There’s been a definite shift in the house this last week. Nothing seismic, but a noticeable ripple. While I’ve been paddling away fairly nicely through mama-hood, with no major capsizes or man-overboard type emergencies, suddenly I feel like I’ve hit the Mekong delta with no experience as to which direction I should go in. (OK, so a little lie there: I have actually been down the Mekong delta, but it was crossing the border from Cambodia into Vietnam in a speedboat in 2002. But that’s a whole other story!)
My daughter has just hit 17mos. She has all her teeth except her eye-teeth, hair down to her shoulders (and maybe a little bit past), size 6 toddler shoes, a strong little body which delivers an amazingly firm hug, a vocabulary expanding by the day …. and a newly exerted willful mind of her own.
My previously pliable baby girl now wants to do things her way, or she’ll get mad, whine and maybe (just maybe) she’ll scream a bit, or a lot, in Walgreens. OH. Not to mention writhing out my grasp to run in the opposite direction from me, or where we’re heading, to grab shampoo bottles off the shelves. Yes, I guess pretty normal toddler behavior.
But, there’s something I witness in these moments of toddlerhood where it’s as if I’m looking at a little version of myself in the mirror. Again, no strange thing I suppose, but there’s no doubt where it comes from. There’s something in that determined look in her eyes, with her brow furrowed and chin jutted forward. Not to mention her growing strength of will or the dangerously adventurous spirit. And sometimes it’s simply when I catch a glimpse of that cheeky smile as she’s getting up to some sort of mischief.
Gazing at my miniature reflection makes my mind explode into all sorts of different directions. This little person is mimicking me. Is partly me. Do I like the ‘me’ she is mimicking? The part of ‘me’ that she has been embedded with? And what of those behaviors I should be addressing that I don’t want her to be mimicking? Or all the other people, children and animals she may mimic – and then, oh, I’ve gone a bit too far off piste.
Enough with the introspection already! Let’s get back to the point: How the hell are we going to parent her now? It feels like so far we’ve just being keeping her fed, safe, loved and helped her develop into a running toddler who can stick her toy teapot in the diaper pail. But now what? It appears that our parenting skills are about to take a sharp exponential learning growth curve upwards.
My ECFE moderator asked an interesting question last week: What were your parents like at parenting? And, how did you respond to them?
Now that I think about it, it’s a fairly obvious question, and one that had lingered in my mind many a time in the past. But sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, you can easily lose this train of thought.
But, interestingly, there glints the other side of my double-sided mirror.
On one side, the small version of myself, my daughter, who is staring daringly at me with my kind-of expensive sunglasses (that she’d nabbed from my handbag for the third time) upside-down on her head to see what move I’m going to make next. And on the other glistens the deep pool of where I come from: my parent’s parenting.
For some this parenting business may be a piece of cake. You may have had years of experience, or you’re simply just a natural at it or you’re sure that you want to emulate your fantastic role models verbatim. Some people are lucky that way. Me? Well, I’d like to think I’m not in the minority in feeling that I don’t know what I’m really doing a lot of the time and while there are some things I’d like to take from my parents’ parenting styles, there are others I would like to do differently. That’s called evolution after all, isn’t it?
And this is where it becomes a complicated algorithm of somehow converting the unwitting mimicry of behavior patterns learned from your parents into your own brand of parenting (via other role models, books, classes, researching dog pack mentality… whatever works for you!) while consciously understanding that in some way you are talking to ‘yourself’ and concurrently trying to set the example for what your child may mimic in the far away years to come. Sounds a bit like walking into a Hall of Mirrors and getting horribly lost, doesn’t it?
But, perhaps it could be more simply thought of as being parenting aware.
And for me, being aware really comes down to how I feel after I’ve had to implement some semi-serious parenting skills. I’ll know deep inside myself whether or not it felt right. Whether or not I was too impulsive and leaped too quickly from that deep pool of my parent’s parenting. And then maybe that I could have done it differently. The positive in this is that I can be sure there will be a next time, and many others to follow, and on all those next times I can change it up a bit, and see what the outcome is then. It’s of course a bit hit or miss I admit. But then then raising a child has been the biggest game of hit or miss I’ve every played!
So, my little mimic and I had lunch today, and she copied me eating like a lunatic. Silly faces, crazy noises etc., you know the drill – sure makes eating those noodles all the more fun! And all the while I admired her being her own person, she chose to mimic what she wanted to, and when it came to eating the potato cake she flatly refused. (Wierdo!) But, it’s these choices in mimicry that define our own unique person, which means that while I can worry about being the perfect role model for her, I realize she is even now deciding who she will become, and how.
How fabulous is that?
And while I am the palette from which she selects her colors, it is she who chooses to mix them in whatever way she likes. My amazing reward is to then stand back and watch the painting come to life.
Oh, and clean up the brushes and sticky handprints on the wall.