The punchline is: You get the genes your parents gave ya’!
I have some pretty nasty hereditary diseases hidden in my genetic code: Alzheimer’s, alcoholism, suicide, impatience, bad posture and nonexistent calves.
Before I had kids, I would occasionally fret over the myriad of disasters that awaited my unborn children. (Another defect: worrying too much. Don’t worry; I worry about that, too.) Should I get an egg donor with a “purty” resume so we can have it all be a surprise, like a genetic box of chocolates? Is it better to know what you might get or to have a whole world of possible catastrophes?
I also wondered what my children would look like. I had dreamed of dark-haired, light-eyed children. (This is a lie. Like all Barbie haters, I truthfully wanted a blue-eyed girl with curly blond hair. I remember as a 14-year-old reading a passage in Maya Angelou’s autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” about how she couldn’t wait to grow up to be a cute blond white girl. Me, too! I was shocked. Our lives couldn’t have been more different, but as a little girl, I wished and prayed to grow up to be a blue-eyed blonde.)
I thought I had a chance for my dark-haired, light-eyed offspring because my husband’s mother’s eyes were green, and my mother’s eyes are blue. But instead I got two light-haired, dark-eyed boys. (It is quite difficult putting blue-colored contacts in a 2- and a 4-year-olds’ eyes every morning. Afterward, I hardly have the energy to dress them.)
How is it decided who gets which trait anyway? I have some vague memory of dominant and recessive genes (remember Punnett Squares?) from ninth-grade biology class, but I don’t think even scientists know exactly how a gene is chosen.
My husband likes to think genes are chosen by a war between the X and the Y chromosome. His genes, he says, are dominant, and slaughtered my genes. But I wonder did his march in and decimate my whole DNA colony, or did each trait have to individually fight to the death? (If the latter scenario is true, then a couple of the underdogs survived — my chin, with only a little strength left, hoisted itself onto my younger son’s face, barely there it was so weak.)
This chin — like the stubbornness, the raging teenage years and the Narcissistic Personality Disorder — was a top reason for me to never breed. My older brother and I both have it. He gets to hide his behind a goatee, and although I will be able to do the same in a couple of years, for now I have to cart this ski slope around under my mouth. As we age, this chin sours and melts into a flapping, droopy, chicken wattle. Eventually, the wattle grows a mouth and loudly calls (often skinnier) people fat.
My brother and I joke that we are saving for a chin lift, a group-discounted package of plastic surgery. Truthfully, I hope he is saving and will treat me (the greediness gene beat the charity out of the giving gene, another point for Sansbury).
However the gentics decided who would dominate, I look at my children and wonder: What genetic defect will pop up like a wicked jack-in-the-box? Will I get a warning, a sign of the looming trait? Whenever my 4-year-old mistakenly calls me Dada, I think, “There it is: early-onset Alzheimer’s.”
Or when my 2-year-old threatens harakiri after spilling one drop of water on his shirt, I fret that he is OCD and I up his dose of Captain Pfizer’s Chewable Emotion-Prevention Tablets (soon available in your water).
How did I get here? When your children are born, you hold them in your hands and look down at their innocent faces and you think: “I’m going to hold you and love you and protect you from every hurt in the world.”
Then you think of all the crap you have passed down to them. And you must say, “Here is my gift to you sweet child: a large nose, 11 toes, hair so thin it is transparent. Middle school, the most torturous time of your life, will build you into a witty conversationalist and a good friend.” Because as Helen Keller said(and she knew):
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
My sweet baby, I have passed down to you the gift of character. I hope you can receive it graciously.
And if not, I guess I can pay for a couple therapy sessions. (Three max.)