Natalie loves books. She has favorites, and ones that she’s not so crazy about. She has books she thinks are funny, and books that are fun because they have flaps to lift. She pulls books from the many baskets strewn about the house and “reads” them to herself during the day, or takes my hand, leads me to a chair, and settles herself in my lap to read the same book two or three times in a row.

We taught her that. She learned from watching us that books are fun, engaging, and part of our daily routine.

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Natalie only eats food in her high chair. Except for when we’re outside of the house, there are no handouts, no snacks given to a drive-by toddler. And when we eat our meals, we all sit at the table. Together. Every day, without exception.

We taught her that. She learned from watching us that mealtime is family time, and part of our daily routine.

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Natalie is addicted to Sesame Street. Whenever we go into the family room, the only room in the house with a TV, she claps and points to the remote control and does an impatient little jig. And if we DON’T turn it on? God help us. Her mouth widens and her bottom lip quivers, she stomps her feet, and tears spill down her cheeks. I brace myself because I know it’s coming, and sure enough, after three seconds of all the sound being sucked out of the room, she unleashes a scream that I’m certain will have CPS knocking on my door in a matter of minutes.

We taught her that. She learned from watching us that time spent in the family room is time for TV, and part of our daily routine.

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I’m astonished at how quickly Natalie learns things. It seems like some lessons will never, ever sink in, lessons like please don’t dump the cat food into the water dish and couches are for sitting. But the other lessons, the ones we never actually say out loud? THOSE are the ones that stick in her brain.

She’s quickly turning into a very gifted mimic. Not verbally; but through her actions. She does all the things that I do, and she does them very well.

She holds up anything and everything that’s even vaguely rectangular-shaped and talks to people on the phone. She’s obsessed with my actual phone, to the point where I need to protect my own pockets when I feel stealthy, sneaky fingers trying to reach in and steal my phone when I’m doing the dishes.

She does pushups, squats, and mountain climbers on request. She’s absolutely delighted to join me in my at-home workouts, and will gladly show you her muscles.

She blows her nose (not really; she holds a tissue up to her face and makes a BBFFFTT sound with her mouth). She wipes down her own highchair tray after eating. She is gentle with the cats and pats them, more or less, the way we’ve shown her.

I watch her do these things, most of which we haven’t deliberately taught her, and sometimes I feel paralyzed by the weight of responsibility. How on earth could we possibly be responsible for someone as impressionable as this? It’s too much. It’s far, far too much, and there’s no way we can do this without screwing her up in some way.

I know we’re not perfect. We probably watch too much TV and spend too much time on our phones and laugh a little too hard when she farts, and will be greatly chagrined when she starts doing it on purpose, in public, to be funny.

But what has been learned can be reshaped. If we redirect Natalie to her blocks or books or anything other than Sesame Street, the tidal wave of grief she experiences soon ebbs and retreats, and she’s completely fine.

Standing in that storm while she rages is the hard part, even knowing that it will pass. Knowing that turning on the TV, or handing her my phone, or letting her run back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth on the couch, will fix everything instantaneously is so, so tempting. And sometimes that’s exactly what we do, despite knowing that the “right” thing is to stand firm, because perfection in parenting is impossible.

We do what we can and we’re slowly fumbling our way towards raising a (hopefully) functional human being, a productive member of society who no longer runs screeching down the hallway in the nude after she bathes.

(Some habits are harder to break than others.)


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