“See? They’re green around the middle.”
“No, I think they’re gray.”
“Well, where would she get gray eyes?”
“My uncle has gray eyes. And didn’t your dad have gray eyes?”
“No, they were green, Leah. Well…maybe more a green-gray…”
David and I were sitting on our bed this morning staring at Quinn’s face while doing some mental DNA site mapping, when all the poor girl wanted was some stinking juice and breakfast, already. It’s a typical conversation for us, and one that I wish wouldn’t come up quite so often. Despite all my pre-children absolute refusal to do so, parenthood has turned us into Master Comparers:
When Saoirse bends a ball around the backyard like Beckham, well, she has to take after her soccer player dad.
When Quinn keeps crawling across the room to take a swim in the dog’s water dish, despite our interventions, it’s obvious she has my stubborn streak.
Saoirse has her dad’s almond-shaped eyes and resembles her godmother Kayla when she was SK’s age. She also has my hair, my penchant for reading everything on paper, and David’s dad’s obsession with guitars.
Quinn has my mom’s smile, and my dad’s ears, and…
Do you see where I’m going with this? I always wanted my children to feel like they were their “own” people–not derivatives of their relatives, nor recipes made out of another person’s ingredient list. I didn’t want them compared, didn’t want them living up to some predetermined code of expectations. But as soon as Quinn was born, we were comparing her to her big sister: Why does she wake up at 6, when SK sleeps till 7? Wow, she really likes avocado, when Saoirse stopped eating it at her age. The comparisons come quickly and come often.
A lady from our church even got in on the act. A couple of weeks ago, David joined me and the girls at mass (the non-Catholic in the family gets to skip out on the whole weekly-obligation thing). As we were standing up to hear the gospel reading, I was holding Quinn in my arms. The elderly lady who often sits behind us must have seen David, my dark-haired husband, for the first time, because she leaned over to me and muttered loudly–loudly enough for other people around us to whisper afterward: “I hope you can explain that red hair of hers!” Her husband laughed. I spat out an uncomfortable snort and bit back a retort about the mailman being a brunette. Afterward, David said to me, “You know, the whole accusation of adultery thing wasn’t what bothered me. That’s nothing. I was more upset that she didn’t notice the red highlights in my hair!”
I know there’s a satisfaction in being able to identify pieces of you that will live on in your children. And you could look at these comparisons as everyday revelations in the awesomeness that is genetics and child-bearing. I’m also sure it helps with parent-child bonding when both parties see part of themselves in the other person. But I’m still not really a fan of viewing our children as extensions of ourselves, and not their own entities. A lot of people in both of our families traditionally name their children after a relative–David’s middle name is his father’s, my brother was named after our paternal grandfather–but I (stubbornly, of course) have always said that I didn’t want to follow in that tradition. And yet, my children are the walking, talking (or crawling) examples of every idiosyncracy, talent, trait and fault that lived in their ancestors before them. So what’s a paranoid parent to do?
I can’t answer that right now. Quinn just woke up from her nap, happily talking a mile a minute, just like I used to do (well, before the teenage years, anyway), and I need to go feed her a snack, because–like both of her parents–she’ll get grouchy mighty quickly if she gets hungry. But I’ll think about it. And I’m sure the answer will be something along the lines of celebrating my daughters’ idiosyncrasies and talents (and yes, their quirks) no matter what, even if they’re because or in spite of a quality one of their forebears possessed. I think I need to see it as all of these different genetic components, like paints from a child’s watercolor set, mixed together to make our beautiful, smart daughters their own unique selves. Maybe I shouldn’t apologize for our comparisons after all–maybe I just need to see them for what they are: celebrations of ourselves, pride in what’s to come.
When I go upstairs to get Quinn from her crib, I’m going to see my mom’s smile beaming up at me, and a glorious head of hair that’s the exact same shade as my mother-in-law’s (hear that, funny church lady?! I told you the kid comes honestly!). A half-hour ago, when Quinn was dozing, I noticed that her little feet were propped up against the rails of her crib, half hanging out, which is how she always ends up sleeping, even though it seems really uncomfortable to me. She’s been doing it since she was able to roll over. Saoirse will sleep with her feet planted on her bed, knees sticking straight up, just like I used to do as a kid. But Quinn’s habit? I have no idea where she got it, but I’m sure some ancestor of hers, generations ago, might’ve slept like that. And that’s okay with me.