nature versus nurture

Out Of My Hands

The other day I was sitting in the car with my youngest while we waited for the high school to let out. I glanced over at Luke who, per usual, was already busy scribbling responses in a vocabulary notebook. As he worked diligently to get ahead on his homework for the evening, my eyes were drawn to his hand. I don’t normally notice the boys while they are ensconced in their school work. But, sitting in the car without much to amuse myself, I got curious to see what he was working on. As I looked over, this is what caught my eye.

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How does he even do that?

Luke has one of the most unique ways of holding a writing implement I have ever seen. This visual sent me tripping down memory lane, thinking of all the teachers and aides and tutors who were flummoxed by it. It was labeled maladaptive. When he was young and spent hours drawing and coloring, his grip constantly broke crayons. Beginning in preschool, teachers pointed it out as if it made him a freak, the Hunchback of Handwriting. I was told he’d never be able to get through school with that grip. His hand would tire. His writing would be illegible. Quelle horreur! Occupational therapists spent hours working with him to redirect it, to bring it in line with what is considered “normal.” For my part, I consistently deferred to their assessment that the situation was untenable and needed to be corrected because, well, what did I know? I was no expert. So Luke continued to do therapy and classroom work and tutor time in an effort to fix it, even though he didn’t see it as broken. In the end, no matter the effort that went into ameliorating it, he reverted back to what was natural for him.

Eventually, I found a reason to stop thinking about his odd pencil grip. When his third grade teacher mentioned it in our first conference with her, I told her we really could not care less. It was a non-issue. She looked at me like I had three heads and rattled off the reasons I’d heard myriad times as to why this was, in fact, a huge deal. I slid his psychoeducational evaluation across the desk and told her improving our dyslexic son’s reading skills was our only focus. Nothing like a bigger problem to make a smaller problem diminish. His pencil grip and handwriting blipped off the radar screen. It became nothing more than an extension of Luke’s character: creative, unbridled, and charmingly quirky. Nothing wrong with that.

Years later, I one day noticed my own pencil grip. It also would be considered maladaptive. It too would make preschool teachers cringe. Maybe if I’d considered it sooner, I could have saved Luke all the hassle of hours in occupational therapy, knowing I’d survived school and life with my own weird grip. Like mother, like son? Sorry, buddy.

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Apparently I owe Luke an apology

The little things aren’t always the big things we imagine them to be. Our fruitless attempts to remediate Luke’s pencil grasp taught me to choose my parenting battles more wisely in the future, to listen to experts but to weigh their advice against the bigger picture and my own gut feelings. With time and practice with my Little-Miss-Rule-Follower self, I’ve started to recognize I don’t always have to follow common procedure. Some things will improve with time and some things aren’t worth the trouble. My son who, despite his dyslexia, struggled his way from two years behind reading level in third grade to become the kind of kid who at 12 was reading adult, historical non-fiction books like Band of Brothers for fun, never needed help getting a grip. He needed help teaching the adults to let go of one.

People ponder the question of nature versus nurture. I posit it’s a bit of both. Sometimes one wins out, sometimes the other. We would like to be in control, to manage, to create order from perceived chaos, but the universe seeks to teach us otherwise. Maybe it would be better if we accepted that sometimes things are simply out of our hands.

The King Of I’ve-Got-This

He has the smug look of a Patriots fan down pat.

He has the decidedly smug look of a Patriots fan down pat. I’ll give him that much.

Although I wasn’t born here, I’m a Colorado gal. I’ve lived here 33 years, which is approximately 72% of my life if you’re into numbers. People here love the mountains, the sunshine (over 300-days a year, baby), and the micro-brewed beer. Above all these, though, there is one universal truth to life in Colorado. People are a bit crazy about the Denver Broncos. Families who are fortunate enough to have season tickets hang onto them for decades and leave them to family members in wills. And on the Friday before a game, it’s commonplace to see all kinds of folks of all sorts of ages, shapes, and sizes decked out in team colors. We are United in Orange, it seems. Well, most of us are.

It’s Friday, so this morning I reminded the boys that they might want to pull out their orange jerseys for school. When they were showered and dressed, I discovered only one of my sons had complied. Joe was wearing a Manning jersey. Luke? Well, he went another route. Luke came out dressed in jeans and a Patriots t-shirt, which was of course covered by a Patriots sweatshirt. For years I’ve tried to convince myself that Luke is both a Broncos and a Patriots fan, like I am a Broncos/Bills fan, but I’m starting to suspect that may have been wishful thinking. I think Luke has gone over to the dark side entirely.

“Luke, are you really going to wear that?” I asked.

“Yep,” he answered plainly.

“You know you have Broncos stuff you could wear, right?”

“Yep,” he said again, clearly nonplussed by my line of questioning.

“The other kids are going to give you hell for that,” I prepared him.

“I know. That’s the point,” he replied. “I like this.”

That was the end of the discussion. I had not needed to prepare him. Not only was Luke okay with wearing the Patriots gear, he was choosing to wear because he likes it and he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. He was not at all afraid of the idea of conflict. I stood there and stared at him for a few minutes while he continued to get his backpack ready for school. He sneered at me. Okay. Maybe it was more of a smile, but it’s so hard to tell with those defiant Patriots fans.

I thought about Luke and his choice as I drove them to school this icy morning. Luke may be the second smallest in his class. He may seem cute and cuddly (and he is). But underneath all of that he is a force to be reckoned with. I’m not exactly sure where he got his compunction because neither his father nor I have it. It’s one of those cases where nature gave him a gift. The kid has had a confident, can-do attitude since birth. As a toddler, he was the King of Me-Do. In his preteen years, he’s become the King of I’ve-Got-This. He knows that he can do anything, be anything, achieve anything. He knows his talents. He never has to be told or praised. He never questions the how or why of it. He simply knows it to be true. He is awesome.

I am working on myself this year. I am struggling to improve my self-esteem and my self-confidence. I’m focusing on positivity and goal setting. And I’m watching Luke for tips because, when I grow up, I want to be just like him.

 

 

 

Vomitoriums, Clone Troopers, And The Sahara…Welcome To My World

On Floreana Island in the Galapagos with the monkeys I'm not totally certain belong to me

On Floreana Island in the Galapagos last August with the monkeys I admit I’m not totally certain belong to me

Some days I wonder if the children I parent are even mine. They certainly resemble their father more than me and, if I hadn’t actually seen my belly shrink approximately the size of a child and then watched their wrinkled, newborn faces as they screamed their way toward the ritual of their first weigh-in (I scream every time I weigh in, so I understand), I might not have accepted this gig as their full-time, gainfully unemployed, tutor, chauffeur, cook, maid, and all-around-slave. I mean, it’s a thankless job and I know someone has to do it, but without even so much as similar eye color to go on, I have to wonder sometimes.

And, it is because I wonder that I so heartily appreciate it when the Universe provides me with proof that these spawn truly do belong to me. This evening we were driving home from dinner. The three of us were having a stimulating discussion, the kind we often have when we are trapped in a moving vehicle together. First, Joe attempted to educate me about the vomitoriums of ancient Rome, at which point I had to tell him that a) yes…I am old enough to have knowledge of such a thing but not old enough to have firsthand knowledge (thank you very much), and 2) no…it is not what you expect it is. Google it, my young apprentice. The conversation turned then to a discussion of the stop-motion animation video they planned to make when they got home and to which Luke had already assigned the pre-production, working title The Suite Life of Rex and Cody, after the Lego Clone Troopers he planned to turn into stars.

While the boys excitedly discussed Clone Trooper stage blocking directions, it began snowing. When it begins snowing at any point after the end of January, I begin cursing. Once the holidays are over, I see no point for the snow. I graciously allow winter a full-month to vacate once the holidays are in my rear view mirror, yet tonight winter was mocking me. It’s not the snow I hate as much as the cold and, glancing at my car’s thermometer, I registered it was a balmy 19 degrees outside. This, of course, caused me to interrupt their conversation with a pseudo-expletive.

“Cheese and rice!” I exclaimed mostly to myself. “I hate the cold. Have I ever told you that I hate the cold?”

“Yes,” they replied in unison with a bit too much annoyance.

“I like the cold,” Joe ventured. (Joe is the one who least looks like me. Did I mention that?)

“Really? You would rather it be 0 degrees than 100 degrees?” I responded.

“Yep,” he replied with confidence. Of course, this is the child who told me his dream vacation destinations include Antarctica and Nuuk, the capital of Greenland.

“What about you, Luke? Would you rather be hot or cold?” I queried.

Before Luke had the opportunity to answer, Joe and his impulse-assisted mouth burst back into the conversation to persuade Luke to his side.

“Luke….100 degrees is torrid. It’s a warm spring day in the Sahara,” he shared. (Joe pronounces Sahara as sah-har-ah rather than the more common US pronunciation suh-hair-uh. It’s positively British of him. He won points for that even though he was busily arguing against me. But, I digress.)

“Joe,” I asked, “did you just say torrid or did you say horrid?” I knew he knew the second word, but I’d never heard him utter the first.

Torrid,” he repeated as if my elevator didn’t reach the top floor. Then to make matters worse he added, “it means oppressively hot.”

“Gee…thanks for the explanation, Joe. Believe it or not, I am perfectly well aware of what that word means. Why don’t you spell it for me?” I asked.

“T-O-R-R-I-D,” he answered both quickly and flawlessly.

“Wow,” I said, duly impressed. “Good job, Joe.”

“I would rather it be 100 degrees,” Luke chimed in, perhaps fearing we’d forgotten about him. “I could always take my shirt off.”

“Keep your shirt on, Fabio,” I replied.

“Who’s Fabio?” Joe asked.

“Oh…never mind,” I said, disgusted and depressed that I had dated myself by decades.

The conversation returned to stop-motion videos while I wondered at my son’s new word. According to the most recent educational report we received about Joe and his learning disabilities, both his working memory (the ability, for example, to mentally add 26 + 54) and his processing speed (the amount of time it takes him to do such a math problem) are well beneath average for a child his age. These deficits make school quite difficult for Joe. The one bright spot the tests illuminated, however, was in Joe’s Oral Language skills. Turns out that as a 5th grader he currently has the language skills of a 9th grader. I smiled to myself at his use of the word torrid. The kid did inherit something from his ancient mother with the BA in English and the MS in Professional Writing. Genetics did not grant him my blue eyes or my freckled fair skin, but he did end up with my curiosity and a sturdy vocabulary. For a brief second, I spied something of myself in my son, something we had in common. Tonight, for a few seconds, I was 100% positive he was mine. And, while one could argue that the things I determined we had in common are more likely derived via nurture rather than nature, I don’t give a flying fig. I’ll take it.