Splashing Genetic Expression of Self
There's that quote that floats around mommy groups, about how the decision to have children is momentous because it means forever to have your heart walking around outside your body. True enough. Yesterday, though, it was not my heart, it was my genes. From time to time, the boys do something, anything, whatever, and it is so clearly the expression of a trait of mine or Jason's, we look at each other and say, "Your child!" It's our little joke. Slightly more unsettling is when one of them does something that is unequivocally an expression of a relative they've never met. More than once, I've seen my father or my grandfathers come out of the boys. We think of genes as things that control height, eye color, weight, whatever. It's a little stranger to think of them as controlling strong traits of personality, or of mannerism. My Grandpa did this little pattern-tapping of his fingers, and my heart nearly stopped the first time Rowan did it, just after he could control his fingers in the first place. But as the boys get older and more able to express themselves, they become a deeper, richer expression of all those who came before, in a dizzying and fascinating grab-bag sort of way. So I suppose I should not have been all that surprised yesterday, day four of swim class, when Rowan refused to stay in the water. Screaming with all the force of his will behind it, "I do not like that pool! I do not like to swim!", he catapulted over the side, away from his instructor, and into my arms. Sobbed like a little lost thing. "I hate it I hate it I hate it!!!" And of course, the mommy pressure was on. I made a promise to myself long long ago that I would never parent my kids based on what other parents thought of us, because at the end of the day, we're the ones that have to live together, and I have to respect my children as innate human beings. It's a great working theory, and has served me well often before. But at the upscale pool we signed up for classes in, I am surrounded by ultracompetitive liposucted fully-made-up Escalade-driving swim team moms, and I'm clearly the blob from another planet. So as Rowan came pelting into my arms, I was surrounded, immediately, by a wave of disapproval. Louis Vuitton bags were moved subtly aside so that I and my dripping, miserable kid would not contaminate them by our weakness. I got Rowan calmed down enough to ascertain that there wasn't anything particularly wrong with the pool, with the teacher, with a classmate. I got him to look at me, and I told him he did not have to go back in. He relaxed visibly, and curled even tighter into me, as if in gratitude. It was pretty incredible (even if it was cold and very wet). And about five minutes later, he whipped around in one of those toddler 180s that give parents mental whiplash, and asked if he could go into the baby pool. The point, in my mind, of swimming lessons in the first place, is so that the boys think of water as a safe and happy place, the same way I do. The reason we're doing lessons is that I have no memory of learning to swim. I remember throwing myself into our backyard pool when I was an infant. I have this fabulous mental picture of my mother's face through several feet of pool water. It's a great memory of mine; mom's version is not nearly so happy. Rowan flung himself into the baby pool, and was transformed. Put his goggles on by himself. Swam underwater (pulling himself along by his arms on the bottom) for a good 30 seconds at a time, coming up for a quick breath, and going back under. In fact, he spent the rest of the time either splashing the other kids, or face down, until he got too cold to continue. Whereupon he demonstrated the great good sense to get himself out. I was thoroughly proud of him. And proud of my ability to stand my parenting ground, as I listened to the tense reunions of kids who had been forced into the water by their parents, and the screams of the next round of kids so forced. And it was only as we were walking to the car that I recalled that I had flunked out of the only swim class my mother tried to put me in, when I was about Rowan's age. "Momma!" a little voice breaks into my rememberance, "I like the water!" Mission accomplished, memory recalled, the genetic imperative expressed.