Monday, June 29, 2009

Aaaah, the Power of Words

Just the other day, I was sitting in my office writing as my 3-year-old son, William, was playing in a nearby room. Suddenly, I realized that he was repeating a phrase I couldn't make out. I stopped my typing, leaned towards the room where he was playing, and listened more closely. After a moment, it hit me what he was saying. William had gone to Bible School that morning at church. He and his classmates had learned the story of Zacchaeus, the tiny tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree so that he could see Jesus. William was obviously re-enacting the story. He was saying over and over again, "Ikea, come down from that sycamore tree!" In William's version, it wasn't a Jewish tax collector, but rather an international home products store, that was being called to descend from the treetops to have dinner with our Lord. While not exactly a word for word translation of Luke's gospel, it's not hard to see why William might have thought Ikea is in the Bible. After all, along with Wal-Mart and Sam's, the store comprises one-third of his mother's holy trinity of shopping. Given that my children often accompany Meredith on her weekly pilgrimages to witness first-hand the pentecostal-like joy with which she celebrates bargains or the bliss of buying in bulk, it's no wonder why they might view any one of these establishments as divinely sacred.

William's "biblical" reference to Ikea is just one of the latest additions to a long line of verbal gems I've heard from the mouths of my children. It's not only exciting and heart warming when your kids begin to talk, it's also hilarious and, at times, embarrassing. Take, for instance, my daughter, Emerson. Shortly after William was born, Meredith wanted to have a family photo taken. Emerson was only two years old. While the photographer was finishing her preparations, Meredith happened to share with her that we sometimes called Emerson "Peanut." Just before we were about to take the picture, the photographer leaned over to Emerson and sweetly said, "So, I hear you are a little peanut." Emerson got a somewhat irritated look on her little face, looked the photographer square in the eyes, and firmly replied, "I'm no peanut; I have a vagina!"

The letter L presented a linguistic challenge for both of my older children. Both Emerson and William loved American flags. Any time we would be out somewhere and see an American flag, the two of them would get very excited. The only problem was, when each were about two years old, neither of them could say the letter L. Whenever we would be out somewhere and pass a government building or an establishment displaying Old Glory, my little guy or gal would suddenly (and at a volume I'm sure everyone within a one-mile radius could hear) blurt out, "Look, Daddy, a fag!" I can distinctly remember one Veterans' Day in which William and I were passing a couple of older vets, each of whom had no doubt bravely and honorably served our country. Each was wearing his old military garb and carrying a miniature American flag. Imagine my embarrassment when, on a day when such individuals should be honored, my young son pointed at them and enthusiastically yelled, "Daddy, I see two fags!" All I could do was apologize, explain, and navigate our way out of the sea of giggles and shocked looks as fast as I could. All the while I could feel those two vets glaring at me like I was some sort of commie sympathizer sent to humiliate them on their special day. For at least three years, I couldn't take my family anywhere near midtown Atlanta on the Fourth of July for fear that we'd be arrested for a hate crime.

I love to sing to my kids. One of the songs I sometimes sing to them as I pick them up and fly them around the room is Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle." As you might imagine, small children eventually try to imitate the words that a parent is singing. William, in particular, likes to try and sing "Fly Like an Eagle." Unfortunately, until he was almost three, every time William sang the words fly like an eagle, it sounded like he was saying "fall like a negro." Therefore, I was careful not to sing the song to William while we were out in public, lest he try to imitate me, be mistaken for a midget white supremacist, and get his little butt kicked.

Of course, not every memorable phrase has involved a racial slur or a homophobic reference. There are the times when William wanted to watch the "Grease" who stole Christmas, or Emerson wanted to ride a "neigh-neigh" (her original word for horse). Many of the words our children say are funny. Others melt your heart (such as when my youngest, Carson, tells me he loves me: "Wuv ooh Dayee"). A few tempt you to pretend that you don't know your children as you look around in public and ask, "Whose kids are these?" But each is a memory. Each is a reminder of how precious our children's first words truly are. You cherish, savor, laugh at, and shake your head over the phrases that escape your children's lips because they are part of the journey for both you and your kids. They are some of the precious moments that we can miss or fail to appreciate if we are too busy, too worried, or just not around enough. They also serve a valuable purpose. The words our kids utter are learned predominantly from Mom and Dad. Having children is a lot like living with a tape recorder. You hear repeated back to you many of the comments and attitudes you, yourself, are expressing. Nothing convicts me and makes me want to change quite so fast as hearing a tiny "damn it" or recognizing something yelled in anger between siblings that I know my kids heard me say to Mommy the night before. Nothing encourages me and makes me feel as awesome as hearing my kids say that they love God, express compassion towards another person, or offer to help one another because that's the example they've learned at home.

So I guess my message is this: Enjoy the words! Be there to hear them and cherish the memories. But LISTEN to the words as well. Not only do they reveal what your kids are learning, they teach you a lot about who you are as a person and what you, as a parent, still need to learn.

JUST A HEADS UP: There will be no new Dadlosophies post next week. I'm taking time off to enjoy the Fourth of July with family. Look for my NEXT POST on MONDAY, JULY 13 first thing in the morning! Have a great holiday!

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