This does not necessarily happen when you most want it to, like when you’re trying to get to somewhere five minutes away and you have five minutes, which turn into two minutes as your dear, dear child looks at the penny in her hand while standing on the stairs then refuses to sit down in her car seat when you finally get her that far. Having your child listen and pay attention may not happen when you warn her that the pan from the Brussels sprouts is oven-hot and that she shouldn’t touch it. She may not listen when you ask her to go into the bathroom so that you can get her ready for bed; suddenly, the Play Doh, the books in her room, the records, and her dirty socks are all so much more interesting than what you have to say.

But paying attention does happen, and more often than we think, and often when we least expect it. Children listen. I know mine does.

“Some pig,” Charlotte spins into her web about her porcine friend. Our daughter brought this up at breakfast one day. Then she said, “Don’t be such a pig, Daddy!” Only today did I realize that it comes from one of her books, courtesy of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which provides a free book each month until a child turns five (a fabulous program; thanks, Dolly!). It’s a combo of Marci Curtis’ Big Brother, Little Brother and Big Sister, Little Sister. In the sisters’ section, a big sister takes a bite of her little sister’s food, and the caption reads, “Don’t be such a pig!” Not the phrase I most want her to learn – or use.

At breakfast today, ML blurted out, “Hands off my underwear!” Yes, a caption from the brothers’ section was prominent in her mind, too, where one brother’s tugging at the other brother’s pants. These aren’t really the lines I’d most like her to be citing – or the lesson I’d most like her to pick up.

Before dinner, she took little bookmarks out of a cookbook of mine. After being admonished, she said, “I’m dumb.” Of course I hugged her and told her she wasn’t (although I’m not sure she really knows what it means, exactly), but I blame Little My in Moominpappa at Sea: an abrasive, naughty, do-as-she-pleases character (she is honest about her feelings), she has used both the word “dumb” and the word “stupid,” which I think we manage to avoid using in daily life most of the time. But my girl, she listens. She processes. When she’s ready, she puts what she’s learned to use. Not dumb. Not dumb at all.

At dinner, she said her grapes were “dangling” – and they were, from their stem. Again, back to Marci Curtis’ brothers’ section: “We’re munching hanging donuts dangling in the air.” That one, I’ll take. Dangling is a good word, and she learned it and can apply it. Terrific!

All of this makes me realize just how much she absorbs…and how much we should be aware, if not careful. The mer-animals of yesterday’s posts were inspired by Ladybug Girl and Bingo, when Ladybug Girl imagines there are mermaids and merdogs in the water.

My takeaway lesson: know what she’s reading. Think about what we’re reading to her. Know what she’s watching.Think about what we’re watching with her or letting her watch. And for now, at least, take Marci Curtis’ book out of rotation. I know, that’s nearly the same as hogging it – “Don’t be such a pig!” – but she’ll learn from other books still. Who knows what she’ll pick up from Little My next?

Little My, as found on Tumblr, posted by oneoftheboysx