Parenting in an Echo Chamber


by Chad Carter

Parenting in an Echo Chamber was originally published on and has been reprinted with permission.

I grew up in the age of Walkmans, Discmans, and stereo surround sound. You know, with the headphones that had the flimsy wire that traversed over the top of your head. Admit it — we looked cool. I’ve been coming to reminisce on this time lately and decided it’s a shame my son will never experience the frustration of a skipping CD or the magnetic tape of a cassette getting wrapped around one of those little pegs and ruining your favorite music.

Part of what inspired this recall is that as a father, I am getting a fresh reminder of what it’s like to hear everything in stereo. But unfortunately, it’s not because of a new sound system.

My son has recently turned our home, car, and lives into an echo chamber. Like the namesake of this very site, his babbling and word repetition has us feeling a little High Fidelity.

One day we were out for a casual stroll around the neighborhood when a garbage truck came roaring around the corner. Knowing my son’s extreme enjoyment of big trucks I gleefully shouted “oh, boy!” as the the truck came lumbering closer. Without skipping a beat and with his eyes laser locked on the impending loud machine of joy, he exclaimed back to me “oh, boy!”

Now it wasn’t the most clear pronunciation, but there was no missing the distinct words I had just uttered spilling out of his mouth. I was a bit surprised he was so quick to echo me without any prompt at all. We hadn’t really experienced that yet, so it caught me a bit off guard. Wondering if it was a one hit wonder or not, I coyly gave a little “wahoo” as the truck passed by and sure enough my little echo chamber promptly responded.

Since then, our toddler has been in full blown mimic mode. I kinda wish I could hit that button on my phone that turns off the repeat function, except for a baby. Alas, we’re not so lucky. To date, some of his more entertaining comments have been:

“Oh, nice.” (For some strange reason in the voice of Borat.)

“Just a moment.”

“Go potty.”

“Dog poop.”

“No poo poo.”

“Turd.” (As in, “quit being such a turd.” That one just slipped out.)

“Turn right.”

“Oh, Jesus.” (this one also slipped out)

“S#%t!” (We’re not ones to swear in front of him, but hey, traffic can do that to a person.)

The sad thing is is that my son’s repetition shines a light on the things that my wife and I say in front of him without thinking. I’m not sure what it says about the current state of our vocabulary. There seems to be an awful lot of potty talk in that list. I guess at this age, there’s a lot to be said about poop. Who knew?

As a former broadcast journalist, I was always VERY aware of the words I said when on TV. History hasn’t worked in favor of the news anchors who drop a swear word under their breath that’s caught by a microphone. But in that world, it was easy for me to be aware.

But when you have a child, you never aren’t a parent. Especially in those moments of frustration when you accidentally let out an “Oh, Jesus” without thinking and realize your little sponge of a toddler is staring right at you, excited to repeat it right back.

I know it’s only a phase and he’ll grow out of it. Not that it means we won’t still have to choose our words wisely. Hearing him so excited to talk and share what we say is adorable — most of the time. I’m sure somewhere along his teenage years I’ll be begging for him to repeat after me. Instead I’m sure he’ll be tuning me out with whatever headphones will look like in 2030.

More on Babble:

The sweet spot that is age three

Unfortunate (but hilarious) words our toddlers mispronounce

The two words I can’t stand hearing my toddler say

I overcame my biggest fear, with my 5-year-old by my side

The hug that ruined my son’s birthday party

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