Genetic Roulette and Books and Candy

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.

Genetic Roulette

 

Letter to my daughter on her 5th birthday

On each of my kids’ birthdays I compose a letter. My plan is to one day hand over a book of heartfelt letters, proving to an ornery teenager that I do, in fact, know and love him/her, and that my goals as a mother go beyond ruining his/her social life.

Dear Sally,

Today you turn five! Happy birthday! You have a big year ahead of you. I hope that you find as much happiness, wonder, and adventure in five as you found in four. I’m confident you will because that’s the kind of person you are.

Being your mom is one of my life’s greatest joys. You’re such a phenomenally fun kid, and so different from me in so many ways, that I know I’d love and admire you even if you weren’t my daughter. But I’m lucky, because I get to be your mother. I get to revel in messy-haired good morning snuggles, remind you to keep eating during a million and one silly mealtime distractions, and marvel at your laid-back, easy cheer.

I know you’re going to thrive in kindergarten this year. You’re endlessly curious, determined, and not afraid of hard work. These traits have you biking and swimming and doggedly trying to figure out reading, which you’re going to love. I can’t express how proud of you I am when I see you working on something over and over again, trying to master a new skill, wanting to keep up with your big brother. The truth is that you impress me. And it’s a strange feeling for a grown-up to be so impressed by a little kid.

kite

A big part of me wants you to stay little forever. I love your hugs and kisses, your riotous giggles, your little-kid-ness. You’re my baby and always will be.

cuddles

The rest of me is so excited to watch you grow up, see the person you become, watch you stride confidently into the world relying on yourself more and more.

As a four-year-old you’ve been talkative and giggly, independent and creative, intrepid and athletic. On any given day you’ll sing dozens of songs, (or the same song dozens of times, usually from Frozen,) draw some pictures, run around with your brother until you’re sweaty and exhausted, talk to your toys, put your dolls (and random objects) to bed, and tell me a hundred stories, usually starting with, “Did you know…” You make all of us laugh. You can reduce your brother to a pile of gasping giggles at any time with your unique brand of ridiculous humor. As a five-year-old, I hope you continue in all of this, and surprise us with a few new things along the way.

You’re in school now and with that comes some hard work and a new set of social norms and challenges. I’d like to protect you from so many of the difficulties that you’ll face as you go through school, but I can’t. All I can do is offer my listening ear and open arms, help you when you need help, and love you no matter what. I hope that your spirit and confidence only grow as you navigate the new world of school. I hope that you remain unapologetically yourself, unembarrassed and sure.

I’ll miss all of our time at home together now that you’re in school. You have always been so good at entertaining yourself, and you are ever the engaging (if silly) companion. I might be working at my computer only to look up and find this at any given moment:

Dress up

Your flair for dress isn’t limited to when you’re at home.

Fashion Sense

You’re going to grow up a lot this year. It’s probably time to stop accidentally biting your own fingers so often when you eat. And it’s definitely time to drop the baby act. (Please don’t immediately replace it with eye-rolling.) It’s your crutch, and you don’t need it. I want you to always know that no matter how adorably cute you are, and no matter how often that’s the only thing people comment on, you are so much more than that. You have my admiration not because of your smallness or cuteness, but because of your cleverness, kindness, and pluck.

I love you absurdly much, my sweet, whimsical, brave, charming, tenacious, and silly girl. I hope you have the happiest birthday and a wonderful year ahead!

Love, Mom

Stop Sally

I love the special magic that happens when a kid’s smartness intersects with her stupidness. I’m not saying my children are stupid people- they’re just children and all children are stupid people. So, yes, I guess I am saying that my children are stupid people. Anyway, my daughter loves to write.

Most of her writing is just senseless scribbles because she’s four years old, but she can write her name and suddenly can also write the word “stop.” This means that there are notes all over the house where she is apparently telling herself off.

Stop Sally

She tells herself off for banging on the bathroom door while I’m in there when she slides a note underneath that says, “Stop Sally.” Uh, yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying.

She tells herself off for calling to us after bedtime when she comes downstairs and hands me a “Stop Sally” note.

It’s perfect really. I can save my breath. I just need to teach her to write “Stop Luke” notes.