When you have a tiny baby, you may spend much of your life trying and failing to be the parent and person you want to be, but you havent yet made enough of an imprint onto this blank canvas of a child- that other people will ever know that you are anything less than the parent you aspire to. As they get older, they copy your expressions slightly, your mannerisms, and emulate you when caring for their dolls- but stil, there is no clue to the outside world, of anything apart from what you show.
Then the miracle of speech happens.
It is natures idea of a practical joke, that children develop communication before they develop reason. Once you have finished tending to the basic needs of this child in your care- feeding, bathing, dressing- you are left to teach them about the world. Unfortunately, whatever your intentions are- that teaching does not come from the wisdom you choose to impart, like a stressed out Yoda- but from them watching an absorbing everything you do or say. They judge you, not with a developed understanding of the nuances of the world- but with the unquestioning eye and black and white logic, of an unforgiving mini Dr.Spock.
This week, we have mainly been talking about swearing. The concept of swearing was introduced, when out of the blue, my 10 month old daughter, uttered the beautifully formed and enunciated word ‘Cunt’. Up until that point, I had never considered that she understood language(apart from milk, mummy and daddy)- and I did try to say to her dad that it was only his behaviour that had necessitated the use of the word in the first place- but I was suitably shamed, and realised from this point on- this child would show up every single character defect I had. Oh, how right I was.
The dreaded ‘C’ word, has not reared its head again(due to creation of the word ‘Custard’ which is a cross between ‘Cunt’ and ‘Bastard’- but which can be safely uttered around the smaller members of our society). But the theme of Rachel showing up my every flaw, has continued in earnest.
I abandoned the concept of ‘naughty words’- after I told her that ‘bugger’ was a naughty word, and it was repeated whenever said child was in a mood for mischief. My telling her that it was not nice to say ‘bugger’ was met with the explanation that it was ‘nice cos it was NORTY!’. This showed me very clearly that an alternative strategy was needed. Although if we are honest, her reasoning is a philosophy which has served me well in many areas of my life.
The attempted removal of expletives from my own speech, as well as a refusal to give attention, when the occasional exploratory swear word came from her mouth- was very effective. No swear words, not even beautifully uttered and enunciated ones, came forth. My occasional lapses were ignored, and life continued as normal.
THen someone, not me I might add, had the bright idea of telling Rachel that words were ‘Naughty’. Yesterday, while sat in a cafe, a young man on a nearby table, was reprimanded by my two year old, for saying such a naughty word- and during the discussion that they entered into- also explained ‘My mummy says naughty words when she is on the pooter and the telephone, but she is always naughty”. Thanks snitch.
And this is what toddlers do. They absorb what you say and do, and without any reason, or understanding of concepts of discretion, and tact- they proudly show what they have learned to the outside world.
From the introduction of my boyfriend(who is also Rachels godfather, her favourite pet, and who wasnt even allowed to kiss me in front of her for 6 whole months) to her nursery worker as ‘J, who sleeps in my mummys bed’, to very vocal questions about whether I have lost my keys again, every time we get within 5 minutes of our house. The flicking through a magazine, with loud statements that she ‘liked those shoes but that dress looks cheap’, the correction to my friend, that we did have sweeties, its just that we kept them in mummys bedroom drawer. Through to the telling of the world that ‘mummy is grumpy and needs a cup of tea cos I am a pain in the bum’. She proudly exposes my every parenting weakness, and character flaw, to a visibly amused world.
When Rachel bumped her leg, while her dad was carrying her downstairs- I am sure the constant repetition of the exclamation ‘My daddy smashed my leg into the wall and I CRIED’, did not raise any concerns about her father(incidentally also a child protection social worker…), and I am quite sure that the proud exclamations that ‘mummy will let me have a pot noodle for tea if am a good girl’(entirely untrue- I ONCE gave her a taste out of my pot noodle-pot noodle being one of my guilty dirty pleasures in a life dominated by fair trade produce, and organic veg), or the statement that I was planning on selling her on ebay for pooing in her nappy(and I have NO clue where that one came from!It wasnt me-I always plasters on a smile when welcome with a big steaming turd!)- have never led our friends and acquantinances to question our parenting.
I am taking Rachel on holiday with 6 of my friends, and their children, on Monday, and I am in no doubt, that after a week with Rachel they will be a) making phone calls to our local social services team b) convinced that I am a woman with such loose morals, and character flaws- that I should never have been allowed to attempt parenthood in the first place! The latter may possibly right…