybe he will be willing to blacken a bully's eye, but I also imagine that he will be kind to animals, and people. I imagine that he will work to make this world a better place.
I think he can do it. Just by being him.