Sunday, August 20, 2006

When my niece came to stay

When my 16-year-old niece came up to stay for the weekend, it felt odd on several levels. I knew her well for the first 2 years of her life, but the number of times we have met since then could be counted on the fingers of one hand. And yet, here she was, playing with her younger cousins and very much a part of our family. Physically she was clearly the daughter of my brother, although she could just as easily have been my sister’s daughter, and even reminded me of my mother when she pulled particular expressions. Her eye colour, though, was exactly the same as mine – grey with flecks of brown in them – the same I once saw on a distant cousin at a great aunt’s golden wedding anniversary many years ago.

Even more disturbing, however, was an almost constant stream of “your eyes are the same as my dad’s when you smile” and “my dad does that” and “my dad says that” and “I can tell your joking because that’s the same expression my dad has when he is”.

Because we cannot see other people’s thoughts, we believe ours are unique. Sure we know that physically we can resemble our siblings or parents, but our minds are our own, aren’t they? We’re comfortable enough with the notion that someone might have inherited their mother’s temperament, or their father’s musical ability, but are our innermost thoughts and feelings just as genetically determined as our metabolism or our skin colour, where environmental factors might play a small role, but not that much? It’s an uncomfortable idea and challenges our innate sense of free will.

But over and over again, people repeat patterns of behaviour while all the time thinking that it was their free choice. How many times have I heard people declaring with surprise when meeting me for the first time, “But that’s a girl’s name!” Each one thinks they are the first person to have had that thought, and yet in my experience 95% of all people I have ever met say, or at least think, the same thing.

Events in my life have certainly affected my thought patterns, and therefore my behaviour. Due to a close scrape with homelessness several years ago, for example, I am more likely to buy a copy of The Big Issue from a street vendor, understanding that not everyone ends up in that situation by their own fault. But so many of my thoughts and actions run on automatic pilot and are not reflected upon or assessed at every juncture. I can accept that many of my beliefs and attitudes result from the influence of society and my upbringing, so is it so hard to make the leap that certain thought patterns are just as influenced by my genetic makeup? But it is unsettling.

While teasing my son at dinnertime about whether I was going to steal his pudding, I believed myself to be acting wholly independently; but my niece saw my behaviour as a carbon copy of the way my older brother behaves in a similar situation.

When I was younger I was so convinced that I didn’t think I looked anything like my brother, and that we had very different personalities, I was quite certain that one of us had to have been adopted. But as we age it seems we are beginning to merge.

However, unlike my brother, you won’t ever catch me sporting a moustache without a beard.

17 comments:

Pendullum said...

That was a great post...
It has given me a great deal to think of...
And glad that your neice kept you in check! ; )

BStrong said...

Nice post Kim. My mother tells me many times that I say thigs and have facial expresions like my father once did. I find comfort in that fact because I was so young, just 14, when my dad past away.

Cheers,
B

Kate said...

That was a great post! Your point about how we 'get' our thought processes is an interesting one, it's something I have pondered in the past.

SafeTinspector said...

Though I am not at all close to my father, who left my mother AND the state when I was 3 months old, my voice is so similar to his that should I ever call one of my relatives on that side of the family they assume I am Ed Whited, not Joe Whited.

Secondarily, my mother gave a girl up for adoption four years before I was born. The woman tracked her down some years ago.
Oddly enough, she plays piano, enjoys science fiction and engages in bizarre humor.
Even more strangely, we both took an instant dislike towards one another.

Funny old world eh?

SafeTinspector said...

So, are you sending your kids to stay with your brother to see if they have similar experiences?

SafeTinspector said...

Was your pudding the soggy-bread type Heather's English gramma makes?

Kim Ayres said...

Pendullum - thank you :)

BStrong - I guess whether we find comfort or disturbance depends largely on the relationship.

Kate - it's one that periodically returns to me. I blogged once before about how most men will wonder if they are turning into their father at some point.

SafeTinspector - I've often wondered if I was to ever meet myself whether I would have a new best buddy or I'd find him intensely irritating.

My brother is currently living with my sister until he finds himself a new flat to move into. I think my kids would be traumatised going to stay with them in the rather overcrowded living conditions.

I'm not into bread pudding at all, although my wife is. No, on this occassion it was purely ice-cream

Dr Maroon said...

Hmmm. the old pre stroke self determination conundrum. You know for someone who allegedly disliked his philosophy course with a passion, a lot of it seems to have rubbed off on you.
osmosis?

Kim Ayres said...

I don't ever remember saying I disliked philosophy - I love it. In fact I'm going to be teaching an Adult Evening Class of it next month (blog entry to follow sometime soon).

It's sport I hate with a passion.

Nikki said...

Great food for thought Kim.

Thanks

Ms. Molly said...

Hi Kim,

Interesting thought process. I imagine your nieces perspective would be very different if she could articulate as you do. I think it was a compliment to you regardless of your brothers like-ness to you in that she was expressing comfort with you ( a near stranger) but connecting with someone she obviously adored ( her dad).... how nice.

Nice to meet you,

Ms. Molly

Kim Ayres said...

Nikki - thanks :)

Ms Molly - welcome to my ramblings! That's a lovely thought - thank you for talking the time to comment :)

Jupiter's Girl said...

I have had a thing with my Mother, disliking some of her idiosyncrasies, all of my life. My sisters (5 of them) made me feel very crabby because they didn't see what I did. Well, last year during the evacuation of our area for weeks, they all stayed together under one roof - and all of them validated my observances of things that annoy one about her. This year, we all met up for a family get-away and I drove my Mom. I noticed that I have similar idiosyncrasies. I have to make peace with that. My sisters started to talk about my Mother and I couldn't chime in without telling on myself too. I will turn into my own version of Virginia, I am sure of it. I like her a lot better these days.

fatmammycat said...

Do I even need to mention my mother?

Kim Ayres said...

Jupiter's Girl - of course when our children act like us we're proud of them... unless they act as stupidly as we did when we were their age.

FMC - your mutual love and respect for each other dominates much of your blog...

Attila The Mom said...

As an adoptee, I never experienced that, and it was something I sorely missed growing up. I was sure that there was someone out there who looked like me---someone who had the same nose and the same smile.

When I finally met my birthmother, I was kind of disappointed in that area. She had black hair and eyes (my hair is red and eyes are green), she was petite, while I'm amazonian.

My bio aunt brought a book of photos to our first meeting to show me what my mom looked like as a child, and of various ancestors. Amongst them was a picture of someone's feet. The toes were long and kind of "woven" together (left toes and right).

I said, "OMG, where did you get a picture of MY feet?" They were my mom's!

I cannot begin to tell you what a thrill that was for me! ;-)

Kim Ayres said...

Atilla - I can completely understand - the desire to belong, to feel that we are not alone is incredibly powerful.