Out of the Mouths of Babes

2 yr old b with Mrs. Aiello (3)
2 year old Brendan
 By Kathy P. Behan

The first time I remember it happening was when I was waiting in a supermarket checkout line with my then 2-year-old son. Cullen was staring with unabashed fascination at a gnarled, little old man waiting on the line next to ours. I have to admit that this guy really was worth looking at. He was hunched over a carved wooden walking stick, and was maybe five-feet tall, with long gray-white hair and a similarly-colored scraggly beard. His nose was large and hooked, and his coffee-brown skin was deeply wrinkled.

After quiet observation, Cullen turned to me, pointed at the man and loudly announced, “Look Mom, there’s a little gnome!”

Even though I was proud that my son (a) knew what a gnome was and (b) could identify one on sight, I was mortified by his loud pronouncement and unsure of what I should do. I ended up trying to block Cullen’s view of the man, while quietly explaining that yes indeed the man looked exactly like a little gnome, but that it would be better if we discussed this at a later time.

This was my initiation into the wide world of parental embarrassment. Since that time I’ve been “treated” to repeat performances by Cullen, and his two siblings on an all-too-frequent basis. For instance, we were in a waiting room, and a small woman wearing a white lab coat with a stethoscope around her neck approached us. Brendan happily turned to me and said, “Wook Mom, it’s a wittle doctor!” I just hoped that the nurse couldn’t decipher Brendan’s words because of his toddler speech impediment.

Parenthood is definitely not for the faint of heart — or for those individuals who are easily embarrassed. Kids specialize in putting their parents on the spot. While adults are desperately trying to keep their kids from making a scene, their children have perfected the art of creating one. Not only do they say inappropriate things, they can howl as loudly as animals being tortured, hold their breath until they turn a wide assortment of colors, and have mastered flailing techniques and resistance positions. When something displeases them, they’re very frank, quick — and loud — about expressing their disapproval.

Luckily, most of the time these incidents aren’t serious, and prove to be only moderately embarrassing to the parent and (hopefully) the other person involved. But they do serve a purpose. They give us the opportunity to teach our children to consider and be thoughtful about other people’s feelings. The kids get a chance to look at a situation from another person’s point of view. And because they tend to be egocentric, this is an important lesson for them to learn.

But in another way, it’s really a shame that we have to reign in our children’s unbridled honesty. They help us to see the world through their candid and clear vision. Young children aren’t hampered by having to run their comments through a social filter. They simply call ’em like they see ’em. This is often unusual in the adult world of obfuscation and diplomacy. And because kids make us face the facts, we get to see our own shortcomings, vulnerabilities and gaps of knowledge all too clearly.

That’s why their right-between-the-eyes style probably helps us to be better people. After all, children often show us that we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously, and ensure that we don’t get too full of ourselves.

Even though I admire my kids for their honesty, I sure wish they’d save some of their comments and observations until we’re alone.

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer specializing in health and family issues.


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