He yells, “Don’t do that!” and sounds serious (and maybe a little mean). He gets exasperated when things aren’t just right and yells, “ARRRGGGH!”
He tells his younger siblings what do to and exactly how to do it. He administers punishment to out-of-line toys (and brothers). He furrows his brow. He counts to three. Slowly.
And, he, (in this case my five year old son), learned it all from me. Well, at least, most of it.
Last week I wrote about mirrors. We all need mirrors in our lives to help us stay the course. People who can knock us back to reality when we are drifting off course or when our form is slipping in the exercise of living out our faith.
But, today, I’m talking about a different kind of mirror. The little kind that I’m responsible for training, molding, and shaping. The little mirrors who, no matter what I say, will probably end up doing just what I do. They learn and they imitate.
Wow, the responsibility in this is overwhelming. Talk about a daunting task. Teaching by example, yeah, that’s a wee bit harder than just telling them what to do.
Confession and exhibit A: I’ve realized that yelling, “STOP YELLING” fails. Every time. For some reason they hear me shouting and decide that mode of communication is very effective for mom, so it’ll work just fine for getting their point across too. They don’t need formal training or even a big vocabulary to learn the fine art of imitation. It’s instinctive. Even adults do it. We see someone we admire and we want to act like them, dress like them, talk like them, live like them…you name it. Sometimes it’s very subtle — but we all do it.
Last week I had the chance to go to my son’s preschool for “Muffins with Mom” and I learned a few things. About myself that is. I learned that my job is to make all the food, I’m a pretty decent joke teller and dancer, and that I cook one bang-up quesadilla (2 Mission tortillas with some cheese in the middle and 30 seconds in the microwave…it’s gourmet really.). I read that I have pink eyes and brown hair. (Sadly, this was probably accurate the week he worked on the project — I blogged about that experience here.)
You see my son made a school project and answered some questions about his mommy. At that moment I realized that my little mirror was now in school, reflecting me (and his family) into his class work, on to his teachers, and on to his friends. I was really thankful for the sweetness and innocence in his answers. They were sincere and filled with what was absolute and verifiable truth to him. That’s the wonderful thing about asking children questions. You normally get back a glimpse of their reality. Adults often try to hide what is real and give you the answers they think you want to hear, or the “right” answers. But, not kids. Their answers may not be not be obvious to all, but are always true at some level.
So, though I would have hoped that he would have said his mommy’s job was to teach him things, or help him learn how to follow Jesus, I felt much better about my own son’s answer of “mommy cooks” after chatting with another mom who shared that her daughter had written mommy’s job was to, “shop and spend money.” Wow. That was a close one.
But what would have happened if his teachers had asked him more serious questions– questions about impressions he was getting from our home that are more significant than the color of my eyes? What if they had asked him how much he truly believes that Jesus loves him? If they had pushed for an answer to how loved he feels or how loving he thinks his mommy and daddy are to each other? What would he have said that day? What would my little mirror have shown the world about our family? Would I be proud of the answers he gave or a little embarrassed?
I’m a realist. I know he’s only five, and five year olds only understand so much. But, last week I got a personal reminder to keep working on my own “junk” — my own sanctification– working out God’s love in my life not just for me, but for the sake of my little mirrors. My reminder was to draw close to God and plead for his help as I try to model what it is I want my children to reflect. My default is to tell myself (and believe) that I “really” start making impressions when they are older –old enough to know more, old enough to communicate better. But, that’s not necessarily true. Children learn to mirror immediately. My ten month old will laugh if I laugh. My two year old turns a toy sword into a lawn mower, puts on his baseball cap, and “mows” our kitchen with the same exact facial expression his daddy has when he does the same chore. They sometimes miss the big picture for the details, but, unlike adults, they don’t miss the small stuff–the nuance.
We just celebrated Mother’s Day. For me it was a day to stop and figure out what, more than anything, I want my children to learn from their time in our home. When someone tells them, “You are just like your mom.” I want that to be a compliment. My prayer is for God to help me model Jesus for my little mirrors. Because, ready or not, they’ve already started reflecting.
What do you think?