Aug 3 2009

Random Evolution

It’s hard to believe, sometimes, that my two daughters came out of the same womb. At first glance, their blue eyes and blonde heads – and their complete familiarity with each other – make it obvious that they’re sisters. But spend some time with them, and you’d find they might as well have crawled out of
Shortpants_listtwo entirely different gene pools. It’s a real case for nature over nurture.

Short-pants says things like, “When you’re old, I promise to take care of you.” She even wrote, voluntarily, a list of things to do when Mama and Papa are too old which includes the tasks of making breakfast, buying what we need, earning money and doing everything we ask her to do. It’s enough to actually make you look forward to getting old.

Buddy-roo, on the other hand, approaches aging differently. She asks the question, “When you die, can I have that necklace?”

I don’t mean to paint Buddy-roo as jewelry-grubbing hound. Except she is a material girl and she’s very aware of the material world. Not that she is unkind or impolite; on the contrary, she is lovely and funny and sweet. Her requests are innocent. She’s just a wee bit demanding, especially when it has to do with things and having them. No amount of parental re-programming seems to have been able to counter this innate trait of hers. She is the poster child for the economy of obsolescence.

The other day I stopped in front of a store to admire a dress, a sequined little number that glistened in the window. “Do you like it mama?” she asked. “Yes,” I said, “It’s pretty wow, isn’t it?” “Why don’t you buy it?” she asked. “I don’t have to buy it,” I answered, spotting a opportunity for a teaching moment, “I can just admire it and appreciate how beautiful it is every time I pass the store window.” Short-pants chimed in, “It’s true, we don’t have to have things to enjoy them.”

“But why don’t you buy it, mama?” I tried to explain again, but she persisted. “You should buy it now, mama. It will look too beautiful on you.” She found it incomprehensible that my attraction to the dress didn’t include an immediate aspiration to purchase it.

Does this come from me? It certainly doesn’t come from De-facto, who hasn’t bought himself a new piece of clothing since the late ‘90s. All I could think to do was stare at her.

“And when you’re tired of wearing that dress,” she said, “you can give it to me.”

Last week I was sequestered, more or less, with a gang of mathematicians and scientists who were charged with generating ideas for research projects under the subject heading Maths of Life. (As a passport-carrying American, I’m more inclined to say math, but being on this side of the Atlantic, I went with the European usage.) This particular workshop brought together the domains of maths and biology, asking a collected brain trust to think about the application of mathematics (oh, it is plural after all) to better understand – or even to accelerate – evolution. They were throwing about words like genes and genomes and genotypes and phenotypes. And stochastic. This was a word I heard a lot. Stochastic means, according to one of the maths experts, the incorporation of randomness.
helix_model
Oh but don’t I witness this at home! How much of whom my little creatures have become is simply the incorporation of a random combination of genetic codes? The strange splitting and mixing of De-facto’s chromosomes with mine, the seemingly random and yet stunningly deliberate mix of our DNA creates a humbling little piece of evolution. In this case, the continuation of a surname, born out in two very distinguished pathways.

When we returned home after being away for a week, Short-pants complained about our absence. I reminded her that sometimes her Papa and I have to go away to work, to earn money to keep our household going, to have food to eat, clothes to wear, so we can do cool things like take music and theater classes and travel to interesting places.

“But why don’t we just sell some of the things we own?” she asked, “Then you wouldn’t have to go to work and we could all stay home together, all the time.”

Buddy-roo, on the other hand, greeted us with a different sentiment than her sister. She poked through my suitcase, pretending to help me unpack. And then, when she couldn’t stand it anymore:

“Didn’t you bring me home a present?”