Each time a couple gets together to make a baby they gamble on a spin of the roulette wheel of genetics. In the universe’s infinite randomness, or infinite wisdom depending on your religious persuasions, the resulting baby is a little bit of this and a little bit of that, basically a mess of traits gleaned from parents and ancestors long forgotten.
When my babies arrived, it was clear that I had no genetic input to their physical appearance. Neither were blue-eyed and pink. Luke looked like a photo of his dad come to life, and Sally looked exactly like Luke. This hasn’t changed. Tim and Luke look alike down to their toes. They inhabit their identical-but-32-years-apart bodies the same way, crossing their legs in the same manner, moving effortlessly the same in their skins. It’s weird.
And Sally? She looks like Luke. Her face is his face, just slightly smaller. People sometimes tell me that she looks like me, and I can see how one might imagine I looked like that as a little girl. But a photo of me at 5 holds no resemblance to my daughter, beyond the fact that all 5-year-old girls look pretty much the same.
So what did they get from me in our game of genetic roulette? A couple of unfortunate intangibles: for Luke it’s mostly my quick temper and general disdain for authority. This is absolutely not ideal, but probably exactly what I deserve. To Sally I passed down a flair for drama – this is a euphemism for OH MY GOD THE GIRL IS SO FREAKING DRAMATIC – and a natural disposition to getting hurt in unlikely situations. These, also, are not ideal, nor are they my best qualities.
This weekend I discovered a couple more subtle roulette outcomes in my children.
Dressed in our cozy pajamas, the kids and I piled on the couch on Sunday morning for me to read to them from James and the Giant Peach. This is an epically great book. I loved it when I was a kid and I couldn’t wait to share it with Luke and Sally. The writing is wonderfully descriptive, easily painting the scenes in a reader’s mind. The characters, each fleshed out in all their glorious weirdness, lend themselves to reading aloud, if you enjoy adapting different voices and affectations to help capture your audience’s imagination, which I do. (See inherited “flair for drama” above.)
So I read, enjoying it so much I could have read the entire book in one sitting. To my left, sat a captivated Sally, carefully studying each of the few pictures I showed her. In her I saw a younger me, comparing her imagination’s picture with the book’s illustrations, adjusting her mind’s account accordingly, seeing everything as clearly as if it were a scene right in front of her eyes.
To my right, Luke sat bored and squirmy. The book didn’t have enough pictures; the action was slow to arrive due to far too much background information, too much about the mean aunts and James’ despondency. He begged me to stop. Sally begged me to continue. When I did stop, Luke bounded away from us gratefully, needing to stretch and move. Sally curled into me and asked if I would read more later and if we could do this every Sunday morning. She took a few minutes to mentally transition, saving her mind’s image for next time.
At last! One of my children is like me, and in a way I actually like! Luke’s aversion to reading, and even hearing stories, worries and upsets me a little. I’m sure he’ll be fine and normal and all that, but not loving to read? Ack! It’s like a personal affront. Is this strange boy-person really my child? He’s so unlike me in every way.
Later that day I was still feeling entirely unrelated to Luke, when he inadvertently proved that he is mine after all. At a local Halloween event the kids got to collect some candy shortly before we were set to leave. “OK, kids, it’s time to go, but you can eat some of your candy in the car.” (A good exit strategy is always key.) Sally: “Yay!” Luke: “But I finished all my candy already.”
WHAT? In the few minutes that we watched the end of a costume contest, Luke had absent-mindedly eaten all of his candy. I’m sure he didn’t notice half of it. Sigh, shit. Who would think that this could be an inherited trait? A bag of candy is about as safe with me as a bag of brains is safe with zombies. I would absolutely mindlessly eat it all my candy immediately.
Can’t this kid inherit a single good quality from me? Meanwhile, Sally ate a little candy in the car on the way home, still has some left over today, and chances are she will forget all about it. This she inherits from her father, under whose watch a package of cookies can actually go stale. (WTF?)
The problem with genetic roulette is what you learn about yourself. Nothing compares to seeing your flaws and weaknesses playing out in your children. Hopefully Luke’s physicality and inability to be still will counterbalance his absent-minded candy consumption better than my love for sitting still and reading does mine! Flaws or not, it is comforting to see yourself in your children. It helps reinforce the biologic component to parenting, which is important and helps keep us going when quitting seems like a decent option, like each night around bed time.