When I concentrate really hard, I do this thing with my face where my features get scrunched up all tight. My wife blames this expression for my increasing wrinkles and constantly attempts to stop me from doing it (despite the fact that I could still pass for 18!) I see her point, and I’d love to stop creating crow’s feet. But it’s impossible; it’s genetic.
I’ve seen my father make the same face, for the same reasons, and now I’m waiting to see it on my son’s chubby little visage. He already looks a lot like me, and it’s so gratifying to see him take on some of my characteristics that I’m okay with adding the wrinkle-maker to that collection.
Unfortunately, the kid occasionally reflects aspects of myself that are not quite as amusing.
Everybody knows kids are sponges, but they’re also mirrors. They reflect what they see, for better or worse, and for the first decade or so of their lives, what they see most are their parents. It’s our words and actions they emulate as they make their first tentative contact with the world. At first, it’s super cute when your little mini-me displays your facial expressions or your spouse’s mannerisms and generally starts behaving like a mini-you. It stops being cute when the kid begins evidencing some of your less-than-flattering behavior, for the world to see.
For example, my son has learned what some may consider a swear word. It’s the relatively benign “dammit”, and it usually gets a laugh when he wields it in public. But no one’s going to be laughing if he becomes the toddler who throws out f-bombs at birthday parties, and that will be on me. (Or on Mom and Buried – at least I’ve been trying to ease up with the cursing; she’s basically unrepentant.) Regardless of who specifically is to blame, if our son becomes a little Andrew Dice Clay, everyone will know it’s his parents’ fault, and it won’t matter which one.
It’s going to be a while before my son’s behavior is measured independently of us, and that’s as it should be. He can’t even speak for himself, let alone think for himself; we are rightfully responsible for his actions. And while he may just be copying funny words and mannerisms now, soon he’ll be internalizing the things we say and the opinions we have and repeating them in public as if they’re his own. When that happens, no one will have any questions as to where he learned them.
Nothing shines a brighter light on who you really are than becoming a parent.
Some of the things that shine reveals are superficial, like facial expressions and mannerisms. Some are deeply ingrained characteristics, like having a short temper or a thing for redheads. But, most of the time, the spotlight shines on your everyday behavior: the way you act towards your neighbors; the things you say when you’re not censoring yourself; the tone of voice you use with your spouse. And what you see isn’t always pleasant.
Like it or not, your children are walking illustrations of the real you. Once your little mini-me starts interacting with the public, you become an open book. Might want to start changing how it reads.