“Honey? Hun? Hun?” I was being summoned. Pretty typical for a Saturday morning, only it wasn’t coming from its usual source.
My three year old, Levi, had picked up on what my husband and I call each other and had claimed it for himself. I couldn’t stifle the laughter, both from the sheer adorableness of it and from the overwhelming thought that kept running through my mind (We’re sure lucky that we don’t call each other asshole or shithead)! It got me thinking just how much our little ones absorb from us.
Levi was a late talker. We never had much trouble with tantrums due to his ability to communicate and comprehend but I didn’t have to be as, shall we say, “aware” as other mom’s whose kids were repeating every little word by the age of two. Once he started speech therapy and preschool, his words began to flow and he was able to convey his wants and needs as well as his views on the world (well, his world).
Hearing things from Levi’s point of view was incredibly eye opening. He was able to share with me why he was frightened to take any medicine (he was scared of choking since it had happened long before) and I could not believe that his memories and fears went back as far as they did. In a way, it broke my heart to think he had previously been “suffering” with no way to tell me. He also used his new found words (in typical three year old fashion) to manipulate me. This was expected but the way in which he tried was new to even me. “If you give me chocolate milk, mommy, it will make my heart feel better.” Fuck yeah he got chocolate milk that day.
I began to choose my words in front of Levi as carefully as my actions. And although I’m careful not to curse, that’s definitely not where my priorities lie. I tried to see the power of words through a three year old’s eyes. One day in particular when we were going through our nighttime routine, I told him how much I loved him and what a good boy he was. He responded, “I not a good boy. I a bad boy.” My heart broke as I asked him about it and he mentioned that a kid at school had called him a bad boy. This poor soul had really been affected by these words…words that hurt him and stayed with him over the course of several hours or maybe even days. I knew just how cautious I had to be moving forward. That I had to take a second, even in the heat of the moment, to think before I spoke.
I try to never use the words bad boy or good boy now to describe anyone or anything (besides maybe the dog) and I take extra care to examine what other words may strike him on that level before I use them. It’s not easy and it takes plenty of extra time but seeing just how deeply words devoured him, I know that taking a breath and moment to gather the right one is worth it. After doing this for several weeks, it started to come naturally which made it even sweeter.
Now when he lays down at night and I tell him how proud I am of him and how much I love him, I save time to let him share things with me that only seem safe to say in the comfort of night. And although he generally tells me to, “Be quiet and go night night,” I can rest assured that he knows exactly how incredible he is and that he can always tell me anything.