Hubby and I do not have children, so I figured myself immune to having to worry about the impression I may make on a child. It’s not really something I ever gave much thought to until my sister came to visit for a week with her three boys in tow. They ranged in ages 3-7 and were always eager to “help” with anything I would allow them to. They wanted to “help” walk the dogs, “help” do the dishes, “help” fix breakfast and “help” me carry the bags in the house. Their “help” turned normally quick tasks into awkwardly coordinated events filled with questions, explanations and perhaps the occasional loose dog or broken dish. I welcomed the additional time these things took because my nephews are normally 7 states away and I was just enjoying having them around.
The fact that they were actually learning from me hit like a slap in the face when one afternoon they wanted to “help” put the dogs up. At that time I kept my pooches in a room in the finished attic whenever I would leave the house. The boys ran up the stairs, ordered the pups to their beds, gave them their cookies and right as they were closing the door said “love each other”. And there it was…the exact phrase I used every time I left the house. My words repeated in small voices. That’s when it hit me that children absorb everything they see and hear adults do.
I’ve been confronted with this reality again and again since that moment. Now that we have the farm and the neighbor kid thinks of our place as the local petting zoo, I’ve heard my words in a young voice many times explaining back to me why horses do certain things, what chickens eat and other random pieces of information I have clearly spouted out at some point within earshot of a hungry mind. It is a phenomenal and scary thing. A reminder to always act and speak as if a child is watching and listening.