Do as I say, not as I do

By Kris Ferrazza | Aug 02, 2019

Stop the presses: my daughter has a summer job.

For a morning or two each week, she has been working as a mother’s helper. Well, technically she is a nana’s helper. Elizabeth is assisting a friend of ours when she babysits her three grandkids, all under age 3. Needless to say, this lady needs help.

As I prepared my 13-year-old for the antics of babies, toddlers and preschoolers, I tried to think back on her early years. When did she crawl, walk, talk, use the potty and feed herself? I couldn’t even recall. So I went to my scrapbooks and it all came rushing back to me.

It was a lovely time, full of stress, mess and hilarity, and it’s all there in vivid color. My photographs and written notes recorded every milestone for posterity. Sometimes she asks why I documented everything in scrapbooks. I joke that it’s so when she becomes famous one day, they can be displayed in the Smithsonian Museum.

Mostly I think the books are evidence that I did my best. They show that she had a vibrant social life and many adorable outfits. She tested my patience and made me laugh often. I showed her all this to prepare her for what to expect from the wee ones in her care.

“I love kids,” she said. I assured her she had no idea what was coming.

I opened to a page where she had dumped out all of her toys, then said, “I don’t want to live here anymore. This house is tooooo messy.” Teenage Lizzy had to laugh at that one.

She knew good manners were important to us, so she used it to tweak her father and me. One day she announced, “I have some good news and bad news. The bad news is I have no manners.” Another day she simply woke up in the morning, pushed the hair out of her eyes, and said, “I’m not going to say 'thank you' anymore.”

She referred to volcanoes as “bopanos” and polka dots as “po po dots.” When I told her “Dinosaurs are extinct,” she shot back, “No, they’re not, they’re nice.”

Some of our epic battles were adorable in hindsight, though seldom funny at the time. I made countless sticker charts to encourage good listening, potty use and bedtime routines. She retaliated one day by making a “Mom being bossy chart” and put it on the fridge. It was completely misspelled and is one of my most treasured artifacts.

Some days I wondered how her preschool brain worked, like when she pointed at the TV and said, “Look, Mom, it’s Oprah’s daddy.” (It was Dr. Oz.)

My daughter tried to mimic me. If her shoe came untied she’d say, “This is gonna be a long week.” At lunchtime she requested “grilled cheese and a coffee ... with marshmallows,” adding, “Girls like coffee, Mom.”

With no siblings, she would argue with the dog, push the cat down her slide, and invite them both into her kiddie pool. She worked hard to learn to tell time, tie her shoes and identify colors. It seemed to take forever. One day she pretended she was reading the clock in our kitchen, but I saw her sneak a peek at the digital version on the stove.

“It’s B o’clock,” she called out, reading the digital six as a B.

We spent long days baking, finger painting and potty training. One day I caught her red-handed hiding behind the couch with lipstick. Another time, while I talked on the phone, she found a red Sharpie and transformed my white windowsills into the red squiggles on “Elmo’s World.”

It was the best of times and the worst of times for my ego. One day she would say, “Wow, Mom, you look just like a movie star with those sunglasses” or “What a pretty dress you have.” The next it was, “What are all those spots on your arms?” “Your hair looks funny,” and “Did you put on makeup today?”

There were daily revelations, including “Boys are not my friends,” and “You’re not my friend, you’re my Mom.” Ouch.

Fascinated with marine creatures, she would recite facts about the Orca and once corrected a volunteer at the children’s museum after the lady pointed to an “anenome” in the touch tank. “It’s anemone,” my toddler said quietly. I shot her a look. The volunteer continued to mispronounce the name, with my daughter whispering “anemone” each time. Finally the gracious woman said, “Is it 'anemone'? Why, thank you.”

We made countless crafts, ate Popsicles on the porch, picnicked in the backyard, staged tea parties and ran errands. She and her father would imitate professional wrestlers as well as celebrities on “Dancing with the Stars.”

A bona fide Daddy’s girl, she sometimes would turn around our framed wedding photos and demand to know why she hadn’t been invited. When Tim brought her a piece of watermelon one night, she looked over at me and said, “He’s a keeper, Mama.”

One day she asked cheerfully, “What else can you think of to make me happy, Mama?”

But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. When she misbehaved, she often would put herself in a timeout to beat me to it. She’d march straight to her little naughty chair, blonde curls bouncing, and sit right down. After some time, she would return to me, announcing, “Hi, Mama. I’m back. I don’t hate you anymore.”

When she went to preschool, I asked, “Are you going to make lots of new friends today?” “I hope not,” came the response.

Proving two heads are better than one, she often helped me solve mysteries. One day I heard a rapping sound, but found no one at the door. She casually said, “It’s a woodpecker, Mama,” without even looking away from her activity. I scoffed at the idea, then looked out the window. She was right.

Another day we were watching “Octonauts” on TV and I was baffled.

“What is that, a duck? Oh, it’s a beaver. No, wait, it’s a duck? Huh. What the heck is that?” I said.

“It’s a platypus, Mama,” she said, sounding tired.

One night at dinner, she asked to play a game.

“Let’s pretend Mommy’s the mom, and Daddy’s the dad, and I’m the kid, OK?” she said.

“OK,” Tim and I agreed. We all looked at each other in awkward silence.

“Mommy,” she said, “Come on. Tell us what to do.”

As cute as that was, now it’s her turn to play the Mommy. Something tells me she’ll have no trouble telling the little ones what to do.

And the beat goes on.

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