In the months before my son was born, my friend, Tobin, was going through a divorce and needed a place to crash. So he crashed with us and every other week, so did his four-year-old son, Jude. We loved having them around and it was good training for parenthood. I’m not “Walk around the house naked guy” or “Yell obscenities at every hour of the night guy” but obviously it’s a big transition going from “no kids” to “one or more kids” in your house and Jude gave us (read: “me”) a sort-of trial run on having a kid around the house who didn’t go somewhere else at the end of the evening.
Jude had a lot of energy (duh) but he was also content being the only kid in the midst of a group of adults and was great at disappearing into his own thing, whether it was an iPad or toys or even a book, when the occasion called for it. I learned a lot about having your kids around other adults in settings that were not specifically geared toward kids and Lindsey and I have carried that forward with Cooper. I think it’s important, on a number of levels, that he learns how to interact with his elders and I’m not sure that would have been such an immediate priority for me had I not sat in a room with 10 adults, and one four-year-old, dozens of times over those pre-Cooper months.
In this setting, Jude would kinda tune out and leave the adults to our nonsense with the very pointed, incredibly consistent exception on one very specific thing: No matter what he was doing, where he was in the house, or how quietly you spoke, if you said the word “stupid”, he would immediately perk up and chide you. “Don’t say stupid,” he’d say, eyes darting up just long enough to make it clear that he was not messing around. You could say LITERALLY any other word and he’d go on with whatever he was doing unphased; you could mock his dad mercilessly (a favorite pastime of mine), you could blare Kanye, you could deliver a perfect reading of the first 20 minutes of The Departed, everything else was on the table. But if you said “stupid” you would HEAR ABOUT IT without fail. It got to the point where if someone did utter the magic “s” word, his face would sink and the rest of us would glance over at Jude, waiting for his rebuke. He never let us down and I still give Tobin grief about it to this day.
I am now reaping the karmic rewards of that which I have sown.
Cooper is a super observant kid. From an early age, you could tell he was taking everything in and processing whatever was happening around him. And he never forgets anything (except how to put away his dirty clothes). He listens to what we say and we try very, very hard to include him in conversation, ask him questions, and engage him in what we’re doing and usually he goes right along with it. The general exception to this is the car. When we’re in the car, there are things he pays attention to and notices, but it’s usually tied more to routine and landmarks. If I take a different route home from my parent’s house, he’ll ask why we didn’t turn where we usually do and if we happen to pass a random building that he’s seen before, he’ll comment on how this is near something or some place that he visited once some months or years previously. But for the most part, in the car, he kinda tunes us out unless we’re specifically engaging him. And even then, he’s prone to saying, “I don’t want to talk right now” and returning his gaze to the window. I respect it.
Recently, though, he let us in on his big secret. Lindsey and I were talking about something (I don’t remember the specifics; work, friends, family, my grief over the impending end of Dirk Nowitzki’s playing career, whatever, take your pick) and Cooper asked, “What does that mean?” I glanced back at him and asked if he was listening to our conversation. His reply chilled me to my bones.
“I hear EVERYTHING,” he said somewhat emphatically.
“Are you telling me you’re just sitting back there all quiet listening to everything we say?” I asked, half-amused and half-thinking-back-on-everything-I-had-said-in-the-last-15-minutes.
“Yes. I always do that. I. Hear. Ev. Er. Y. Thing.”
He smiled at me in a manner that suggested he knew EXACTLY what kind of bombshell he’d just dropped on us then went back to staring at the window, a satisfactory grin on his little gremlin face. Meanwhile, Lindsey and I shrugged nervously at each other, “Welp, can’t put that genie back in the bottle.” And look, it’s not like we’re throwing around f-bombs or trashing our friends behind their backs (I usually just trash them to their faces) or whatever else might be truly damaging to a child. We both worked with kids for years before we ever had our own and anyway, we tend to keep things pretty mild in our conversations regardless of the presence of tiny ears. But still, we thought the car was a safe place given how completely zoned out this kid has consistently been for the bulk of his life and lo and behold, we were playing right into his hands.
So, if you hear our kid calling someone a moron in traffic (me) or ranting about the menu changes at Taco Bueno (Lindsey) or marveling at the sheer stupidity of the DC Extended Universe (me) or saying one of those words that’s not really, exactly a curse word per se but definitely isn’t a mom-friendly-word (me again), that’s our bad. Just know that we didn’t know he “hears EVERYTHING” until just this second and we’ll try to better in the future.
And, don’t say stupid.