Zac was only two when we started our goat adventure. No doubt, that played a big part in our decision to name the two brother goats "Grover" and "Elmo." I have no idea why we named the third "Mama Goat," unless it was the fact that she was old enough to have given birth to the other two. Or maybe our brains were tuckered.
Mama Goat had horns--sharp, scary horns. I liked her fine when I went out alone to feed her, and didn't give her pointy weapons a second thought, but whenever Zac toddled after me, I went into full-alert.
"No, no, Zac. Stay away from that one. That goat has horns that will hurt you."
The alarm in my voice chased his natural curiosity. He'd give her a solemn glance and slide a step or two closer to me.
I must have warned him plenty, because one afternoon, when my dad came to visit, we took him out to the goat pen to introduce him to the rest of the family.
"Zac, tell Grandpa Mike what the goats' names are," I prompted.
He pointed to the two brothers first. "That's Grover, and that's Elmo." Then he aimed his pudgy little finger toward Mama Goat. "And that's 'Horns-That-Will-Hurt-You.'"
It's funny what they pick up--and what they repeat.
I got another reminder a few months later when we left Zac with my uncle one evening and went out for a high-chairless dinner in a no-baby restaurant. We weren't gone long. When we returned, Uncle Doug was laughing his head off.
"You'll never guess what I just overheard," he said. He then set up the scene: he was reading the paper upstairs in the kitchen, Zac was playing with his toy cars in the den just below the kitchen. The railings between the kitchen and the lower den allowed Uncle Doug to hear every screech and motor rev.
After driving one car around the floor for a few minutes, Zac said,in a high, momish voice, "Dave ... slow down."
Upstairs, Uncle Doug grinned.
Zac drove the car another lap around the carpet, and then said again--in my voice, only a tad more insistent this time--"Dave, I said, 'slow down.'"
Apparently, the imaginary Dave didn't obey the imaginary me. Because after one more trip around the imaginary track, Zac crashed his car into another. As the dust settled, he said, "See, Dave? I told you to slow down."
It's true, you know, that little pitchers have big ears.
Recently, while out shopping, I got another reminder. If I haven't mentioned before, my new love is knitting. I was out on a yarn quest, down on my hands and knees in front of a bin at the craft store, when I heard a dad and daughter arguing. I looked up and saw them walking past my aisle. The little imp was adorable, and no more than three. He held her on his hip. Just as they passed my view, I heard him say, "Why don't you just shut up? I'm sick of your crap!" and without missing a beat, she said right back, "Yeah? Well, I'm sick of your crap!"
Oh, there are so many better things we can pass on to our children. Since we know they're listening, and we know they're little mina birds and love nothing more than appropriating our words and mimicking our tone and throwing it all right back at us, maybe we could give a little more thought to the words we pass along.
"I was wrong" is nice. Especially if it's followed up with, "I'm sorry ... will you forgive me?" And you can never make a mistake with "I'm proud of you" or "I'm glad you're mine" or, best of all, "I love you."
When we're purposeful about our legacy, when we take just a half second to think about the words we're releasing into the air, we sometimes get rewarded with unexpected and wonderful surprises. Sometimes, those echoes come back to us.
When Zac was little, the last thing I used to tell him every night, before turning out his little Ninja Turtle lamp, was, "I always wanted a boy just like you."
One night, after I'd had a long, hard day and really needed a back rub or a milk chocolate Dove bar or something equally comforting, Zac appeared in the doorway to my office and popped his head in. "Know what, Mama?" he said. "I always wanted a mom just like you."
I'm so glad he listened.