Friday, September 14, 2007

Nature Vs. Nurture

When I was a child, I had a recurring dream. I was in a daycare center, filled with kids. I was holding a boot, and I left the room to find its pair. When I came back, everyone was gone. I was alone, terrified.

It does not take Freud to analyze this one. Yes, it may have been a foreshadowing of my shoe obsession, but really -- I was always a child who was terrified of being alone.

My mother blames this on the year she spent home with me, attached by the hip. I never wanted to be without my parents. I cried hysterically with other caregivers. I did not even want to lose one parent to the other, sobbing at their feet if they dared to dance at a wedding. Even as an older child, I had problems separating. I spent my first hours at sleepaway camp sitting on the wet sink, tears streaming down my face, begging to go home.

Much of this went hand in hand with a shyness that I never really got over -- which readily evaporates once I get comfortable but can paralyze me in the beginning. It's a formidable obstacle to manage as a professional fundraiser, and wreaked havoc on my dating life. At the office, I was regarded as a cold bitch, when really, I just had trouble making elevator conversation. Thankfully, this discomfort lasts only as long as it takes to make a stranger into an acquaintance. Once hands are shaken and pleasantries exchanged, I ease right into my chatty, effusive, smiley self. But the ice needs to shatter first.

I met my husband on a trip that I was running. He was one of the participants, one of 200 singles who were ready to party. While they hooted and hollered in the back of the bus, sweating out last night's cocktails and and groping each other, my husband sat in the front, listening intently to the tour guide providing historical reference about the landscape we were rolling over. His roommate was the veritable king of the party, one he chose because he knew it was his best chance to be thrown into the mix, where he would have otherwise sat somewhere closer to the sidelines, taking it all in.

Even my attempts at flirting were received awkwardly, and I still cringe when I think of the two of us, shy by nature yet quite attracted to the other, trying to make conversation. I was the bolder of us two, since I was actually "at work" on this trip, but I still felt the full measure of his discomfort around me. Months later when the trip festivities were gone, and it was just the two of us, sparks flew, shyness abandoned and it perhaps it was the keen understanding of the other's initially quiet nature that gave way to the boistrous banter that ensued and has never lapsed since.

Once married, and even before, our similarities became even clearer. I am the more outgoing of the two of us in social situations, but he is the business barracuda. And we can both "turn it on" when we want to, we really just love to be at home, with each other. I loathe his travel for work, as does he, and neither of us can imagine taking a vacation without the other. We enjoy our tiny apartment, our kids in our bed, sharing a space to the point of a smother. He does not relish "guys night out" and my idea of an ideal girls night is just a few of us, some great sushi and being home and in bed beside A by 11:00.


Day two of preschool proved worse than the first for Chloe. It started out deceptively well, and I bid her a chipper "bye byeeee!". I sat in the hallway with another mom, a lovely woman whose son did not bat an eyelash when she disappeared. As the minutes ticked by, I allowed myself to relax and believe that this was working. I even allowed myself to discuss plans for next year's school, overly confident that Chloe was blissfully building towers, creating clay sculptures, feeding doll babies -- my amazing, well adjusted kid.

My daydream was shattered by a loud "ahem!" It was one of her teachers. "I think you need to come back inside", she said. I looked around, and it became apparent that she was talking to me. I saw the back of someone who looked like my child, sitting on the teacher's lap. But her shoulders were shaking in a way I had never seen. When she turned around, she was even more unrecognizable. She was purple. Her face was soaking wet, mucus dripping down her nose. She was gasping and shuddering, so upset she barely registered my presence. "Mama sit!" she wailed. "Home! Home! Home!"

This was not good. All of the other children were happily absorbed in some project, or at least not crying. I remained for the rest of the class, much to the teacher's irritation, I am sure. It was starting to feel as if this was never going to happen. Yet, it really has to.

This situation is keeping me up at night, and annoying the hell out of A and everyone I talk to about it. What had I done wrong? Chloe has always had a nanny, I was always working part time. She has been left in the care of my mother, sister, brother, best friend and countless others with no problem. Was I too smothering? Did I not provide her with enough playdates? Enough independance? Why was this happening? Why did 11 other children scamper away without a look back?

My parents were quite opinionated on this topic. "She needs to be with other people...she is with you too much...," my mother chanted. "I knew a girl who could not separate from her mother in Kindergarten," my father said, "and its 40 years later and she still has not separated!"


As I tried to connect the dots, they all lead me back to one place...the mirror. And not in the way I expected. It was not something I had done or not done. It was not that I am just so irresistably great to be with. It was who I am, and the pieces of me that I see in her. The shyness that eventually gives way to loud and lively friendships. The need to be close to the ones that I loved. I live less than a mile from my mother, and talk to her several times a day. Same for my sister. I guess I never really separated, did I? And all the ways I have already explained that A and I are one and the same -- what some may call co-dependant but I like to call just being crazy in love -- all of these factors have spiraled their way into Chloe's DNA.

I have always envied those who are instantly comfortable in new surroundings or fake it well -- my friend Gail is like this. I have known her for more than half my life and she glides into any situation, as if on skates, shattering the ice as she dances on through. I remember that before my 16th summer spent in Israel, there was an orientation meeting for parents and participants. I had to miss it, so my mother went without me. There had been some reason to ask for volunteers to act out something that evening, "and guess who was the first to raise their hand?" my mom asked. Gail, of course. It's just her way. I remember thinking, "I could never have done that." And I know my mom was thinking "Amy would never have done that." Because moms know their kids, their frailties and their strengths -- perhaps because they are oh so familar.

We spend so much time worrying about what we should do to keep from messing up our kids, or to enable them to be their very best selves. When really, there is only so much nurturing we can do to overcome nature's strong hold. We need to embrace our children for who they are as well as what they do, and come to terms with "that which we can not change". I hope this gives me an edge in trying to salve Chloe's growing pains - to provide her with the things* that I cling to in order to embolden myself: deep breaths, a big smile and a belief that I am stronger than I think.

*and in Chloe's case, a Hello Kitty backpack.


At 6:36 PM PDT, Blogger beri said...

i fell in love with you at first glance, or maybe second, but anyway if chloe has that attraction toward girls in her group things will work out if you really think that we can only do so much nuture to make up for the nature then brody is in for some big trouble. yikes!

At 7:08 PM PDT, Blogger Amy said...

Ber - you never far neither of our kids are that curly!

At 9:11 AM PDT, Blogger Jill said...

You ARE fun to be around. I almost don't blame her. She needs an AIDE group friend... LOVETT!!!

At 9:26 AM PDT, Anonymous Leigh said...

I often feel like I've known Leah forever. Now, I'm picturing you and Jill if you'd known each other forever - your view of your childhood constrasts sharply with Jill's blog story about her waving "bye" to her mom as she got on the bus and never looked back! Cute all around. :)

This post made me think of Tracey, who I am sure will read this at some point. I hope she does.


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