When cousin Isiac started calling his mother Candice, I laughed. It made perfect sense to me. I mean, why call her mommy when everyone else called her something different?
It's just a phase, so why worry, right?
We'll, after two months of my stepsons calling me Christina, Katie caught my attention, not with mommy in that sweet little voice, but with Christina and a smile.
I smiled back and said, "mommy."
She said "Christina."
And the game was on.
Only, it wasn't as much of a game to me as I pretended.
There's really no way to put into words how your heart sings the first time your child calls you mommy.
Though there are times the incessant demand for mommy isn't really that sweet, the word designates your special place in their life. You're not just an adult. You're not just a caretaker. You're mommy.
It's one of those words that's irreplaceable once you've finally earned the title.
And I feel like I've earned it. Pregnancy, labor, nursing, sleepless nights, illnesses, tea parties, days at the park and trips to the swimming pool.
Yeah, I've earned it.
The value of language and the emotions words convey is a powerful tool that you don't consider on a regular basis -- until you have children, that is.
Then you have an audience and critic for every single word you say, so you start choosing them more carefully and you watch as your children advance in their knowledge of language.
- You watch as they struggle to mimic language.
And by mimic, I mean mimic. The loose, careless words you tossed about about before you had children now have to be carefully monitored and that's usually a lesson you learn from them -- dramatically.
When Katie dropped her bowl of fishy crackers there was no mistaking her reaction.
"Son of a bitch," she said so clearly and with such disgust that I nearly dropped my glass. I looked at my stepson, Alex, who left the room so she wouldn't see him laughing.
My mouth gaped as she started to pick up the crackers.
"What did you say, Katie?"
She just looked at me. She had no clue that her words would have such impact and didn't know why.
She also didn't know that she was teaching a valuable lesson that needs to be reiterated often -- children hear everything you say and in their race to be understood, repeat it all.
Not all examples of mimicking are as dramatic, but you learn that even innocuous statements can be used against you.
Katie wanted to play on the computer, but I was busy with Nikki and it was almost time for dinner.
I told her, "Not right now."
A few days later, I told Katie to eat her dinner.
She cocked her head to the side, looked at me out of the corner of her eye and said "not right now."
Now I hear "not right now" at bath time, potty time and bed time.
Those three little words have come back to haunt me
- You rejoice when they learn that words have meanings and connect them into a thought.
The words "I love you" from a child's mouth have to be the most moving in the English language. Any language for that matter.
But there are other words that give you the same glow.
"Bess you," after a sneeze.
"Tanks, Mom," after you hand out juice.
"Ye-elcome," after you've said thank you.
"I want you," when they're hurt or scared.
"Give me kiss," when you're leaving the house.
When children's knowledge of language expands, it opens a whole new world for parents in ways that make them laugh, move them, sometimes frustrate them and always amaze them.
- You consider the impacts of the words you use.
Words have the power to touch hearts and make changes, but they also have the power to wound.
You never know how your words will impact another person, particularly a child.
"That's just stupid" or "you're a bad girl" said carelessly, even jokingly, can stick in a child's memory forever.
I remember words of my childhood that still linger to haunt, and as my children grow in their understanding, I am aware, in a whole other way of the power of language.
It is a power that should be used for good, with care and consideration, and should never be underestimated.