At almost 21 months of personality-filled age and, as far as I can tell, a teenager's worth of attitude, my daughter, Melby, is both the most hilarious, interesting, charming person to be around and also the most irrationally opinionated, exhausting creature I could ever imagine. If my husband were to describe our own relationship, I'd imagine he'd say quite the same about me. This admission recently made me realize that my daughter is in so many ways, basically, me. Whether it's vanity or biology, this scrap of should-be-obvious information, warmed my cold, exhausted pregnant heart long enough to momentarily release me from the weariness of raising a toddler and growing her sister. She is my mini-me.
It became obvious last night, while I was doing the dishes, not nearly attentive enough to Melby's location or activity, when I heard a slight scratching noise in the adjacent bathroom, creaked open the ajar door, and discovered her, toilet bowl brush in hand, literally swabbing the toilet. I was moderately horrified for all the obvious reasons of not being a mom who had properly sequestered away such disgusting tools (not that I thought anyone else in this house would ever touch such a thing), that I didn't know where she was long enough to get her hands on it, and then, simply, that her hands had been on it. Ugh.
Seeing yourself in your child can be the most touching of things.
But even more so, I found myself charmed by the sweetness of my girl only knowing to do such a thing because she's seen me do it. A wash of tenderness came over me. We look so much alike that people often call Melby my "mini me," but in this moment, I saw, too, how much she also mirrors me in habit, personality, and attitude.
It's important to say: I will always cherish her individuality; I do not wish her to be me. She is assertive and unapologetic in a way I am not, a trait I hope she retains long beyond toddlerhood. She has a weird, sneaky, sometimes almost explosive sense of humor that is all her own. Her facial expressions are much more her dad's than mine. And still, seeing yourself in your child can be the most touching of things.
Later that night, after her mini-maid cleaning services, we took an evening bath together, and, as the rest of the world stilled in that precious moment away from phones or messes or chores, I saw even more clearly how the girl I am raising is a tiny reflection of the woman that I am.
It is easiest to notice in small details. She mimics the way I lather my hair and run a washcloth over my skin, scooping up a cupful of water again and again, just as I do, to wash away the bubbles she never quite created on her skin and hair. She is, of course, desperate to hold my razor (covered, of course!) and mirror the scraping away of hair, which on her legs is only a downy fuzz, if even that. When I release it all and just laugh, joyously, at her level of sass and silliness, she responds by also collapsing in laughter on my belly, sliding over the huge orb of her growing sister. Our dual blue eyes are crinkled in humorous reception of one another; we are laughing both at and with each other, what the joke is, I'm unsure, but it is simmering with unconditional love.
It strikes me what a mirror is she is for my own attitude and behavior. What a gift. What a huge responsibility.
I get out of the tub and dry myself first, scooping her up next, mussing her wisps of still fine baby hair with a towel, and quickly patting down her body while we count down, "Three, two, one... naked babyyyy!!!" as I flash her our matching smiles in front of the vanity mirror. She squeals with glee at the sight of us. Every. Single. Day.
And so, I do, too.
She wants lotion on her legs, because I put lotion on. She wants to comb her hair, just as I comb my hair. She wants to brush her teeth as soon as I brush my teeth. We operate as a Jacob's ladder of grooming activities — a cascade of primping actions that hinge on each another but are somehow indiscernible in origin or direction.
Sometimes I don't know if I created this person or if she is, daily, creating me.
We both stand there with toothpaste-y faces; I have still never quite learned to contain the mouthful of toothpaste as I brush, and today, I notice — maybe she has done it before, maybe I have never quite stopped long enough to pay attention — that she gently pulls the hand towel from its low-hanging ring and, after wiping her own face, hands it to me to wipe my own.
My eyes flush with tears.
Sometimes I don't know if I created this person or if she is, daily, creating me. We are growing and changing together in a sort of weird, magical symbiosis. Sometimes it takes a gesture with a hand towel or a dirty toilet bowl brush to make me realize how deeply intertwined we are, but, when I do, it is a gift. These are the quietest, proudest, clearest moments of my days.
I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite bloggers, Teacher Tom, who teaches at a play-based cooperative school in Seattle and runs a very inspiring blog. He says:
"Most of what children learn about being a human being in this world, they learn from the people they most love, but not because they have been drilled, scolded, or otherwise indoctrinated, but rather because they follow their example. If we want children to be kind, we must be kind. If we want them to be tidy, we must be tidy. If we want them to be respectful, then we must be respectful, especially toward them. Indeed, the more we focus on ourselves, on being the person we want ourselves to be, the better we 'teach' the most important life lessons... It's not our job to 'teach' our children anything, but rather to love them and to strive to live according to our own expectations, not in the past or future, but right now."
He is right. Mimicking a bathtime routine is really neither here nor there, but I recognize, in these moments, that I never set out to "teach" my daughter how to groom herself. I simply modeled it and she followed in suit. She will interpret that in her own way, in time, expand upon it, change what doesn't work for her, perhaps rebel against it at some point, but I am laying the groundwork for her future, simply by doing myself. My mini me.
It makes me stop and question those frustrating moments with her and wonder in what ways I am contributing to their existence. Surely plenty of what she's going through is just developmental — a struggle to be understood and respected, a struggle for autonomy — but also some of it is mine. It makes me think about who I want my daughter to become, what qualities I want her to possess. It feels like an opportunity not to succumb to a feeling of overwhelming responsibility and perhaps judgment, but rather a chance to do it right for her even where I haven't, for myself. It's a chance to try again.
I see it when she cleans the toilet, pretends to shave her legs, brushes her teeth with the same mouthful of toothpaste as me. This girl is a tiny mirror into how I live my life, and I am so grateful for the perspective.
For more pieces like this, visit Shiny Happies, our collection of the best parts of raising those little people you love.