What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon
Biology Is Destiny
[p.91]When I was teaching freshman English at Brigham Young University, I received a student paper that said, “After Mendel discovered genetics he was persecuted so much that he ran away to a monastery where he later became a monk.” Well, this paper stirred within me a passion for genetics that lasts until this day. Specifically, I am interested in why parents keep passing along their goofy genes instead of their good ones to their offspring. This, to me, is one mystery that science has yet fully to address.
FOR INSTANCE. Although Ken always neatly hangs his towel up after each use, our children naturally inherited the gene from me that makes us drop our towels into steaming little piles on the bathroom floor after we take a shower. What this proves to me is that hanging up bathroom towels is a recessive trait, just like blue eyes and the ability to touch your nose with your tongue at dinner parties.
Our kids have inherited a few undesirable traits from Ken as well. Our oldest son, for instance, inherited The Gene that Makes You a Backseat Driver. Philip is only nine years old, and already he thinks he knows more about driving a car than I do even though (and I can prove this) he never took Driver’s Ed. from Mr. Moon at Provo High School like I did. When we go for rides together, Philip sits perched on the edge of the passenger’s seat just like a bird dog on point, looking for all the things that I’m doing wrong.
“YOU DON’T NEED TO STOP HERE,” he screams into my ear.
“But there’s a stop sign,” I point out.
“SO?!” he says. “NOBODY’S COMING!”
Gee. I can hardly wait until he’s a teenager.
Of course, I inherited a few undesirable traits myself. From my grandmother and her sisters, Bea and Blanche, I inherited The Gene that Makes You Lose Things.
My grandmother and her sisters were always losing things. Once when I took them all on an outing to the mall to exchange pillowcases at Penney’s, they lost the take-out lunch we’d just purchased from [p.92]Happy Halibut. We were sitting on a bench in the middle of the mall when Bea said, “Blanche, where’s our Happy Halibut?”
“I don’t know,” said Blanche, “Where is it, Bea?”
“I’m asking you, Blanche!” Bea snapped.
“Did you eat it already?” Blanche asked.
“Of course not!” Bea snapped again.
Then Bea and Blanche turned accusing eyes on me and my grandmother.
“Well, we certainly didn’t do anything with your Happy Halibut,” said my grandmother, deeply affronted.
As it turned out, we were sitting on it. Right there in the middle of the University Mall, we were sitting on four fish fillets and a side of slaw and we didn’t even know it!
From my mother I inherited the Gene that Makes You Put Strange Things in Containers Where They Don’t Belong. My mother is always putting things in unusual containers—jewelry in Tupperware or nylons in Ziploc freezer bags, for instance. Once she and I ordered a gallon of Queen Helene’s Liquid Mint Julep Face Mask, and then we put it in some empty Listerene bottles for easy storage. Unfortunately, my dad inherited the Gene that Makes You Think Listerene is in Listerene bottles, which explains why my mother found him spitting liquid all over the bathroom mirror one morning.
“Why were you gargling with my facial, Dear?” she wanted to know.
Actually, my mom and I were always doing this sort of thing to my dad. One night I put my contacts in a glass of water by the sink because I couldn’t find their case. During the middle of the night my dad staggered into the bathroom, dropped a couple of Alka-seltzers in the cup, and knocked back my contacts in a matter of seconds. The next morning when we discovered what he had done, my mom and I ran around the house shrieking, beating our breast and asking the cosmos what kind of a man could do something like that to his own daughter.
Ken and I have had similar experiences. Last spring, for instance, I mixed up some root starter in an empty milk carton, then left it standing on the kitchen counter. Ken wandered by and decided he needed a man-sized drink. Well, you can imagine what happened next. He yelled at me and dumped all the root starter down the drain. Then I yelled at him because he dumped all my root starter down the [p.93]drain. Then he yelled back at me because I was more worried about my root starter than I was about him. So I called Poison Control and told them that my husband had gotten into the root starter.
“How old is he?” asked the poisons expert on the other end of the line.
“Old enough to know better,” I snapped.
And I really believe that. Ken should realize by now that like my mother before me, I will probably always put things in strange containers. I just can’t help myself.
My genes keep getting in the way.