Watch what you do around children. You never know what they’ll observe.
My little duo watched us incessantly… and sometimes, this was creepy.
I remember being in the house with them on a beautiful sunny afternoon, as they consumed hour after hour of overly familiar children’s television.
I went into the den, shut off the TV, and shooed them out of the house.
“Get out! Go out in the sun! Get some fresh air. Pretend you’re actual children. ENJOY YOURSELVES!”
“But what are we going to DO?” they asked in despair.
“I don’t know! Play ball! Race each other down the street. Climb a tree. Do SOMETHING!”
I shut the front door behind them, and started doing something pretty rare myself. I started cleaning the house.
After a few minutes of mopping the den, I went back into the kitchen to get fresh water for my cleaning bucket. I glanced at the window above the sink, and found my wee ones standing on the porch, with their noses plastered against the screen, looking inside.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked as inappropriately as always.
“We’re watching you, Mommy,” they replied.
They’d converted me into programming, since that was the only entertainment they understood.
They belonged to the Age of Spectators… and everything they saw, they absorbed.
They watched us do some stupid things over the years, and they caught on to mannerisms we didn’t even know we had.
I took the oldest one to a community theater one evening, to see a very dear friend in a play.
When it was over, I asked her, “What did you think?”
“I liked it,” she said.
“So did I,” I concurred. “The lines were really funny, and the direction was very brisk.”
“And?” my daughter asked.
“You hated something. What is it?”
“No, I didn’t! What makes you say that?”
“Whenever we see a show, if you say two nice things about it, you go on to say something awful. Then you say something nice again. What didn’t you like?”
I stared at her in disbelief. She had just described my college acting teacher’s technique of giving a “criticism sandwich.” In order to protect her students’ fragile egos, she would always review their scene work by saying two very nice things. “You look so beautiful in your costume, and you walk across the stage with such grace!” Then she’d point out something the student should improve. “You might want to work on your accent though; at no point should Eliza Doolittle ever sound Swedish.” Before the student had a chance to burst out in tears, she’d wrap up her critique with something nice. “But I congratulate you on your posture; you really do look like a Duchess.”
I had no idea how deeply this technique had become embedded in repertoire.
I also found out that day that my daughter considered me somewhat of a hypocrite; she did not trust the three positive statements in which I was wont to wrap my censure.
To this day, I tread very lightly when praising or disparaging anything in her presence.
That kid gleaned too much… and her brother is, if possible, even more observant.
He held his cards closer to the vest, though, and sometimes, it took years for us to know what he’d noticed.
By the time he reached his early twenties, he had developed a singing voice that even angels would envy. I was absolutely convinced he’d sing in all the major opera houses of the world, but his pastor had other plans for him. He did everything possible to get the boy into the priesthood. I thought he wanted him to spend the rest of his life leading congregations in the performance of the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal, but that wise young priest had other ideas. He wanted my son to share his wisdom, his leadership and his sweetness with the people of the parish.
To that effect, he invited my son to preach one Sunday, and my husband and I were thrilled to go to Mass and hear what he had to say.
I wish I could repeat his sermon verbatim, but I’ll try to give you the gist of the thing.
He told the congregation that there are many ways one can learn to be a Christian. A person can read the Bible, attend services, go to parochial schools, go on retreats… or a person could find someone who always behaved like a Christian, and try to emulate that person from day to day.
He recounted that when he was a small boy, a man walked into our Church after being absent for many weeks.
He heard some parishioners talking about him… the man had lost his job, fallen off the wagon, and was now in danger of losing his home.
One man walked right over to this fellow, and threw his arms around him. “Hey, buddy! It’s good to have you back!” And as the end of the embrace, he sneaked a $20 bill out of his sleeve and put it in the fellow’s pocket.
“I was the only one who saw, that,” said my son, “and I was the only one who knew what a sacrifice this man was making. You see, I knew that $20 represented his lunch money for the week, but he cared more for his friend’s welfare than he did for his own comfort.”
“And that was one of the moments when my Dad showed me what it meant to really be a Christian.”
Thank God my kids are observant… and thank God they’ve had a father like my husband whose ways they could absorb.