Posted by: laughs4dads | December 10, 2010

The Sincerest Form of Flattery, or “Where the Hell Did She Pick That Up From?”

Nobody gets into this parenting thing without having some idea that life is going to change in some dramatic way, such as becoming virtually non-existent.

One of the biggest changes is the increased responsibility, and this is the change parents think they’re most prepared for.  “Oh, yes,” they say, “we’re really going to be grown-ups now.”  And they do all sorts of grown-up things, like having a will drawn up, and saving for college, and trying to fold up strollers to put them in the trunks of their cars.

Barb and I thought we were prepared, too.  But we weren’t ready for the biggest responsibility of all: Setting a good example.

It’s incredibly stressful to go about your day, knowing that your every move may become indelibly imprinted on the mind of a two-year old.  The pressure is unbearable.

We’d see Casey pushing her little vacuum cleaner like mommy did and using a sponge like mommy did and playing with the keys on the computer like daddy did.  Of course, daddy wasn’t playing with the keys; he was using them to write deep, insightful, meaningful prose.  But Casey couldn’t know that and, probably, neither would anybody that read it.

Here’s another example.  Casey liked to go into my closet and try on my ties.  Did that mean she was going to acquire my taste in clothes?  That was, indeed, a frightening thought.  She also took a special interest when I decided to grow a beard.  It was obvious she wanted one, too.  How do you explain to a two-year old that girls can’t grow beards, especially when you consider the appearance of some of our baby sitters?

We had to be so careful.  When somebody sneezed, Casey would say “Bless you.”  It was really cute.  So we had to remember to say “thank you.”  In the real world, of course, adults are not that polite.  One may wonder whether it was us teaching Casey how to behave or the other way around.

Meanwhile, here’s this little human being that’s actually more like a lump of clay.  We could mold her the way we wanted.  Did we want to chisel specific values into our daughter so that she became another version of us?  Or did we want her to define her own shape, even if it might end up like a piece of modern art with everybody standing around saying “What the heck is that supposed to be?”

Those were profound questions.

While we pondered them, we bided our time telling her things like the correct way to wake somebody is to give them a kiss.  As far as I know, there isn’t some etiquette book out there with a chapter called “Proper Procedure for Awakening a Sleeping Person.”  Barb and I simply told her that because we preferred it to Casey’s old way of waking people up or, specifically, waking us up, which was to pound on our chests.  As you might expect, Barb was a little more adamant about the kissing method than I was.

But would Casey realize that our instructions only applied to people she knows?  Would she end up roaming Manhattan kissing winos?  Would we someday get a note from her principal saying, “Casey seems to have a problem.  Whenever classmates fall asleep in class, she kisses them, even if it is a girl.  Please come to my office to discuss this serious matter which may affect your child’s entire future because I am putting it into a permanent report that will follow her for the rest of her life and will conveniently show up in the media if she ever decides to run for public office.”

So, anyway, now Casey is 24, and she doesn’t seem to have picked up too many of our bad habits. On the other hand, she doesn’t seem to have picked up much from us at all, at least not much that I think is environmental rather than genetic.

Does she have our values? I guess so. As a family, we’re tolerant of all lifestyles except, perhaps, really stupid ones. We don’t put much stock in organized religion. We’re honest, I think, most of the time.

Casey seems to be a good person. Do Barb and I get credit for that? Maybe a little.

I do know that we’d be assigned all the credit if she had turned out lousy!

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