Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gene Therapy

I often ask Owen if he looks more like Mommy or Daddy. He sighs and says, with a voice dripping with toddler contempt, "I just look like Owen."

Sorry, kid, but that's not good enough. When I look at my children, I feel like a genetic detective, attempting to piece together a case, one nose, one chin, or one hair color at a time. I love the idea that you can read the history of a family through a photograph, and that, for better or for worse, our ancestors appear from the shadows through a certain wave of the hand, a tilt of a smile, a squint of an eye.

I guess I take after my grandmother in this regard. She has told me numerous times about a time she took me swimming. I was maybe five years old, and when I paddled up to her, with my hair swept off my face, she saw her sister, as plain as day. In fact, she sees her family line in all of her grandchildren, as well as in my children. I'm not sure how accurate she is, but it gives her pleasure to see her past live on in the present, and the future.

When Owen is with Paul's side of the family, he is the dark man in a sea of Scandinavians. Like me, Owen has dark eyes and dark hair. When we traveled to Wisconsin, Paul's relatives asked, "Where did he get those brown eyes?" I would pointedly clear my throat. On the other hand, when we traveled to Colorado, my mother was drunk with happiness when strangers pointed out that Owen had her beautiful brown eyes.

With Joel, who is as Campbell as they come (Blonde hair? Check! Blue eyes? Check!), things are reversed. "Where did those blue eyes come from? It's the strangest thing I've ever seen..." opines my mother, as Paul pointedly coughs in the background.

The real fun, though, is seeing the more subtle links from one generation to the next. Like me, Owen is most comfortable sitting on the couch with a pillow on his tummy.

Owen, just like his mother and his grandfather, holds one finger in a fist when he is nervous.

When Owen smiles, his eyes squint. Like this:

I instantly summon a picture of my mother, with the exact same smile, squinting and joyful. It's in her college yearbook, and she's sitting with her sorority sisters, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. That same squint is on my face in a picture taken when I was playing in the first snow of the season my freshman year of college.

Joel has recently started shaking his head back and forth quickly, then laughing at his dizziness. I would spin in circles until I would collapse, too. I just did it the other day.

I wish I could name more Joel connections, but they are less specific. He's still so little. I will say that Joel smiles a lot, something I've been accused of once or twice...

Do you see how all these example involve the connections to my own family? Perhaps I'm a narcissist. Or, perhaps, like my grandmother, it just makes me happy to see the story of my ancestry play out in the miracle of my sons.


Coby Goesling said...

I was just thinking this about the boys yesterday. David's toes don't look like anyone's I know - I think they're all his own. If you look at David's profile and my dad's profile, they're one and the same. David looks like me, Jonathan looks like Shayne, but both boys look alike. How can that be????

Alice said...

OK - Nancy - What about toes? Does either boy have a second toe that is longer than the big toe? A valued family trait that is exhibited in only a few special people :-)

Tom Mohrman said...

I see a resemblance here...