The parrot factor
A man in green shorts and white T-shirt that reads, “White Trash”, stands amidst a gaggle of grannies. The doors open. He barges in first.
Is this a lesson in etiquette for my children? No, this is their grandfather every Sunday at the 99-cent store in Los Angeles.
Nature vs. nuture is an argument, even a scientific line of study, I follow avidly. After all, we are a product of our biological parents (my brother still claims postman paternity) and our environment. What have my genes given my children and what are my actions teaching them? Can one overcome the other?
I tend to argue for biology when comparing myself to my mother. There, I have a chance. With my father, I always look to nurture. After all, fashion sense is not genetic, is it?
Don’t look, but there’s my daughter proudly walking to school in her paint-stained pink T-shirt with a Miami-green palm tree, pink ballet tights, and Barbie slippers with rainbow-colored buttons. Could it be that these things skip a generation?
Admittedly, it was much easier to judge my parents before I had children. Then, I had lots of “nevers”: I’d never let my kids watch videos; I’d never ignore my child when she was crying; I’d never give my child time-outs; I’d never … Ahem. Well. Let’s just say I now believe my parents were good parents because I’m (arguably) a functional member of society and I’m alive.
But I still prefer to claim certain traits over others. For example, I hope to inherit my mother’s generosity of spirit, but not my father’s frugality, a.k.a., super cheapskate bartering, although he prefers to call it “deal making.” Is charity genetic? Is it learned?
What of me will my children claim when they get older? What of me will they copy? Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but when my daughter yells at her sister – COME HERE RIGHT NOW – I decide that perhaps nature should get a bit more play.
I admit, I’ve selected certain attributes for them already: See that sweet, smiling child sharing her snack? She’s mine. See that child throwing a fit in public? She’s my husband’s.
Always, though, I hold onto the hope my parents will give me a clue. The kitchen is a formidable laboratory for nature vs. nurture. My father is a man whose general disarray is artfully transformed in the kitchen. He has made meals of such mixed ingredients that even my daughter’s garden variety stone soup looks edible. But he has a clean-as-you-go policy and insists no one ever stacks the dirty plates. This man, whose office is impossible to wade through, is a man who will yell out across the house: “Who put the jelly on the bread shelf?”
My daughter has a conniption when the peas mix with the mac-n-cheese.
Nature? Oh no!
My mother, who is going straight to Heaven, has attempted to use her diplomatic skills to gently nudge my father’s judgment in certain directions. No, not in clothing, he is too far gone there, but in the house. She has been mildly successful. Nurture! Hope!
Still, the dining room is a tough battle. My father has used his uncanny interior-design sense to place a fake parrot atop the curtain rod. Sadly, the parrot is a bit old, so has taken to hanging upside down and staring at the dinner guests.
“He likes it there,” my dad says.
My daughter is particularly fond of giraffes. She sits “Big Raffie” next to her at the dinner table. “He likes it there,” she says. Nature. Say no more.
I am beginning to accept that my father has transferred his genes to my daughter (let me live that fantasy of skipped generation). Now, I focus on what in her nature I can nurture out of her. The definitively genetic need for piles of junk worries me most.
Flea markets, garage sales, and, best of all, trade shows are my father’s fantasy worlds. Before my brother and I learned the tricks of escaping a junk outing, my father gamely buckled us into the beat-up Mazda and hit the trade-show circuit. There wasn’t a trade show he didn’t like, but computer trade shows were, and for all I know may still be, his favorite.
When I sent him a faux Windows NT Swatch I picked up at a trade show, he was thrilled.
“I love it,” he says. “It’s a great watch.”
Maybe I’m an optimist, but I hold out hope for my daughter. She is young. She may yet be nurtured. She may one day allow me to throw out, well, something. But I fear nature may be stronger. After all, I kind of like that parrot. VT
Keala Francis lives in Singletree with her husband and two children.
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