Atti still speaks in what we refer to as “catchphrases.” He’s like that kid in college who had a Dumb and Dumber quote for every occasion, only his quotes tend to come from his LeapFrog toys. There is a lot about that that stresses me out, but there’s also one side effect that makes me feel awesome. Like everything in life, there’s a silver lining in his dark thundercloud of speech issues.
Whenever Atti enters the room to find me, he greets me with “Hey! You found me!” Like I made a valuable and difficult discovery. Or he’ll say “Hi my sweet boy!” or “Hi my angel!” And because of the tense and gender he uses, it’s pretty obvious that he’s saying what he’s heard me say when I’m greeting him.
That’s a pretty powerful mirror to me. The fact that my little guy hears so many words of love and endearment from me just makes me feel like I am KILLING IT. And since there are plenty of other times when I’m not, it’s what gets me through those parenting pits of self-doubt and frustration. If all I ever teach my son is that he is loved, that’s enough. And he’s learned that.
I mentioned to one of Atti’s teachers how much I loved this and how I wished every parent could hear their words echoed back like that. She laughed and kind of shook her head. She said, “I bet that wouldn’t be a good experience for every mom.”
I think growing up the way I did actually gives me a leg up here. I’ve had a catalyst to approach this issue very carefully and thoughtfully since it’s my biggest terror that I’ll repeat the pattern and speak to my child the way I was spoken to. For people whose own parents never crossed the line into abuse but still screwed up occasionally, they haven’t had the reason to really examine things closely. Which means it is so so so so super easy to give in to frustration or lack of time or temper and say things in a way that we don’t mean.
Even if it’s just not saying what we mean. I turned out to be such an affectionate mom it kind of surprised me, but what surprises me more is meeting parents that don’t regularly say, “I love you.” I probably shouldn’t be surprised, my family never did, but now that I am a mom and I feel that love bubbling up through me and unable to be contained, it’s a mystery how anyone does. It’s not something that has come naturally to me, but as I’ve learned to embrace the vulnerability and express myself, I find the reward to be astounding.
This issue has me thinking a lot about things as simple as how I give instruction to Atti. Since my words become his words, I have to chose them carefully. And that thoughtfulness has ripples. I find myself examining my motivations, if I’m setting him up for positivity or if I’m dooming him with negativity.
For example, I need to teach Atticus how to be careful using his wheelchair. I could tell him, “be careful you don’t fall off the curb” or I could say, “you’re gonna fall off the curb!” Either sentence accomplishes my goal, but in very different ways. One uses love and thoughtfulness, and the other predicts a failure. One encourages him to act, the other discourages him from acting. If it keeps him from getting hit by a car, who cares? But if I have the time to think and make a choice, I want my teaching to be positive.
I think this kind of thoughtfulness is most important around issues of body image. We want our children to make healthy choices, but for the right reasons, or else those choices will become a different kind of unhealthy. One of my most vivid memories of my father is when he was trying to correct my table manners but did it in a way that made me feel ashamed of myself. And I wasn’t ashamed of my manners, I was ashamed of eating. Those kinds of messages are so powerful they’ve come with me my whole life.
But I think the good messages come along too. This part I have to take on faith since I don’t have much personal experience of my own. But when I see Atti scooting over to me with a “Hi my love!” it makes it easier. He has yet to repeat any of the words I’ve said in moments of weakness, so I think that my statements of love are winning.