Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Mystery of DNA

Elizabeth Zelvin

I am besotted with my granddaughters, 6 and 3. Since they came along, my son and daughter-in-law figure in my pantheon only as the chauffeur and nanny for these two utterly charming, beautiful, brilliant, and sweet-tempered little princesses. Thanks to their Asian mom, they look very little like me. Oh, that straight dark silky hair like the hair I always wanted! Oh, those little noses! And yet, they are genetically mine, all 25% of them, and it crops up in mysterious ways. And that bond, along with who they are in and of themselves, makes my heart crinkle with foolish love of them (a line I think I borrowed from one of Elswyth Thane’s Williamsburg novels, which I read a million times in my youth).

My son is in many ways (aside from gender) more different from me than his daughters are. When he was 8 or so, I brought home the first Black Stallion book and read it to him, hoping he’d get interested in horses. Instead, he developed a fascination with horse racing and other kinds of mathematically based betting. He recently celebrated his fortieth birthday at Monmouth Park Racetrack—which has a nice picnic area and playground, if you’re looking for an offbeat party venue. I love performing; the one time I remember him going onstage, in a nonspeaking part as an ancient Egyptian in the fourth grade play, he bit his fingernails the entire time. So how come my older granddaughter, whose mom is also quiet and reserved, was doing karaoke at 3 and now, at 6, is performing in hiphop competitions? She’s totally self-possessed and can throw her heart into dancing for an audience of a thousand (no, she’s not famous—the recital featured four hundred kids, all with families) with complete aplomb. Clearly, she got it from me.

And what about the little one? Her little pointy chin is just like mine. And speaking of pointy, how come she has the same pointy elf ears as my son, even though we always assumed his were due to squeezing in the birth canal? It must be in the DNA, maybe a one-gene mutation. (Have the folks mapping the human genome identified the elf ears gene, I wonder?) Both girls are becoming swimmers, a tradition among the women in my family since my grandmother’s generation. What other familiar traits will pop up as they get older?

The older one is already becoming a writer. On a recent visit, she wrote, illustrated, and published (okay, two staples) a whole book. At 7, my son was writing “I hate pickles” and “I hate writing” in his school journal. (I brought it to his 40th birthday party to amuse his daughters.) Here’s what my 6-year-old granddaughter wrote:

Once there was a little girl in a little cottage. She wanted a flower castle and she found not 1, not 2, but 100.
“How much is it?” asked the little girl.
“It is no money. It needs a flower.”
“Here you go. I got a new house.”

I’ve added the punctuation, but she is already enough of a pro that she asked me to edit her spelling mistakes and was interested when I showed her how to do proofreader’s marks.

“How many books have you written?” she asked me.

I counted up my published work: two mysteries, two books of poetry, and a nonfiction book on gender and addictions.

“Five,” I told her.

“That’s all?” said my granddaughter.


Dru said...

Beautiful. I see your oldest granddaughter has her sight on writing more than five books.

Sandra Parshall said...

Beautiful children, Liz. I hope the literary strain survives and grows stronger as the years pass.

Dianne said...

Oh, they're beautiful, Liz. I'll bet you could write about them every day. As a grandmother myself, I get it.

Ellis Vidler said...

Darling children, Liz. They sound spirited and charming. I hope they continue to enjoy life.

Julia Buckley said...

Adorable children, and smart!