“Excuse Me, Bob,” says my 20-month-old son to an elderly man one night at a small group Bible study, as he squeezes past his towering legs and into the kitchen.
He invites laughs from all around. The pleased kind. My son, before he can form full sentences, has learned to say “excuse me.” No, like many phrases, he hasn’t really learned quite why we say them, like why he says “A-men” before eating, or why he says “I sorry” after doing a bad thing. But his brain is beginning to form emotional connections to those phrases. He knows there is something to utter when he bumps into someone, when he is about to eat and has to do something first, or when he hurt someone’s feelings and knows it’s a “no no”.
So while he doesn’t comprehend the meaning of what he is learning, a child learning to copy before comprehend, I am glad to see him starting early, learning the cadences and utterances, so that one day he will develop the connection to how important it is to show respect, show repentance, and show thankfulness.
I know he learned to say “excuse me” over Christmas break, during the many times we had to squeeze past my parents’ dog, who loved to stand in doorways. But applying this to a person, an elderly person at that, makes me happy. Not only is this boy bright, but he is kind. As superficial as his innocent mimicry is, it still pleases me to see it.
Start early. Start early.