Thursday, August 29, 2013

Words Mean Things

From the Mom Files: vintage July, 2008.  A look back, at a topic that's always fresh in our parenting journey.  Check out little two-year-old William! Goodness, how time has flown!  But, this post is still so much of what I still think about when raising our children. And -- now -- in watching our little grandbaby grow and learn, too.

Our two-year-old was rudely stopped mid-cavort across the dining room floor the other day because he'd stepped on a dreaded goat head. No matter how hard we try to keep the floors swept here, no matter how hard we try to enforce the "shoes-off-at-the-door" policy, we just can't keep the dang things out of the house. And, oh, man, do they hurt to step on!

So, our little guy, having unfortunately stumbled onto one, let out a Yowl, of course, followed by this pieced together junior tirade of frustration: "Goathead foot hurt! Again! Again! Again!" (Which is the translation of what really sounded more like: "Goheed foot hoot! 'Geen! 'Geen! 'Geen!")

I couldn't help but smile as I scooped him up to pluck out the sticker and kiss his dirty little foot. What tickled me, though, was not an inappropriately wicked sense of humor (Really!), but the fact that William had understood and used the concept of "again" so perfectly. Isn't it amazing?

I love it! I love watching the world come together for the children, and I love listening to them learn to communicate about it. The good and the not-so-good. And even dumb old goatheads. Little ones learn language so easily, with so much serendipity, really, it's nothing short of miraculous. Just two and a half short years ago, this little boy could not hold his head up by himself. And now he understands and can communicate abstract concepts! It's amazing!

And, scary, too, in a way. Little ones listen to us more closely than we realize sometimes. Not just the simple meanings of words impress themselves on those little ears, but nouances and subtleties that we adults take for granted ~ until we hear them out of the mouths of our babes.

"Tomorrow is always a long time," my four year old has told me, understanding the full meaning of that concept more clearly, I think, than we adults do in our hurry. How easily I say to him, "I don't have time now; let's do it tomorrow. Or later." He knows I'm missing the boat I think. Gabey understands that tomorrow really is a long way off. How important it is to make now as important to me as it is to my little four-year-old ~ and as important as it is to Our Heavenly Father, who judges me on every single now.

Have you noticed how differences between Like, Love, and Hate become part of the children's lexicons very early on, in their hearts and on their tongues? William "yikes" cookies, but he "yuvs" Mommy and Daddy, and, incidentally, anybody who gives him a cookie... If we pay attention, we can't help but hear the constant learning process going on, and it can be sobering to realize how we parents communicate our values in our daily actions and communication.
In saying the rosary, the little ones learn early that Mary and Jesus are people we love very much. Why on earth would we spend so much time saying their names over and over again if we didn't? If we speak words of Faith ~ our prayers, the names of the saints, references to the Mass ~ with a smile on our lips, the smallest child understands that these are beloved things. If we say, "We get to go to Jesus' House this morning!" instead of "Hurry up! We have to go to church!" children get the meaning very clearly.

Likewise, in family life, the long term relationship amongst siblings can be determined early by how Mama and Daddy speak of brothers and sisters to one another. If we repeat over and over again, starting in infancy, "Your brother/sister loves you so much. Isn't God good to have given you to each other?" we set up an expectation and responsibility in each child that can only lead to good. Along the same lines, if we praise a child's good behaviour by saying, "Look what a wonderful example that was for your little brother/sister?" or "Look at the baby! I bet she learned to say 'please' by listening to you, didn't she?" we begin a habit of good associations that can help bridge the years of petty squabbles every family's bound to have.

Of course, conversely, if we slip into the habit of comparisons, or criticisms, they learn to be negative and jealous. Children learn charity, or the lack of it, with the same eyes and ears.

I was drawn up short one day, when one of our children said she didn't ever want to go to Mexico because there were so many illegal aliens there. I have to admit, that at first I laughed about that. It really was a pretty funny line... But then I felt terrible that through our conversation, we had unwittingly given her the impression that she was not supposed to like Mexico ~ that Mommy and Daddy had a grudge against Mexico, and that whatever illegal aliens might be, they were something to dislike. And while I have grave misgiving about some of the immigration policies in our country, I truly mean no grudge against the Mexican people. Some of my favorite people are Mexican and I admire the special love Mexico has traditionally held for the Faith. Nevertheless, I had inadvertently started my daughter down a path to bigotry against these people. My unguarded tongue and lack of complete explanation had misguided her.

It's easy to make the same mistake when discussing individuals. Gossip is such a natural and easy trap to get caught in, almost everyone is guilty of it sometimes. We often don't even realize we're doing it. Like most extended families, ours struggles with fallen-away family members, and some who have a difficult time fighting off the temptations of the world. And we do talk about it, oftentimes without the care we should. The children need to understand that following the examples of these loved ones is worse than riding a unicycle on the edge of a cliff. But, there's also a fine line between passing on a warning and passing along scandal.

One of the best ways we've found to try and prevent crossing that line is to talk about bad examples with the children, not in front of them. It's always best to avoid letting them overhear us talking about other souls in trouble; we must be conscious to carefully and briefly explain a bad situation and make a lesson of it. And, then, most importantly, we have to spend more time remembering these people in our family prayers, than we do in talking about them. We teach our children this guideline for talking about others: If it truly does not help you or the people involved to discuss a problem, dont' discuss it. And satisfying curiosity doesn't help anyone.

If you're a chatterbox like I am, this can be a serious challenge! But, the children hear everything. More than we think they do! More than we might like them to! And it all gets filed away in those little brains. We can't be vigilant enough! So many words, so many images bombard our children's senses, and with so many bad influences in the world, it's so very important to make sure that those receptors can filter out the junk and find what is good and true. Our examples, our every word, have to resonate in their hearts, from their earliest memories, with love and consistency. We have to consciously fill every moment, every single now, with words and actions that lift them ~ and us! ~ heavenward.

To some this may sound like obsession or fanaticism. (And I've heard it described that way...) But can something be bad ~ or overkill ~ when it's about love? We can't love God too much. We can't love our children too much with Him in the formula ~ when we love them through and for and because of Our Heavenly Father and His Goodness.
Is there a more important lesson for our children to learn than this? Do we consciously teach it to them? Or can they pick it up instinctively? They could stumble across it, I guess, but why take that chance? It's our job to teach our children about Divine Love through our love ~ in all our actions and in all our words. We have to start telling them in the cradle. And then we have to keep on telling them.

Again and again and again.
PS: Don't worry. I didn't stop to take that first pic up there of poor little Yuyum crying after he hurt his wee tootsie. I may giggle sometimes, but I would never stop to stop a picture... &:o) It was actually taken later on when he was play-whining. Just thought enquiring minds might want to know... &:o)


SuzyQ said...

What a sweet little boy! Just gorgeous.
"I love watching the world come together for the children, and I love listening to them learn to communicate about it."
I totally agree. I feel privaliged as a Mum to be a part of nurturing a soul for God.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Lisa:)

Laura said...

This is newspaper worthy (as are many of your posts).
But I must say....the PS made me laugh.
Yesterday, when I was with my nieces I almost ruined the fun by being so picture happy..."No hold your hands this way."
"No, sit at the bottom of the slide."
I was really being obnoxious.
And, I imagined for a moment you saying, "Can you just make one more fat tear roll down your left cheek?"
(Talk about a bad sense of humor.)

Great post.

Memarie Lane said...

Jessamine says "again" for the first one, and then it's "another-gain." :P

Anonymous said...

I really love this. Thank you so much for sharing it.

Happy 4th of July!

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

I know! I love when toddlers use adverbs! Mine will put the word "actually" in almost every sentence...

GrandmaK said...

What a wonderful presentation of LOVE! I think that loving can be called "nagging" in my cases. Ask any of the five if Mom nags...but if I didn't love them would I bother? Don't think so...Thank you for helping me realize that, though it shouldn't be incessant, I can nag. Cathy