The imitation game

“I’m wiping down this window” shouts Jackie from the bedroom, as we got home on New Year’s Eve. “It sweated again and a little water dripped on the hardwood floor.” 

It occurred to me that I don’t remember my parents guiding me with too many words. But I remember watching them. What if they said things all along but I didn’t listen. What kid does? But all kids learn by imitation. 

Jackie proves to a great kid every day. I’m pleased with her attitude, words, demeanor. For the most part I see us in her, and I like us. But I’m starting to notice that she doesn’t say or do things we tell her, she copies the way we relate to each other as adults. We’ve scolded her, or talked sharply. She didn’t talk back. But if she ever heard us say an unkind/unpolished word to each other, she immediately picked it up. 

We’ve had to ask her to be respectful in her language, thought she was just a sounding board. Coming from her it sounded more rude. Thus we had to look inwardly and admit that we could speak differently and admit to her we were wrong, make amends and give a better examples next time. 

One of the hardest things I had to do as a parent was and is to repeat myself with the same hope and faith that this time she will get it, or remember it. Repetitive guidance. Having her I have learned to practice a new skill in life: repeat myself kindly. I’ve told adults I managed before to pay attention as I won’t repeat myself. 

Jackie has a new kitchen toy. It’s lovely. A dream. The other day she was about to go out with her daddy and asked me to finish doing her dishes because she is about to leave. Excuse me? Where did she learn to pass on her work, even if it is just pretend work? Well, a couple of times, I’ve asked Conrad to do the dishes on my way out. Because I love a clean kitchen, I always get up and clean right after we eat. And if there is one thing I really dislike, it is to come home to a messy kitchen. I realize now that her request irked me. And I couldn’t quite admit it to myself or pinpoint why, until a few days later. Don’t I clean every day? Why do I have to pretend-clean as well? But she was imitating me, words she heard come out of my own mouth.

Yesterday I was cleaning the kitchen, out of inertia. Jackie comes and put her hand on my back and asks: “mommy, why are you doing the dishes? Daddy said he would do them!” I had forgotten. I was busted. Caught in the act of cleaning. I told her I enjoy a clean kitchen right now, and I don’t mind the work.


Today, on New Year’s Eve, praying before lunch, Jackie volunteers to pray. She expressed her gratitude for mommy and daddy, for Rufus, for this warm cozy house, for toys and food, and she prayed that God would take good care of little sister wherever she may be, and bring her home to us soon. Whenever she prays for her little sister, my heart leaps and burns. How could it not? 

But in preparation for the big change of adding a family member, while we express our anticipation and eagerness to have her with us, we find ourselves telling Jackie it will also be hard. “Why?” Or “How?” She asks. First we told her it will feel unfair to have to share us, our attention, our love. But love multiplies, we told her. We will have double the love, not half of it. I think that one she got. But then, in situ, we tell her that her sister will want what she wants, mommy’s arms or lap, she will want to choose the bedtime story, she will want to wear her big sister’s clothes. “I will share” she says after pondering. “I will try to be a generous kind sister.” We tell her that her sister will talk a lot, just like her. So she says she’ll tell her sister to take a break, breath, be quiet, chill. Yet another early reminder of what we could have spoken with more patience and kindness to her.