He Learned It By Watching Me?

Watching a child grow and develop is an amazing thing, a true privilege as a parent. It allows even the most cynical, jaded and beaten-down of us to experience anew the simple joys of youth. It gives us a chance to revisit a sacred time of sublime innocence and joy, when the world wasn’t so complicated and shaded in gray. It is a sacred opportunity and it should be cherished.

Except when it sucks.

As a first-time parent that was 100% ignorant of the developmental schedules of children, I am constantly amazed by how quickly my son grasps concepts and figures things out. It happens a lot faster than I expected.

Despite that ignorance, one of the few things I did know going into this whole parenting racket was that kids are sponges; it doesn’t take them long to pick up on your behavior and start copying it. So much of what he does is based on what he sees my wife and I doing, and it’s hilarious to watch his miniature impersonations. It’s like watching an Ewok do stand-up (and my son does a KILLER Chris Walken – NO JOKE).

Thank God I was aware of that, as it lessened the shock when I suddenly had to start acting like an adult, lest my son start emulating me in my most irresponsible moments. Once he turned three months old, I made sure to pay more attention to what I was doing when I was in his presence. which meant immediately retiring my Buffalo Bill dance. It just wasn’t healthy, for many reasons.

So far, my wife and I have been pretty good about limiting his exposure to inappropriate gestures and actions, and to limit his TV to an Elmo song every once in a while; he doesn’t see much we don’t want him to see. Which makes his sudden adoption of behavior we’ve never practiced all the more alarming.

For example…

My son’s at the age now where we are starting to give the whole discipline thing a try – which mostly involves the two of us agonizing about what terrible parents we are when we can’t get him to finish his dinner. After every little tantrum, we’re convinced we’re blowing it and raising a spoiled brat (at best). It stresses us out. Never mind that he’s only 15 months old; when he’s 15 years we’ll probably be in therapy.

But, young as he is, he already knows what “no” means. And he’s already figured out that ignoring that word is an easy way to get a reaction from his parents. And he already enjoys provoking us to get that reaction! So he’ll stand there, hand near an outlet or on the TV or next to the wine cabinet, grinning his ass off as he threatens to pull the plug or push the flatscreen or polish off our best red, staring at us and smiling mischievously as we say No! No! No! over and over again. To no avail. The best reaction we get is a laugh. The worst reaction we get is some stunned crying. Most of the time, though, he just stands there and taunts us: I’m gonna do it! AND YOU CAN’T STOP ME!

Where does he learn this stuff? I stopped taunting my wife years ago, and he hardly ever sees TV. Besides, when he does, it’s usually either Dolphins games, in which little taunting occurs (you have to win to taunt, though that doesn’t always hold true with Brandon Marshall) or an Elmo-based sing-a-long, and I’ve yet to see a “Sesame Street” where they teach psychological warfare.

There are really only a few potential sources of this behavior: evolution, the collective memory, or Jesus – the Latino handyman who occassionally babysits for our son. But it’s hard to pinpoint the culprit.

And that’s the lesson: there’s no real way to keep track of all the different things that influence our kids, and it’s only going to get worse, both as he gets older and more independent, and as our progressively intrusive technology finds new ways to get inside his head. All we can do is continue to do our best and hope for the best.

And not let him see Silence of the Lambs anytime soon.

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