"How'd she do?" I ask my dad as he leads my daughter in from the backyard. It was a surprise when Ella June dragged him outside - they don't get much time together and she's still warming up to him. He, on the other hand, is enamored and awed.
And, today, slightly horrified.
"I think she said shit," he says.
Ella June, not quite a year and a half old, blinks her baby blues at me, cheeks red from the cold, button nose dripping.
"Nah," I say. "She just learned 'shoe.' I bet that was it."
Not two minutes later, my angel drops her sippy. "Shit," she says, with feeling.
I hope it is a fluke, but the next day she takes a nosedive while chasing one of our cats and the word tumbles out of her mouth like she's a very tiny, very adorable sailor.
And, a week later, when she free-falls off our bed onto her perfect bum instead of sliding gracefully to her feet, she mutters, "shit" under her breath as she toddles away. She says it to herself without needing an audience like I might say it if I drive past a police car and my inspection sticker is expired, my eyes darting to the rearview to see if I've been caught.
I tell this story to other mothers at work, and we compare notes on how to keep from laughing. We discuss which parent is to blame for our children having potty mouths before they are potty trained (I'm pleading the fifth). How do you discipline a sixteen month old for cussing in the correct context, anyway?
But what I do not tell these mothers is the truth: I am reeling, overwhelmed by the proof of a suspicion I have been suppressing for months.
She is listening.
She is listening when I read Goodnight Moon and point out each object - telephone, red balloon, kittens (her favorite), mittens, clocks, socks. One night she grabs my index finger in her pudgy hand and directs it to the right spot on the page. I thought she was dozing through this ritual, but all of a sudden and without prompting she gets every one right.
She is listening when I sing. "Sing with mami," I say, and a hesitant little voice warbles out along with me. Her pitch and rhythm are uncannily accurate, even if the lyrics are not.
She is listening when we talk to the cats - she imitates the clucking sound they like perfectly - and she is listening when the cats talk to us. A vocabulary of varied meows passes between her and her furry siblings. She learned cat before she learned English.
She is listening when I comment on my appearance, both in the mirror and in photos. She is listening when I say I look fat, or that my jeans are too tight, or that I hate my chin (a chin that looks so much better on her).
She is listening when I am grouchy and uncharitable. She is listening when I snipe at her father. She is listening when I make an easy, unkind joke.
She is listening when I lie. When I say "I'm fine" and mean the opposite. She is listening when I let my needs go unattended to save face, to keep the peace, to be polite. She is listening when I say, "I'm sorry" a hundred times a day instead of saying "excuse me," or "please," or sometimes "hello."
It terrifies me that every word that comes out of my clumsy mouth may someday come out of her precious one.
But I hope she is also listening when I tell her she is precious, and when I say, "you are special in this world." I hope she is listening when I say, "Our Father, who art in heaven." I hope she is listening when I say, "You are blessed,” and “You are good,” and “You are enough,” and “You make me proud.” I hope she is listening when I say, “I thank God for you every day.”
I hope she is listening when I say, "You are loved."