“I’m just doing my thing.” Possibly the best phrase I ever taught my daughter to say and understand… so far.
Like any good parent with opinions and a questionable filter, there are several choice phrases I’ve unknowingly taught my nearly-three-year-old daughter. Through repeated and largely accidental indoctrination, LittleBird is now a master at re-purposing my words to suit her pin-point focused worldview. So far—somehow—they are all relievingly appropriate for polite company.
(There is, of course, an equal part of her vocabulary completely due to the husband’s exclamations, the cartoons she watches, phrases in her favorite books, and her babysitters, aunts, and friends. Not to mention the sizable sliver of where the heck did that come from?? My favorite of these at present: “Oh, stop it, you big lug!” and “I am the queen of the forest, by the power of my blood.” Creepy, but inventive, non?)
Some of my regularly blurted words have gone so far as to become part of her regular vernacular. “Ohhhh, come on!” she mutters when the crayon breaks. “Are you kidding me?” She’s using it correctly, by my standards. It’s my go-to combo when the computer, my phone, or any piece of technology is not behaving as advertised, uttered under my breath while I press and press the same series of keys, hoping for somethinganything to take hold. Broken crayons? Are you kidding me?
Another useful phrase, she collected from our bi-weekly baking sessions: “We have to follow the recipe.” I chirp this out for her benefit, ad nauseum, emphasizing the importance of sequence, correct measurements, and patience while making the sweets. (Yes, I realize the foolhardiness of attempts to instill patience in a toddler when sugar is involved—but to be fair, it’s also a mantra for myself, buying a few seconds to check the recipe for the 30th time while I try not to mix up baking powder and baking soda. Some of us are not born confectioners.) For LittleBird, “we have to follow the recipe,” is chirped out to anyone within hearing as a handy reminder to comply with any set of instructions, usually of her devising. “Following the recipe” could be taking the preferred path to the front door, placing her toys just so, or determining how many hats it is permissible to pile on a head at one time (the answer varies, but is strictly enforced each time).
A particular phrase I love to hear needs no explanation: “Daddy is a good man.”
But my favorite, the stolen expression I am most proud to hear, has to be: “I’m just doing my thing.” It’s evolved over the last year from a parroted jumble of words to an explanation, sometimes an excuse, and a jumping off point for talking about the ways we interact with other people.
LittleBird has always been a social creature, walking fearlessly into games and groups of kids, joining in or taking control as toddlers do. However, she also is a kid who seems to need her own time. Time to look through her piles of books, to contemplate a particular spot on the floor, time to sort her “jewels”, or pretend to fix each leg on every piece of furniture in the house with a makeshift screwdriver. She needs time to focus intently on something, all on her own.
When others have tried to hurry her, or worried about why she was so quiet, or wanted her to join in with some activity on the other side of the room, I’d know she was knee-deep in books or jewels and invariably say, “She’s fine, she’s just doing her thing.” No wonder that LittleBird internalized it, hearing it so often. She owns it, and frankly it works out really well for us both. I’m the one who named the allowance for needing time and space, so I get it when she invokes it. It makes me rethink what I’m asking her to do.
“Do you want to come read with me?”
“No thank you. I’m just doing my thing.”
(We’ve spent the last 4 days together. She just needs time away from me.)
“It’s time to go to the party! Come on! Don’t you want to go?”
“No. I’m doing my thing.”
(Perhaps I need to quit overscheduling our weekends.)
“That’s a nice picture! Can you tell me about the picture? I see you have 4 circles. I like the colors. Can you tell me what colors you used?”
“I’m just doing my thing!”
(Mom. Seriously. Shut up and just let me color.)
And sure, sometimes it backfires on me…
“LittleBird, I asked you to put everything away, not take it out.”
“I said brush your teeth. It’s way past time for bed.”
“LittleBird, now! I am late for work!”
“Agh! What are you doing with that toilet paper?!”… “I’m just doing my thing.”
But for the most part, I’m convinced it’s a decent philosophy, or at least a decent piece of one. Eventually (hopefully!) she’ll get that it’s not just an excuse to get out of things that really are required. And it’s already becoming a convenient way to talk about respecting other people.
Like when we’re at the store, and LittleBird, ever-social, shouts, “Hi! Hey! I said hi! Hi! I SAID HI!” at unsuspecting passersby, interrupting conversations and sometimes scaring more timid kids and old ladies.
Or when she marches up to another little girl at the Y, nose to nose, and yanks on the startled girl’s swimsuit. “I like your dress. Come follow me. Come on!”
Or when LittleBird wants to immediately run to and pet or pick up every single dog at the park, no matter how surly or scared the animal looks.
For all of these subjects of her immediate, enthusiastic fascination, I can usually pull her away with a quiet, “Not right now, love. They need some space. They’re just doing their thing, and it does not include you.” And usually—“They’re doing their thing? Oh.”— she gets it.
I’m discovering that the whole, “becoming a person” thing is mostly about teaching my daughter that she matters and that other people matter. That’s it. Everything else—intelligence, talent, social skills—I’ll consider that gravy. We all need some time to follow our own pursuits, and I will do my best to help her learn to make choices that respect that need for herself and for the people in her life.
Besides, it could come in handy in a few years.
“Mom! I said I need to go to the mall! Why are you still reading? Are you drinking another cup of coffee??”
… “I’m just doing my thing.”