Nature, nurture, and the inevitable

By ELIZABETH QUINN,

I recently needed a new cell phone case and stopped by the Apple Store planning to grab a new version of the same one I have. It’s solid light blue with a clear back—nothing fancy, but did a good job protecting my phone from the abuse inflicted on it by my children and myself.

The model I wanted wasn’t available anymore so I checked out the other options. I didn’t want the hot pink one because I’m not that froufrou, but I didn’t want the black or navy ones because those are too boring. I didn’t want one with some cheesy pattern or design. I definitely didn’t want the ones with a quote on them because I don’t want to be one of those people who is trying to say something about myself with my cell phone case. And then I realized: I wanted a phone case that would say something about me without saying that I was the kind of person who wanted a phone case that would say something about me. What a weirdo.

Upon realizing how much mental energy I had wasted psychoanalyzing phone case options in order to choose the right one for my personality—my brand as the kids say (I just gagged a little even typing that)—I grabbed the first one in a non-offensive color and paid and left. I felt embarrassed for myself, how ridiculous could I be? Worrying about what my phone case would tell people about me. Who even worries over such inane things? It’s not like a phone case is a glimpse into the window of your soul—it doesn’t tell anybody anything about who you are. Get a grip, Elizabeth.

Later that afternoon, I was putting the new case on my phone when my daughter walked in and said, “Oh cool, you got a new phone case! Did you know it’s just like Annie’s?” My mother. I bought the exact same case in the exact same color as my mother.

Good thing I had just spent the drive home from the Apple Store convincing myself that our phone cases don’t say anything about who we are... They’re just pieces of plastic that keep our overpriced and overused phones from shattering every time our kids drop them while fighting over who gets to pick the music next, right? Picking the same one as my mother doesn’t mean I’m turning into her or anything. Right? But, ah jeez, it probably means I’m already a whole lot like her.

I was recounting a story about my friend, Marty Kelly, to her mother, Annette Hitt. I don’t remember what the story was, but Marty had been doing something very ‘Marty’ that Mrs. Annette and I were laughing about when Mrs. Annette pointed out that it was also something she would very likely have done. I said, “Then I guess being friends with your friends’ mothers is kind of like seeing into the future.”

I have a great mom, if you know her—you’ll agree. Turning into her wouldn’t be a bad thing at all, but I’ll probably just inherit the stuff about her that bugs me. I won’t be listing those things because along with whatever else she passed on to me—she didn’t raise a fool. I already see this happening with my own kids and the ‘me’ things I see in my kids are rarely the more delightful parts of me.

Arguing with my kids feels like arguing with shorter, less reasonable versions of myself. They can be stubborn as mules and have inherited some debate skills that I had hoped would skip a generation so I didn’t have to go up against them. I’m an over-explainer and cannot handle being denied the chance to fully detail what actually happened. From the length of discussion often required to suss out the perpetrator of some wrongdoing in our house—this was not a recessive trait that went dormant in my progeny.

I don’t like that I recognize the negative parts of me in my kids first, but I know it’s probably just human nature. I hope they get some of the good stuff, too, and not just my horrible sense of direction, my impatient driving, or my overly emotional reaction to my favorite products being discontinued. (RIP Whole Foods Organic Vanilla Coffee Creamer, I still miss you.) The emotionally mature thing to do here would be to try to use my kids as mirrors. When I see obnoxious things about me showing up in them—stop doing the obnoxious things so maybe they will too. That sounds incredibly evolved and probably out of my depth, but it’s worth a try. I don’t want to see that I’ve passed on my penchant for intractability to my kids, but maybe we can all benefit from me owning it and making an effort not to model it for them anymore. Although, some things are in our DNA and no amount of nurture can help—like my inability to consistently cook plain ole white rice correctly. I know this one is true because my sisters suffer from the same affliction.

It would also probably be healthier to start looking harder for the good things they’ve gotten from me, and those that I’ve gotten from my mom. It’s a lot easier to find what you’re looking for in yourself and others than the stuff you aren’t. If I keep looking for the negative—I’ll keep finding it. But looking for the positive attributes I may have passed on to my kids seems vainglorious—it feels self-absorbed to even say it. But nothing good can come from only seeing the worst versions of yourself in your kids. I can dwell on how my kids might end up heavily reliant on Google Maps thanks to my terrible sense of direction, or I can see if I’ve passed on my strong sense of loyalty to them. While misplaced loyalty can still get you into trouble—I have a highly developed b.s. detector and my loyalty isn’t doled out like candy on Halloween. Loyalty is just stubbornness behaving better, and I know they got my stubbornness so maybe I’ll start looking to see if they got stubbornness’s more positive cousin from me as well.

There are so many things about my mom that I hope made it to me, but I won’t see them if I’m only noticing that we can both be impatient and have been known to use our lead feet to get us places faster (we got those lead feet from my grandfather who also gave me a radar detector when I left for college—I guess he knew some things are genetic, too). As a kid, my mom collected strays. She would hide them in her backyard playhouse and then get busted when she tried to sneak food from the dinner table to her assorted creatures. Mom had a soft spot for anything that needed help and love. As an adult, she doesn’t collect strays quite the same way but she still can’t turn away from a need that she has the capacity to meet. Animals know she’s still a sucker for big eyes and a whimper; and people know she’s someone they can trust. I hope I got that one; and maybe just the act of looking to see if I did will make it true.

Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.

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