There I was watching my husband stirring a vial of this, setting a timer for that, laying out test strips on the dining room table — after reading four different sets of directions.
Who knew that in order to go to a small family gathering, you had to become a chemist? Or at least a medical lab technician? And yet that’s what it was going to take to get us out of the house and to a small birthday party for a family member, as safely as possible.
We needed a battery of tests: one for each of us the night before traveling to our hotel, and then another for each of us in the morning, just before going to the party. And, thanks to the feast-and-famine distribution of such things, every single test was a different kind from a different manufacturer with completely different instructions.
If it had been left to me, we’d still be parked in the driveway waiting for President Biden’s tests to arrive because I would have ruined every test in the house. Luckily, my husband excels at reading directions — and following them — so he became our CMO (chief medical officer) and finally got us on the road.
I was still marveling at my spouse’s ability to decipher those instruction sheets, while I watched three toddlers playing on our hostess’ family room floor. Poor little things, I thought; wait till they grow up and learn that life is full of instruction sheets.
Just then one of the kids started banging on a pot. Instantly, they all were. Then the oldest one started jumping on the couch. You know what happened next — they all were.
Then one of them headed upstairs to our host’s home office. She installed herself at the computer keyboard, hand on the mouse, and announced, “I want to work!”
I had forgotten just how much little kids are copy cats. They will “out” you for every blessed thing you do.
This, at least, was infinitely better than the “dammit” and foot stomp that my own toddler had performed at this age, showing his grandma, my mother-in-law, just exactly how Mommy behaves when she’s triggered the car alarm.
His brother loved grabbing the portable house phone and running around the house with it perched on his shoulder. He also used to put my reading glasses on his head and pretend not to know where they were. Can’t imagine where he learned that.
Before having children, I used to think that “copy cat” behavior was just vaguely annoying. As a mother, I learned to respect it.
When my kids set up a lemonade stand, they insisted I help make a sign that they had “extra whitening!” I just thought they meant sugar; it was years before I realized they were copying it from a toothpaste ad.
They would copy each other in big things and small. I remember one summer day at the local park where I took the 6-year-old and the 3-year old to try out their bike and trike. The 6-year-old was going strong until he took a little tumble, half way down the path. No harm done, he jumped right back up and continued on.
What I found odd was that a few minutes later the 3-year old stopped pedaling, got off his trike and painstakingly pushed it over onto the grass. Of course! It was the same exact spot where his brother had fallen.
And one night — a rare evening out that I had really dressed up for — my little boy decided to tell me, “You look so big!” I was taken aback. Should I turn around and change into something else? But eventually I realized that’s what I always said to him when he was dressed up in his little blazer and tie, so to him it was the highest of praise.
I am coming to believe that this “copycat” thing is really the way we were designed — or evolved — to learn nearly everything. Which means I should give up on reading instructions entirely. Instead, I should try behaving like a toddler. If I had, maybe I could have copied my husband and learned to do those COVID tests.
Because never mind about our surveillance society. There is nobody watching you better, or more closely than a toddler.