Nature wins again

Party, party, I going to a party! My first party! I love parties!”

That is Ender, dancing in the bathroom while I try to de-grossify him. Four weeks short of his third birthday, he’s just been invited to his first official “tea” party. Flora’s friend Moxie is putting it on; Flora’s already there, and Ender can’t wait to go.

I’m struck, yet again, how different each of my children is from the others–the girl from the boys, the boys from each other. At age three, Cinder would never by his own choice go to anything that looked like a party of a crowd. I remember his analysis of his third–and for a long time, his last–birthday party:

It was ok. It would have been better if all those people hadn’t come.”

Cinder made his first friend when he was… 7. (And, oh, man, what a relief that was to me! Look! He does want to play with others!) He’s still very selective about who he spends time with. He’s got three close friends, and no room in his life or needs for more. Flora is “lonely” if she’s spent the day playing with just three friends. She just started a new music class–seven little girls, all new to her. She’s thrilled. “I wonder which of them I will like best, and which ones I will become good friends with?” she muses at the end of the first day. “Junie is really, really pretty. And Billie Joe is a little shy, but I think she’s really sweet.” In the same situation, Cinder would be … if not petrified, then immensely uncomfortable.

Ender is more on Flora’s end of the social spectrum. Everyone he meets is a friend. A new baby is crawling around at the back of our Tang Soo Do gym. Ender crawls with him. Tickles his tummy. (Thinks about pushing him over–fortunately, I catch that in time.) The baby’s not there next time:

Where my friend? I miss my friend!”

We walk home in the dark from the firepit, and a bike whizzes by. “Who that?” Ender asks. I’m not sure, I didn’t really see. But he saw enough to identify the person:

That my friend Mingo! He play ball and trampoline with me! I love him!”

“Was that Mingo, Cinder?” I ask my eldest. He looks at me. Shrugs. “Dunno. Some guy on a bike.” Mingo, incidentally, is closer in age to Cinder and more Cinder’s playmate than Ender’s. But, but–them two boys, they relate to the world in such different ways.

It’s at moments like this, when the contrast between these two boys–or all three of my children–is so pronounced, that I almost give up on investing anything in nurture. You know? Nature just seems to trump everything. Cinder is Cinder; Ender is Ender; Flora is Flora; and there’s nothing I can do to affect their essential nature.

Except, of course, that nature needs nurture. If nature is the raw material, the unalterable building block, nurture is the sculptor. Nature is the inclination and the impulse; nurture the habit and inner–first outer–“discipline.”* Nature makes Cinder an ever-moving ball of energy; nurture’s given him the tools to channel that energy. Nature’s given Flora the universe’s most tender heart; it will be nurture that will help her find ways to protect it when she must.

(I’m afraid to pontificate on what Nature’s determined for Ender. Let’s leave that one be for now, shall we?)

Party, party, party!”

Ender hollers. “Let’s go!”

I don’t have to come, right?”

Cinder checks in. Nope. Not this time. And off we go.

The Agile Gene, by Matt Ridley (book cover)

If Nature versus Nurture is an argument that keeps on popping up in your head, you might enjoy Matt Ridley’s The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture (originally published as Nature via Nurture). It’s an interesting read–and here’s a video of a Ridley lecture at Princeton if you just want a sample, and here’s Matt Ridley’s blog.

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