When you have a baby, one of the things people do is try to work out who he or she looks like. Emphatic comments that they have their mother’s eyes, their father’s nose and their great-grandfather’s eyebrows make you start to wonder if you have produced a baby or a 3D Police Identikit. Nevertheless, you find yourself scanning their face for bits that look like you, your husband or your parents. Any likenesses are particularly poignant when it’s to someone you have lost. When I put a hat on the girl the other day and she smiled up at me and looked exactly like my Nan, it was a precious moment.
As they get older, you realise that it’s not just your looks they can inherit. Whether it’s genetics or learned behaviour, the personality traits of you and your partner start to materialise in miniature form. Sometimes this can be cute: my daughter sucking her thumb and twiddling her hair just as I did at her age; my son pacing the floor as he tells you something, just like his dad does; the fact that they both talk incessantly just like . . .
Sometimes, however, your less attractive traits start to manifest themselves. When the boy was about two, I realised that I needed to stop talking aloud to myself when trying to find my keys, phone or handbag when he hid himself in a cardboard box and said, “Where’s William? Where’s William? Where’s that bloody William?”
(In my defence, I wasn’t the first to introduce him to that delightful vocabulary. Weeks previously he had been ‘helping’ daddy in the garden when he appeared before me crying because he’d been sent in. When I asked him why daddy had sent him in he said, “I’ve been picking the bloody flowers again, mummy.”)
Often you don’t realise that you say or do something until they start to mimic you. Recently, I reprimanded my son for losing his temper with the iPad and smacking it in anger. Next day at work I found myself doing exactly the same thing to my computer when it wouldn’t do what I wanted. The girl was trying her best to fit herself into a dress she had outgrown the other day and ended up pulling it off her head and throwing it across the room saying it was a “stupid dress.” I really must tell her father to stop doing that . . .
Eventually, they try to use your platitudes against you. My admonishments to keep trying and not give up came back to bite me when I told the boy I couldn’t fix a broken toy and he replied, “But mummy, you can’t say you can’t do it until you’ve really tried.’ They also repeat them to each other. Cue my three year old daughter standing, hands on hips, and telling her brother “How many times have I told you to stop doing that?” (His reply, incidentally, was “Four” – he gets his infuriating tendency to state reality from the paternal line.)
Obviously, we both try to claim the good traits (‘I was always bright as a child’) and point the finger in the opposite direction for the bad (although, whatever my husband tries to tell you, I have NEVER thrown myself to the floor in public because he wouldn’t buy me a pair of shoes.)
This continues throughout your life. I think I resemble my own mum more with each passing year. Also my home looks more like hers as I have definitely developed the same taste in furnishings (although sadly the tidy gene seems to have defaulted somewhere along the line.) Since I’ve become a mother, this metamorphosis has accelerated: her words drop from my lips with alarming regularity: “What’s the magic word?” and “You need to drink more water” and “What you need are a few early nights.”