Clearly, You See Me: A Parent Realizes Her Influence

It was a typical day ending with our nightly bedtime story. My then 4-year-old proudly announced, “Mommy, I can read.” Impressed, I handed her the book of nursey rhymes. She held the book with both hands, enthusiastically looking at the picture. She straightened her shoulders and began, “Eh hem hem hem hem hem! Mary had a little lamb.” I looked incredulously at my beautiful child. What awful sound was that? It sounded like an overused lawnmower choking back to life after a long winter’s break. “Malia,” I asked, “what was that noise you made before you started reading?” Her eyes met mine, confused, “That’s how you read a book, Mommy. You start with ‘eh hem hem hem hem hem!'”

I was astounded! I do? Then it occurred to me, something I had never noticed about myself: I clear my throat before reading, placing a phone call, or speaking in front of a group. She was imitating me thinking it was a natural process of reading out loud, when in fact it was just a bad habit I had unknowingly developed. I had no idea she was taking inventory of everything I do — the good, the bad, and the ugly!

That idea spilled into another, more terrifying one: If she had adopted something as insignificant as throat clearing, what else did I do that she was sewing into the very fabric of her being? Now everything was suspect. Did I speak kindly to others? Did I use “colorful” language? Did she notice that I stuffed the socks in the drawer rather than nicely stacking them to fit? Did she see me sneak that Hershey’s milk chocolate bar BEFORE dinner?

The reality of my responsibility sprung to life as deliberately as that old lawnmower. Not only was I going to stop the loud and inelegant habit of barbaric throat clearing, but I was also going to take a candid look at myself and try to make healthy, informed choices that would by osmosis model and shape the young life I was responsible for.

If nothing else, this throat clearing lesson opened my eyes to the little eyes upon me — even when I was not looking. After a careful inventory, I chose to speak with kinder words (even to myself), eat at the table rather than the couch, and listen with my full attention focused. I wanted to offer her the best of me so that she could gather the best habits and mannerisms for herself.

Now that I was fully aware of who was watching me and drinking in my little nuances, I tried to display behaviors that provided nourishment rather than ones unintentionally laced with toxins. And now, many years later, I can see that my little sponge soaked in quite a few lovely habits and absorbed a couple that I overlooked. I can say that I did my best. As for her little habit of leaving her shoes in front of the shoe rack rather than on it, that came from her father, I swear!

Wendy Miller is the program director for West Virginia Birth to Three RAU One, a program of Catholic Charities West Virginia. She has one daughter.

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