Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nature or Nurture?

I’m sitting at the table trying to come up with a blog while Hubby is talking to me. He just informed me that girls like to play with dolls and cooking utensils. I said, “I never did.” He stammered around a little and finally said, “Well, you never really were with the program.”

My mother tried her best to get me to like dolls. “Santa” brought me a new one every Christmas, and my mother made cute little outfits for them. None of it worked. My father, on the other hand, bought a set of encyclopedia when I was two years old, my mother was pregnant with my sister, he was unemployed and they were living with my grandmother. First I looked at all the pictures, then as soon as I learned to read, I started with A and read through Z. Then I did it again when I understood more of the words.

Nature or nurture?

Both, obviously. If I hadn’t been interested, I’d have treated the encyclopedia like I treated the dolls—put them on a shelf somewhere and forgotten about them. But they were available, they demonstrated how important knowledge was to my father, and they just whetted my appetite for more reading, more learning. And that appetite has yet to be sated.

People seem to be almost like computers. We’re born with hardware. If the hardware we’re born with functions correctly, software is installed by way of learning and experiences. But just almost like computers. With people, the hardware can be changed by the software, so that learning and experiences cause new synapses and pathways to form in the brain. Children who have grown up playing video games have both software and hardware that is different from children who have not.

So we are a complex combination of nature and nurture. Add to that the wild card of human will that leads some people to follow completely unexpected paths, sometimes to achieve beyond all expectations, and predicting the exact path a child will follow becomes almost impossible.  

And when family, school and society all fail a child, all we can hope is for nature to trump nurture and give them the resilience to draw one of those wild cards somewhere along the way.  

The Dog Child

She seemed happy with her pack of dogs,
Like Mowgli with his wolves.
The tangled hair,
The ragged shirt
With that strange musky smell
Of unwashed child,
The green-hued snot
On upper lip
Seemed more marks of freedom
Than neglect.

Yet when a puppy disappeared,
Victim of an irate neighbor,
She was so accustomed
To adult-caused pain
That tears left silent tracks
Down dirt-smudged cheeks.

She and her family disappeared one night,
Left rent three months in arrears,
Unpaid water, lights, and gas,
And an angry D.C.F.S. agent
Trailing them across the state
With charges of abuse.

One by one the dogs
Allowed themselves to be picked up
And taken to the pound
To be destroyed.



  1. Well, you did issue a warning. Terribly good, but terribly sad. And you handled this topic just beautifully.

  2. The warning came too late. How dark and sad and well done.