Life in the Mirror

"Swallow your food!"

An authoritative voice boomed from the living room. 

"Children, swallow your food otherwise you can't go out!"

I turned to the source of the voice. It was a 3-year-old boy, seated on the sofa with his three favourite soft toy "children" - Elmo, Cookie Monster and Big Bird.

Rather amused at the proceedings, I inquired, "Did Elmo swallow his food?"

The young boy turned to the brick red creature. "Elmo, open your mouth." 

"Elmo, you have to listen to your Daddy Z and swallow your food. Otherwise you can't go out.

The little boy nodded his head. "Elmo [has] swallowed his food."

"Good job, Elmo," I said.

A tender moment. Z & E with their "children".

We have always encouraged our older son to take on various roles during his playtime. One of his favourite activities has been to play with a toy cash register and receive money from us when we buy various food items from his "supermarket". Then there has been his recent fascination with dentists after my in-laws got a model of a mouth all complete with a set of black teeth for him to extract with his dentist "drill" and "forceps". This act of role-playing real life scenarios is intended for him to learn about various aspects of social life, helping him to understand about how things work in a fun yet educational context. The roles are also meant to mirror actual life experiences for him to both increase his creativity as well as to prepare him for the "real world". We were therefore not surprised when he decided to "adopt" his favourite soft toys as his "children", often taking them to bed and sleeping with them, as well as seating them at the dining table to eat their lunch.

What's for sale at the "supermarket"?

I was, however surprised when our 3-year-old decided to act out the scenario described above. The truth of the matter is that a similar incident happened about one month ago. Our two sons were supposed to go on a play-date with our regular homeschooling group at the Botanic Gardens. Just before the outing, we realised that our older child was still chewing on his breakfast, refusing to swallow it. We then insisted that if he did not swallow his food, he would not be able to go on the play-date. Despite our numerous attempts, Z refused to obey. What we have learnt during our parenting journey is that once we have issued an instruction, that we have to follow through with it. If we do not do so, our children will learn that disobedience has no consequences. It was with that principle in mind that we made the difficult decision that Z could not join his brother for the outing. 

We solemnly announced our decision to Z on arrival at the Botanics, giving him one final chance to swallow his food and open his mouth to prove that the food had gone down. When this did not come to pass, I waved goodbye to Sue and E, and drove Z home with me in the car. It was a somber Z who walked home with me that day. "Z [is] so very sad," he told me, as I put him to bed in his room. I asked him why he was sad, and he told me this was because he couldn't play with his good friends. 

One week later, it was Elmo's turn to swallow his food. Our son had obviously been thinking about the incident for the entire week, choosing to re-enact it with his "children".

An interesting phenomenon is that Z has not only been using his "children" as the conduits of his learning experience. Our younger son E has been the other recipient of his Kor Kor's learning journey. For instance we overheard this interesting conversation the other day from the living room where the kids were playing alone by themselves:

"E, say thank you! Kor Kor is sharing with you."


"You're welcome."

And then there was the incident involving a slice of chocolate cake. I shared this previously via a Facebook status update:

Scene: Sunday afternoon. Z enjoying chocolate cake in the living room.

Mummy: Is there any more chocolate cake?
Daddy: Nope. That's the last bite. (Turns to Z) There's only one last piece of cake. Can we give it to Mummy?
Z: Z's cake.
Daddy: I know. But can we give it to Mummy? It's the last piece and Mummy hasn't had any.

Z nods his head. Daddy hands Mummy the cake.

Z (in tears): No more chocolate cake. Mummy eating the last piece.
Daddy: Z, you've eaten quite a lot. Let Mummy have the cake?

Still in tears, Z nods his head soulfully.

Mummy: Although you gave the last piece of cake to me, I'm giving it back to you because I love you.

Mummy hands the cake back to Z whose eyes are now shining with joy.

There are moments when you know that being a parent is all worth it...

About a cake...

Scenes like these can only bring a smile to our faces. At such a young age, children are like mirrors that reflect their parents' words and actions. As someone working with young people for more than 10 years, I have met youths from all walks of life. There are the well-adjusted and secure individuals who pursue life with a clear sense of purpose and priorities. And then there are the insecure and ill-adjusted youths, those who do not have a plan for their lives, bouncing from one thrill to the next and falling into despair at every crisis both big and small. I then meet their parents; and I know why these young people turn out the way they are...

I must admit that we are not the best parents. There are many times when we have heard our older son say things that make us cringe; and we can almost hear ourselves saying those very same words. During those times, we make a mental note to use kinder words and gentler tones in our communication with him and with each other. Then there are also moments when we witness kind or loving words and actions - like how Z lifted E up from the floor yesterday after the littler one had fallen, subsequently hugging and patting him. These precious occasions provide the encouragement that perhaps we are doing something right as parents after all. 

When we look in the mirror of our lives, what reflection do we want our children to see in us? For Sue and I, our hope is for our children to reflect the love that we have from God. Our lives may be an imperfect reflection of the love that we have experienced from God, but our children must at least be able to see and know that we love God and are trying our best to share this love with them.

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