"I hungry!" I heard my two year old exclaim to his brother around 6:45. I was already up with the baby but I was hoping that I could buy myself another 15 minutes by staying very quiet. "Me tell Mama!" he yelled. "NO DREW!" my oldest answered in an exaggerated whisper. "It's not seven zero zero! What do you want to eat?" he asked. "Oatmeal," my toddler answered hopefully. Maybe, just maybe, his brother could help fend off his starvation. I listened intently hoping that the stove or microwave did not get involved in this endeavor. What I heard was absolutely adorable.
They worked together to find a stool that would help them reach the shelf with oatmeal. This failed so they decided to grab the raw oatmeal instead of the instant oatmeal packets. "It's really good, Drew. I promise it's really good," my oldest assured his brother. "Now let's see...we need milk. I can't reach the milk. How about water?" My youngest was amiable to the idea so I listened to the clanking of bowls and the dumping of oatmeal. This, of course, created a huge mess. "OH NO DREW! You spilled everywhere! That's okay," he said, regaining his composure, "Everybody spills. But you have to clean it up. I'll get some paper towels." My oldest busied himself with adding water to the oats while my toddler cleaned up then presented this masterpiece of a breakfast.
"Dis gross," my toddler said to his brother. "Me not like it." "What do you mean you don't like it?" my youngest exclaimed. And then I started hearing my husband and I in his words. "I just went to all that work to make it for you! Did you even try it?" he asked. "It disgusting," my toddler said. "Okay fine. I'm going to throw it away. Once it's gone, it's gone. Got it?" he said with an authoritative voice. My toddler was not at all swayed. "Okay. Me get Mama now?"
I was so proud of them for trying to figure it out on their own (even though the kitchen looked like it has snowed oatmeal). But it was crazy hearing my oldest repeat our expressings verbatim. "Everybody spills" and "Once it's gone it's gone" are both things we say all the time. He even mimiced our tone. Everyone says that kids are sponges and they listen to everything we say. I think they mostly pay attention when we are busy worrying about other things. They watch even when we don't want them to be watching.
It's a huge lesson to me to stay aware. I have to model the behavior I want to see. I can't just talk about what I expect - It doesn't resonate as much as my own choices do. Some of the things I heard my son say made me rethink my approach. Do I really need to make them feel guilty about the time I spent cooking? Does that help them to be better people? Probably not. I encourage you to listen to your own words today. Would you proud of them if you heard them back? If not, a few tiny changes might make all the difference in your own children's world.