The other day, Coen and I were playing outside before heading to the store. We were chasing each other around the yard when he looked down, paused and forcefully plucked a dandelion from the ground. He sprinted towards me yelling, “Mommy, Mommy!” As he got closer, he handed me the yellow weed and said, “I got you a yellow flower. Smell it.” I did, and it smelled like dirt and RoundUp. But, my reaction said it smelled like rainbows and unicorns. “Oh, Coen! This is the prettiest flower mommy has ever gotten. I love it so much, I promise to keep it forever and ever and ever.” What I really meant was, “That was one of the sweetest gestures my child has ever shown me and I want that moment to be engrained in my mind forever and ever and ever.” But, that’s not what came out. And, that’s not what he heard. And that is all that matters.
I took my dandelion with me in to the car after pulling Coen up to his car seat and buckling him in. On the way to the store, I lodged the dandelion in the air conditioner vent below the radio and told him that’s where I plan on keeping it so I can look at it and think of him all the time. He smiled proudly and went back to loudly pointing out building colors outside his window. He didn’t mention it again for the rest of the night.
Two days later, I got in my car to drive to work and noticed my “pretty flower” looked like a yellow raisin. Definitely worthy of a garbage can. So that’s where it went – in to the garbage can. The next morning was trash day and off it went, to the city dump. An hour later, I packed the kids in the car to run some errands. I turned around to see Coen’s face drop in disappointment and, with a furrowed brow and wrinkled nose, he screamed, “Mommy, the flower! It’s GONE!” It was as if someone had decapitated Elmo right in front of his face. Something that meant so much to mommy three days earlier was now missing and that was not OK in the eyes of a two-year-old. He heard me say “I promise” and “forever and ever and ever” and those words really mean something to an innocent toddler. I threw that promise in the trash, sent it to the city dump, and didn’t think twice about it because, in my eyes, a dandelion is a dandelion and the neighborhood is far too full of them anyway.
When you become a parent, every sentence needs to be much more carefully crafted than they were sans child. Words need to be chosen with a (much) stronger filter for fear of repetition. What used to come out as “Christina Aguilera dresses like a homeless crack-whore” now needs to be expressed more delicately. “Christina Aguilera sure has an interesting taste in skin-tight, low-cut sequin bikini tops.” Then, to kill two birds with one stone, you can tack on your own “I hope” intro to subtly let your kids know your take on the situation. “I sure hope my daughter never buys clothes like that.” (I say it two inches from Mabel’s face in hopes that, even though she’s only three months old, she might pick up on my lecture.)
Every parent experiences that moment when you realize your kid is much more perceptible than you give them credit for. In my case, it could’ve been when I asked my pregnant nanny if she wanted to use my extra box of breast pads and Coen looked up from his morning toast and said, “You want a prest bads, Danielle?” It could’ve been when Aunt Julie (my role model sister) pretended to throw horse poop at Coen and he randomly shouted, “Mommy, there’s horse poop on your face!” in the grocery store. Or, it could’ve been when I scolded Coen for saying the word “stupid” and two minutes later, I told Nate something he said was “stupid” and…well, you can tell how this story of Mommy the Hypocrite is going to end.
The point of this story is that every parent does it, but the truly great ones feel guilty when it happens. Raising children is one of the world’s most accurate self-reflectors. We can all do our best to avoid cursing unnecessarily at crappy rush-hour drivers, tapping our dog on the butt when she barks during nap time, and complaining obsessively about your job on those truly horrible work days. A kid picks up on everything, including your behavior, your attitude, your temperament, and your phrases. Take the good ones as mini success stories, like when they drop an unsolicited “I love you” or add “please” to the end of “I want a cookie.” So, choose wisely. And always remember that accepting something as a lie is not an option at their age. If you say it, you mean it. A promise is a promise. Take it from me and my yellow weed…er, flower.