Copy Cats

Children are natural copy cats. They want to do what the grown-ups do.
Kathy in 1952 or 53. Tammie in 1984.

I glanced around at the cluttered kitchen and leaned against the counter dejectedly, feeling tired and depressed. Making meals should be so much easier now that the kitchen remodeling was finally finished. I had double the cupboard space and countertops. This is what I had wanted and waited for. What was wrong with me that I felt so unexcited about my good fortune? Was the summer heat getting to me?

Making meals and cleaning up after them had been hard for the last several weeks. The stove was disconnected. The sink had no running water. All the things I normally kept in the kitchen were stacked higgeledy-piggledy in the dining room. Until a few weeks ago, the prospect of finding places to put everything in the new cupboards sounded like fun. Now I felt I lacked the energy to do the job.

My husband Arnie walked into the kitchen just then and saw me leaning on the counter looking miserable. He asked, “What’s wrong? I thought you’d have half the kitchen put to order by now.”

I answered mournfully, “I thought so too, but I feel tired and overwhelmed. Lately, I haven’t had any get up and go.”

Seeing that I wasn’t preparing breakfast for him, Arnie opened the refrigerator and pulled out a stick of summer sausage and a block of cheddar cheese. Cutting generous wedges from each, he put them together like a sandwich and took a bite. Leaning against the counter next to me, he questioned, “How much water have you been drinking lately?”

I made a derisive snort. He knew I didn’t enjoy drinking water and seldom drank much of anything unless I was at a bar. I rarely felt thirsty. It wasn’t uncommon for most of a day to go by with my fluid intake limited to the milk on my breakfast cereal.

Arnie stared at me as he chewed for a minute, then scolded, “People need to drink water. You’d feel a lot better if you drank more, especially on days like today when it’s hot.”

I knew Arnie was making a good point. Normally, people want to drink water or another liquid. My ten-year-old and fourteen-year-old daughters drank two quarts of Kool-Aide every day while I was at work. I conceded grudgingly, “Okay, starting today I’ll make a point of drinking several glasses of Kool-Aide, coffee or tea.”

In a shocked voice, Arnie exclaimed, “No, you need to drink water! Would you wash the kitchen walls with Kool-Aide or coffee? Your body needs pure, clean water to wash away whatever is making you feel sick.”

I wanted to feel better so I reluctantly agreed, “All right!” The recommended amount of water intake according to medical books was eight glasses a day, so that was the goal I set for myself that day. In the weeks that followed, I faithfully gagged down the unwanted fluid as promised and I did start to feel better.

My daughters never heard the conversation Arnie and I had about drinking water and I never told them about it. They just noticed that their Mom was drinking a glass after each meal, sipping on water while watching television and asking for it when we went out for fish fries. As the weeks went by, I noticed the girls were drinking less and less Kool-Aide. One day I stopped making it. They never asked me to make or buy more. On the other hand, the gallon of water I kept refrigerated needed to be refilled a few times every day.

Inexplicably, my daughters increased their water consumption, too, drinking it with meals and throughout the day. I was shocked. I’d never told my daughters to stop drinking the sugary Kool-Aide. I never insisted that they drink water. Apparently, “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work in parenting. I could have talked myself blue in the face telling them to change their habits, but until I demonstrated the change in behavior, they didn’t change. When the girls saw me drinking water, they did too.

This episode in my life was an undeniable demonstration of how children unconsciously watch what their parents do and copy them. I felt humbled by the privilege and responsibility of parenthood. I was left wondering, “What other important life lessons have I been teaching my children?” I prayed to God that they were all good and noble things. 


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