I was reading Lucy one of her favorite stories. I was exhausted and, in a hasty attempt to wrap things up, started taking liberties by ending each paragraph a smidge early.

As I continued to the next page, Lucy stopped me and said, “You didn’t say, ‘Daddy Pig said while carrying the tree up the hill.’ ”

Oh, good grief. Out of this entire book, she even has the quote attributions memorized?

After I put her to bed, I ruminated on her memory of the book. Half the time, I don’t think she’s paying attention when I read. She’ll get distracted, ask me random questions or start playing with one of her stuffed animals. But she is paying attention, with an eerie eye for detail.

What else is she paying attention to?

I’ve heard it said before that children do listen, observe and watch far more than we give them credit for. But actually getting direct evidence, like correcting me on a small detail in a large book, had me on edge. It was as if I had a secret spy in the house. Watching. Listening. Memorizing. Making a list of my faults she can use against me in her teen years.

Then I felt the dread of responsibility, like when I was in my 20s and it was my turn to be the designated driver. It feels so much freer to just cut loose and do or say whatever you want!

But alas, lunch isn’t free, and neither is parenting. It has costs — to us and to our babies. And I know, in my heart, she’s watching. Watching how I respond to frustration. Watching how I respond to her father. Watching how I don’t realize she’s talking to me because I have my nose buried in my phone. Watching when I get up in the morning and how I load the dishwasher (and what kind of mood I’m in while I do it). Watching me head to the pantry when I’m stressed. Watching, observing and taking mental notes — whether she’s even aware she’s doing it or not.

But it’s not all bad news. She also watches me work hard and get up early to write. She watches as I persistently pursue my goals and accomplish them. She watches me go on walks. She watches me pray. She sees me laugh loudly and often. She notices when I shrug things off that don’t matter in the long run.

And I realized, consciously for the first time after tucking her into bed, that she’s watching me be human, but can also watch me try to be better. She can watch me apologize when I make a mistake or lose my temper. She can watch me cry, pat my tears and persevere. She can watch me take deep breaths instead of doling out snark. She can watch me intentionally put away my phone, wrap my arms around her and say “What did you say sweetheart? Mommy was reading something, but I want to hear every word you have to say.”

And then she can say, “I was asking for another cookie.”

And I’ll say, “Cookies are a treat; you can have an apple.”

And she’ll say, “I don’t like apples — ew, gross!” and stomp away crying.

And then she can watch me not give her a cookie.

Anna Lind Thomas is a humor writer and mom to daughters Lucy and Poppy and English bulldog Bruno, wife to Rob Thomas and founder of HaHas for HooHas. She writes for momaha.com.

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