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Thursday, 24 March 2016

#8 On Cherry-Picking Your Child's Genes

                      Looks, personality, the lot...which genes would we choose and what does it say about us...?

Ever tried to imagine what someone's house looks like before you're due to make your first visit? It never really works, does it? The eventual reality always makes the fantasy just that: weird and dreamlike. It's a bit like that when we birth children. Due to genetics, of course, even if we find out the gender beforehand ninety-nine percent of the actual outcome, subject to infinite possible combinations, will always be a surprise. 

That said, I've still enjoyed a bit of timewast-y pondering as much as the next woman, especially with my son (my first). Have I ever got anything right in my musings? Well...

With Son we started this on a physical level. We'd expected a child with my husband's dark Asian genes and sure enough, out popped a little coffee-coloured babe with black hair. So far so good, we thought, until a week later the 'tan' had shown itself to be jaundice, the hair had thinned and receded and he'd developed some pronounced baby acne. In short, a pimply Phil Collins was what stared back at us. Well, for that time at least.

But I'm being so shallow, I thought. Let me turn my musings to his character. How might that turn out? Let's see: if we could cherry pick some genes, we'd see that daddy's skills are largely quite lucrative where mummy's are not; Daddy gets Maths and Science, Mummy...not so much. Mummy can do languages...there, have languages.

In truth, the jury's still out on the academic stuff. He's only two and a half. For now, what I can say is that other traits from both us parents have over time reared their ugly heads emerged.  Our predictions have been mocked once again.

Here's what we found: 

What you hope for
What you get
1. His father's special bond with numbers
An obsession with the number 8. He either delights in pointing it out wherever he sees it, or has it feature in bad dreams where he's unhappily squealing its name (no, really). Odd.

2. A sense of attentiveness and willingness to listen.
Not sure what I was thinking here, since I'm not particularly gifted at this either. At best Son's listening is selective, swung heavily in favour of words concerning nice times and sweet things, obviously. Less nice words from us go totally unheard. Allegedly. 

Then, he will happily start repeating back to us stuff we've said months earlier, often not intended for his ears (you know, swear words, insults we've muttered at other drivers when driving, etc). But this gets worse as you will see below.

3. Intelligence, keenness, a love of learning. 

Brains, basically.

Smart-arsedness. Yes, he 'gets' consequences after all, though likes to turn it all back on us. Often recently have our angry words and expressions been met with his sing-song 'OK, I time out' whereupon he cheerily pops himself atop The Chair of Absolute Punishment. What a fear factor it clearly has.
4. Compliance

Not on your life, unless bribed. Heavily and on his terms. You’ve seen point #3.

OK then, if he won’t lie down and take orders, maybe it’s due to... 

5. Calm Self-Confidence, a sense of Dignity...
Indignance, smart-arsedness (see above) and, er, despotism. In a recent fun game, Son opts for some role-play: ' time out, mummy!' so I awkwardly play along, sitting where told and pretending to cry. Feeling a creeping sense of inappropriateness, I break role and get up to make myself a cup of tea, only to be told 'No! Sit there! I told you sit there!' 
A-ha, I think, here again do you show those excellent listening skills, coupled with a talent for observational comedy. See point #2.

OK, none of the above have really gone to plan. Let's at least go for comedy, then:

6. A child who is Amusing and Good Company.

A huge showoff who plays to laughs, especially when it's inappropriate. Not only does he repeat dodgy stuff we've said, he often does it with the gusto of the performer:

one friend of ours still has the video footage of Son repeating the word 'MENTAL' over and over, with a delighted eyeballing of each audience member and a volume that matches the increasing laughs.

7. Sensitivity (to others) and empathy
A drama queen - sensitive to himself, at least - with a talent for pathos. This is the boy who likes to cry into the mirror and perfect the delivery of his tears.  

So can we ever know what kind of a child we will have, and can we ever prepare for it? Forewarned is forearmed, surely. 

Well maybe, but it's complicated. We need to reconcile ourselves with the levels of denial first. On a simple level, this involves just the relationship with our child. When I discipline Son I often need to suppress how bloody funny and endearing his behaviour often is. What may not be predictable/eradicable can at least be forgivable. And that's OK. In fact, it's good: Mother Nature has ensured Son's survival because I don't throttle him. 

But wait, there's more. Someone I know was recently pulled up at work for not towing the line. He was told he was argumentative, dismissive and unmanageable. Now these are harsh words to hear, but even harsher when drawing an uncomfortable conclusion: 

'Shit, you know what? That's my son.'

For all we now know about genetics, there is no softening to the blow of seeing ourselves in our children and vice-versa. And dammit, the more Husband and I ponder the list above, the more of a mirror it becomes to our attempts to deny or euphemise our own flaws. Our tots' lives play out at times like a satire of our own. In my case, this is no more true than with points #6 and #7 above. Sigh. 

Prediction is possible, then, but it involves some awkward admissions first.

However, maybe more important than this is acceptance, since acceptance of our children really needs an acceptance of ourselves. OK, Nature, I get it, but is this all simply a lesson about the cold light of day? Well, no. As with everything child-related, everything we discover deepens our appreciation of our own parents, and our connection with them (er, Mum, you know that thing I used to do, how did you manage it...?) and, what's more, of course, with various relatives and ancestors. The mirror becomes one between us and generations below, above and beyond, however charming or charmless the common traits may be. 

So, if we can't cherry-pick from this family tree then at least we can connect with many far-flung parts of it through our genes. And perhaps, most importantly, the familiar can be as comforting as it can be uncomfortable. 

That's what I tell myself, anyway.


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