Monday, March 5, 2012

Natural Selection

We become parents for a variety of reasons -- by accident, on purpose, for the tax
deductions, because our own mothers mentioned (four or five times a day for several years)
how much they would like grandchildren -- but according to scientists, we also become
mothers because we want to pass on our DNA. We’re driven to reproduce because we want
our genes, in the form of our offspring, to have the best possible chance at succeeding.

The irony is that by reproducing, we’re working at cross-purposes with any children we
already have. Only children have an advantage over other children, in that they don’t have
to compete for scarce parental resources, and they have an incentive to keep in that way.
As Charles Darwin said, “Only children never have to share the iPad.”

So it makes sense that when took I steps to become a mother a second time, my daughter
evolved new adaptive behaviors aimed at insuring that that her genes, and not the genes
of any theoretical sibling, would be the most likely to get passed down. If Darwin wanted
to study evolution and natural selection, I don’t know why he didn’t just come to our house
instead of the Galapagos, although I grant you we have fewer iguanas.

The first adaptation my daughter evolved was to develop an unsurpassed ability to
disrupt any activities that could, at least in theory, lead to another child, if you get my drift.
You could suspend her in a sensory deprivation tank many miles away in, say, Indiana,
administer a powerful sedative, and yet she would still wake up when I gave my husband
a backrub. She got to the point where she could interrupt so much as a meaningful
glance between my husband and I, by announcing that she has something VERY VERY
MINUTE, which is that um, um, um, she has a hole in her sock.

Well-played. But she wasn’t the only one who could evolve. I developed my own, superior
adaptation: code. In her presence, I’d say to my husband “How about after daughter goes
to bed, you and I get together and eat some broccoli.” Sometimes when I was feeling extra
frisky, I’d even suggest we eat kale. When my daughter grows up she’s going to wonder
why her mother had such a fetish for brassicas.

I won that evolutionary round, but my daughter didn’t give up so easily. Even after the baby
was born, she hoped to regain the favored “only child” status. Her favorite activity was
grabbing the baby’s head and -- you know how scientists seeking to control nuisance geese
populations will “addle” the eggs by shaking them vigorously to insure they don’t hatch?
It’s the same motion you use to shake up a container of orange juice. The baby’s own pulp
must have been a little addled because he didn’t mind a bit.

I evolved a new adaptation in response, which was to never leave the two alone together.
But sometimes it was unavoidable. When I took a shower, I would bring both kids into the

bathroom, and I could see through the frosted glass of the shower door that something was
happening out in the bathroom between them but I couldn’t tell quite what. It was a lot like
The Blair Witch Project in that you don't know exactly what's going on…but you know it's
not good. One time when I got out of the shower there was a return address sticker on the
baby’s cheek. Little hint.

And she would say, “I love the baby so, so much,” in a sad, regretful tone that implied she
would be seriously bummed out when we returned him to the orphanage.

I’m happy to say that I won this evolutionary battle. In the end, my daughter accepted
that I am mother to two children. In fact, she’s evolved again, into another little mother
herself. When I nursed the baby, she would ask, “Mama, can I help by holding your hot, hot
breast so full of milk?” Nnnnnno. And do me a favor, don’t google that phrase, okay?

And me, I’m happy because I got another chance to pass my genes down to the next
generation. In fact, I’ve proposed passing down my genes to a third child, but my husband
has put down his foot. Instead, we’re getting an iguana.

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