The day I had been dreading has finally arrived: the day my potty mouth has made me fail as a mother. ‘Oh, shit!’, my almost two-year-old exclaims with glee as I am busy wiping up the water I just spilled all over the table, while sitting at one of our favourite child-friendly restaurants in Johannesburg
He is, of course, copying what I had just said a minute ago when I knocked my glass over, and although I try and ignore the words, not wanting to make a big deal out of the situation, Bean is now excitedly running around the garden repeating my profanity – over and over and over again.
A few days later, I am trying to phone our gardener, Robert, but the signal keeps cutting out. I, out of frustration, shout into the phone, ‘Robert, ROBERT, ROBBEERT’, misguidedly thinking that this will miraculously change the signal quality of our call. Bean, being the parrot that he is, starts shrieking in a voice which eerily sounds like my own, ‘Robert, ROBERT, ROBBEERT’. I stop, shocked, and in my best voice repeat, ‘Hello Robert’ in the hope that when he sees Robert again, he does not repeat my shrieking outburst (not that this has helped – poor Robert gets shrieked at, at least once every time he is here).
Do I really sound that bad? And look so scary when I am upset? Because Bean, not only successfully copies my words and my voice, no, he manages expression as well! And the worst of it all is that I cannot even be angry at him – he is simply doing what a toddler does, using me as an example. And so, I laugh, a reaction which Bean loves and a reaction which makes him want to repeat whatever it was that I thought was so funny. It’s a trap, and a very humbling one at that.
If you think that someone needs a humbling experience, put them in the same room as a parrot-toddler. There is nothing quite like your pride and joy holding up that figurative mirror, happily showing you all the flaws which you have so successfully been able to ignore all these years, in all their glory. Whether it’s your potty mouth or your frustrated ‘AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH’ when something does not want to work as it’s supposed to, trust me, your ‘parrot-toddler’ will repeat it. And he will repeat it at the most inconvenient time, while you are proudly telling someone of your most recent parenting win, for example.
Luckily, Bean manages to copy the good as well, the parts of me that I am quite happy to share and see repeated, the parts which make me proud. So, from now on (yes, I have mentioned this before, quite a few times in fact, but repetition does at some point lead to learning) I will focus on the good and try and be better, calmer, more patient.
We have started using the words, ‘Oh, sherbet’ now and that seems to be doing the trick but, I have to admit, every now and again, when my guard is down and I am tired and frustrated, that true Alexa potty mouth still makes an appearance. Flaws do not get ironed out overnight it seems. And as for Robert, well, he just laughs. Luckily, he is quite taken by our little Bean it seems.