By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
I think I’m being followed. There are footsteps behind me everywhere I go – even into the bathroom. Not only am I being tailed throughout the day, I can feel someone’s eyes on me all the time – watching, studying, memorizing my every move.
I’d be worried about it if I didn’t know my stalker so well. Honestly, she’s not all that good at concealing her interest. She just comes right out and announces it: “Mama, I go wit’ you? I do dat, too?”
“Sure. You go with me,” I say. And off we go – me and my 2-year-old shadow – on the dozen daily errands and chores that constitute our days and weeks.
My daughter Kate has entered the “mimic phase,” which is an eye-opening experience for the one being copied. I know her older brothers went through this phase, too, but I don’t remember it being this intense. Perhaps I don’t recall it as much because the boys were more interested in mirroring what their Dad did around the house, so I was off the hook.
But now it’s my turn, and Kate is taking her cues from me. It’s exciting, a little scary and humbling all at the same time.
It started a few months ago with simple, sweet things. When I’m putting on my makeup, she wants to sit on the bathroom counter so she can pilfer through my cosmetic bag and pretend to use the eyelash curler on her own lashes. She peers into the mirror and holds her mouth in the same awkward position I do. Then she blinks her eyes a few times and says “There. All done.”
Lately she has also been dragging a chair over from the dining table to the kitchen sink. She climbs up and starts the water running so she can “do the dishes,” she says. If I don’t remember to move the bottle of dishwashing detergent out of her reach, she will use a very generous amount to fill the sink with a tower of foamy bubbles.
Last week, while I was sitting at my writing desk beating my head against a deadline, Kate ran up to me and draped one of her baby blankets across my lap. Then she ran off again and came back carrying her father’s black comb from our bathroom. She motioned for me to bend forward so she could reach my head and then started combing my hair and turning my chair from side to side.
“Kate, what are you doing?” I asked.
“I give you haircut,” she said. Then she stooped down to fiddle with the lever under my rolling desk chair that must have reminded her of the haircut appointment we’d gone to a few days earlier.
“Oh,” I said, laughing. “Yes, a haircut would be great. Go right ahead.”
After a five minute haircut, my hair looked exactly the same, but it sure was fun to watch the little stylist at work. When she was all done, she smiled and said “Looks nice!” Indeed.
As amusing as the copycat act often is, it’s also somewhat disconcerting to hear your words echoed back to you in the same way they’re delivered. The other day I walked into the bathroom and discovered that Kate had spilled an entire bag full of tiny ponytail holders all over the floor. Before I could even open my mouth to speak, Kate chimed in beside me and said “Oh, Katie! You made a mess!” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Sometimes Kate will take it too far and bark orders at her older brothers, which drives them absolutely nuts: “Buckle up, boys!” “Eat your dinner, boys!” “Stop it! I said enough!” Settle down right now!” Yesterday, I even heard her give one of them a stern “shush-it,” which sounded way too familiar, and it made me wonder if I yell as much as my echo chamber indicates I do.
Seven-year-old Adam rolls his eyes at his little sister’s bossy act and says, “Mom, Kate is talking like a grown-up again, and she’s BOTHERING me!”
What can I say to something like that? I don’t have the heart to tell him that, based on my own experience as a former little sister, his irritation will likely continue for at least another decade or so. It’s just the way it is.
In the meantime, all I can do is remind my little mirror that she is not the mama around here. “I’m the mama,” I remind her, and she stares back at me intently. Then she rounds the corner into the next room, points a finger at her dolls and tells them firmly, “I’m the mama. And I’m in charge.”
Daughter see. Daughter do.