Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mommy Mimicry

Like it or not, every woman has inherited behaviors from her mother. These learned actions or characteristics are either intentionally taught or unconsciously passed to children through every day modeling. Most women leave childhood with characteristics, values, behaviors, and beliefs learned from their mother- even the things that annoyed them when they were young. Sometimes we are aware of these things, as they have been deliberately ingrained in us by oft taught lessons. However, many of our personal quirks, habits, gestures, and behaviors are those picked up unintentionally by observing our mothers.

I learned many things from my mother- both through her teaching and modeling. Through the intentional lessons I learned, annoyingly, how to be a “lady”. This meant that I learned to be respectful to the people around me, especially my superiors, manners, grooming habits, and that you must wear panty hose in the winter months…I had a hard time with this one growing up and often presently ignore. My mother taught me how to clean the house, how to fold laundry, how to balance a checkbook, and how to mix a good drink J. Both verbally and through modeling, my mother taught me to value hard work, to be strong yet kind, to be a “glass half full” kind of gal, the value of education, and the importance of family. These behaviors, beliefs, and values were all intentionally taught with the goal of making me a “good” person. My conservative, sometimes strict, upbringing helped shape me into the strong-willed, optimistic, successful person I am today. Thank you mom, for these valuable lessons!

On a less sappy note, I also inadvertently picked up a few of my mom’s quirks, much to my chagrin. Apparently, I have replicated her laugh- very loud, very distinct. Another habit I picked up from my mother is her raised eyebrow. It seems that involuntarily, our eyes squint or widen (depending on the situation) and rise in anger, annoyance, or skepticism. Perhaps the most embarrassing behavior I involuntarily mimic is the habit of repeating myself, something she unintentionally learned from her father. This is a very annoying tendency of the people on my mother’s side of the family, one that worsens as we age.

As Macie’s mother, I plan to teach and model many of the same values, behaviors, and beliefs that I learned from my mother. I want Macie to learn to be respectful, strong, and hard working. I want to teach her how to maintain a positive outlook, to be a person who always looks on the bright side. I hope to teach Macie how to be a kind, generous, thoughtful, empathic human being who values family and friendships. I will teach Macie how to clean, cook, manage her money, make plans and set goals. Macie will learn the importance of appearance and personal fitness, as it determines how people view you, but also that intelligence and kindness are much more important than physical appearance. Obviously, there are more lessons that Macie will learn while she is in my care- hopefully more positive than negative.

Although my “laundry list” of things I plan to teach Macie is very long and thought out, I had not considered all the behaviors and habits that Macie will inadvertently learn through observation. It has recently come to my attention that Macie has already started mimicking my actions. The two most entertaining are those that I initially had no idea she learned from me. The first is Macie’s slight Southern drawl, which I blogged about a few months ago. Since Macie started talking, I have been baffled by this lilt and confused about where she may have picked it up. In class a few weeks ago one of my peers pointed out that I have a slight Southern accent in the way I pronounce a few words, especially those with the letters “o” and “u”- apparently I draw out these vowels. In that moment I realized that Macie must have learned this speech pattern from me, which is why she pronounces “dog” slowly so that it sounds like “doawg”. Light bulb! The second noteworthy behavior Macie has picked up from me is the “what” gesture. Also noted in a previous blog, Macie often goes on long, soapbox, rants and uses her hands to further her point. For months she has been doing the “what” gesture (arms in the “v” shape out the side, with wrists bent backward and palms facing upward) to converse. This has been endlessly amusing for me to observe, but I had no idea where she picked up this gesture. At work the other day I had apparently done the “what” gesture and a co-worker noted that I frequently employ this action in conversation. Another light bulb went off. Macie obviously learned this behavior from her mother.

It seems that Macie has become a human mirror of sorts. Through mimicking observed behaviors, Macie has made me very aware of the actions that I am inadvertently teaching her. What’s frightening is that Macie is imitating behaviors that I was unconsciously employing. Parenting has been a very enlightening experience. You learn a lot about yourself in the process- your strengths and weaknesses, your capacity for love, beliefs and values, commitment, etc. Most surprising have been the things I have learned about myself that I never knew. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Eating Dirt

Last week Macie and I took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and spent as much time outside as possible. When the temperature rises above 45 degrees in February in St. Louis, let alone the glorious and unexpected 60 degrees we experienced, you see a lot of pale, exposed skin as people rush outside to enjoy the weather while it lasts. In our celebration of the outdoors, Macie and I divided our time between the park, our yard, and walking along the neighborhood sidewalks. Other parents must have had the same idea, as there were plenty of children playing outside at the park and in our neighborhood. We even took a family trip to the St. Louis Zoo to wander the vast park and watch the animals sunbathe.

One of our trips to the park stands out in my memory, as it involved some very cute toddlers eating rocks. As mentioned in previous blogs, Macie LOVES the rock pit at the park. We usually spend a significant amount of time in this section, as Macie sorts, dumps, and shuffles the bacteria ridden, filthy rocks. Each time we leave this section Macie’s nails are lined with dirt, making me wish I could bathe her in antibacterial hand sanitizer….I just got a chill thinking about her disgusting nails. I digress.
Despite my loathing of these rocks, I hunkered down to play. Observing Macie filling my hands with rocks, two toddler boys decided to join us. They were apparently drawn to the novelty of a big person sitting in the rocks like a child and wanted to take part in this game. Suddenly I had three toddlers piling rocks into my hands, while I smiled and encouraged their game. This was much more entertaining to these little tykes than I thought possible.

While we played their mothers smiled and warned their children not to eat the rocks. Inwardly I scoffed, thinking that Macie would never eat rocks and that I was lucky not to have to deal with that….dirt under the nails is bad enough. Within a matter of minutes I witnessed one of the boys shove a whole handful of rocks into his mouth. I quickly notified his mother and she frantically scrapped the rocks out, scolded him, and steered him away from the rocks. Macie continued playing after this incident and I counted my blessings that Macie wasn’t inclined to put random things in her mouth.

After Macie’s nap we went back outside to play. After kicking and throwing her pink ball for a few minutes, Macie grew bored and wandered over to the flower bed. Unfortunately, my child always seems to gravitate to the dirt….she likes to get her hands dirty and explore her environment. As usual, Macie started digging in the dirt and mulch, inspecting each piece as if it was a unique specimen. I glanced at my phone for a moment and when I looked up Macie’s mouth was covered in dirt. Repulsed, I dropped my phone and ran to her, attempting to wipe away the dirt and grime. Macie wriggled and wormed her way out of my grip, annoyed that I was holding her up and unconcerned about the potential bacteria she had just ingested.

At that moment I realized that karma is vengeful. Guess what- my child eats dirt, too. That’s what I get for being smug and thinking my child was better when in reality she is just like every other dirt loving, exploratory toddler. Which is a good thing I guess- at least she is developmentally normal, right? 

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