As I was walking my four-year-old son to pre-school one morning, he started telling me about Natalie, his girlfriend, whom he described as beautiful with hair that shined “lellow” in the sun.
“Natalie says I can’t have Adam come to my birthday party,” he said as he dropped little black berries on the sidewalk, Hansel and Gretel style.
“Oh really?!” I replied in the over-acted manner preferred by four out of five preschoolers.
He stopped at a bush, finding more berries to pick. “She says I can’t because I have to make her happy.”
BAM! Like a pack of dogs through a just-opened screen door, the next words bolted out of my mouth. I whistled helplessly for them to come back, but fast as the speed of sound, each word gonged themselves in succession against his tiny eardrums: Man. She. Sure. Is. Bossy. Realizing this was the first time he’d heard his mother talk bad about one of his friends, he turned and looked up at me, his eyes widening.
Only one day earlier, a mother reminded me that kids blab to their friends and teachers everything their parents say to them. I was aware of this when dealing with older children but I hadn’t quite grasped that my own boys were at that age. Meaning, I had yet to be shamed.
Truthfully I felt pretty confident that my kids never listen to me. I had tried to peer deep into their eyes a few times to see if my words where getting through to them. All I saw was the swift glimmer of their brain as it galloped past on its way to the forest where the wild things are. Their complete lack of comprehension was the only way I could explain why I found myself repeating the most basic of instructions. Like: “You don’t need an entire roll of toilet paper every time you use the toilet.”
Or, “I know you are trying to help clean but don’t keep putting old bowls of spaghetti back into the cabinet.”
And, “I’ve told you before if you’re going to inspect mummified lizards with magnifying glasses in my bed, please remember to take them back outside when you’re done.”
Oh, and, “Stop coming up to me and wiping your nose on my sleeve.”
Knowing that I was about to learn my gossip lesson, I quickly back-tracked. I knelt down to my son’s level and spoke to him of mutual respect, the dynamics of a male/female relationships. I brought up Martians and Venusians, King Solomon and his tasty gossip morsels. I used fast speech to jab at his pre-frontal cortex. I dropped four syllable boulders in front of his neural pathways. To overload his optical nerve, I gesticulated like a juggler with Parkinson’s. Anything to distract the arrival of those first five words to his hippocampus. Like a UPS central processing center, it’s the part of the brain where items get sorted and some are sent off to become long-term memories. I even said hippocampus a few times, just in case it is the hidden lair of the id.
I talked the rest of the way to school. I talked until his eyes crossed and birds flew around his head. I talked so much I was confident that I had rendered his brain incapable of remembering that I had said: she sure is bossy.
I kissed him off to school.
Three short hours later I walked back to pick him up.
“How was your day?” I asked.
“Mama, you were right. Natalie is bossy,” he said. My heart became an anvil and clanked on the floor. Blind-sided, I realized that my babbling had succeeded only in confusing my hippocampus.
“You didn’t call her that, did you?” I asked.
His eyes got big. “No, Mama.”
I sighed with relief.
“No, Mama, I told her that you said she was bossy.”