Nature, nurture, and ice cream

So my parents are here for a visit. That’s completely awesome because they are fun people, and also because our favorite collective hobby appears to be eating. I mean, sure, yes, we also talk a lot and go do stuff and watching Monkey grow in frustration that Grandpa’s sole mission on this trip isn’t actually to play Legos with him 12+ hours/day, but the main reason we all get together is so that we can order approximately twenty different things from our local Chinese restaurant and then sit at the table talking about how we really overdid it, this time, and we have WAY too much food, yes, and could you pass that one down, I haven’t tried that one yet, and yes, there’s dessert later if anyone wants ice cream….

You get the idea.

(Ha! You thought we only made food the central vacationing activity while on a cruise, but it turns out that we are gifted in the eating-excuses department, and can even make food the main attraction without ever leaving the house. Viva la oink!)

Anyway, when we are not eating, we are often discussing how much the kids have grown and how aggravating adorable they are. As one does.

When we talk about Monkey, it’s often to discuss areas of challenge for him, which ones we feel like we have a pretty good handle on and which ones are still baffling and frustrating. The thing about Monkey is that even when he’s being completely infuriating, he doesn’t MEAN to, and also his relaxed/comfortable state is very much like having a puppy on your lap—he’s happy and playful and loves you VERY MUCH and responds well to pretty much any attention paid in his direction.

So when we were talking about him I mentioned something about how I find myself readjusting, constantly, to his needs, and that a lot of what he says and does is just kind of foreign to me, because he’s so different than I was as a kid. And my dad asked if I had any idea if my ex behaved similarly as a kid, had he or anyone in his family ever volunteered that information to me, and then Otto and I needed to take a break from the conversation to finish laughing.

Because, first of all: I am so persona non grata with my ex’s family, I cannot imagine any of them saying anything to me on purpose at this point unless it started with “Any last words?” Although before we divorced, his siblings DELIGHTED in reporting to me every last bizarre childhood behavior of his, many of which sounded EXACTLY like something Monkey either does or we could totally see him doing.

And second of all: I can’t remember if I ever shared the conversation my ex and I had when we got Monkey’s test results and he was pronounced well and officially Asperger-y, but it went a little something like this:
Him: Well, I just think this isn’t very scientific.
Me: Why not?
Him: It’s a lot of behavioral observations. It’s just not very objective.
Me: Um, there are also objective tests. But this is largely a behavioral issue.
Him: Well I just don’t know that I believe this.
Me: They’re TRAINED PROFESSIONALS. This is what they DO. What don’t you believe?
Him: Well according to these criteria, I think I would be classified as having Asperger’s.
Me: I agree.
Him: And that’s ridiculous.
Him: I mean, really.
Him: Because obviously I don’t.
Me: No?
Me: Well you were never diagnosed…
Me: … because that wasn’t really done, back when we were kids, but don’t you think…?
Him: No. Ridiculous.
Me: I think it’s something you might want to explore.
Him: Come on.
Me: YOU come on. You don’t have any pervasive social difficulties? Sensory sensitivities? Any of this sound familiar?
Him: We’re not talking about me, we’re talking about Monkey.
Me: Oooooooooookay.

So. In terms of having a resource who might have some insight into my quirky little guy, well, that’s complicated. Because quite honestly I do think my ex may understand some facets of Monkey’s behavior better than I ever will, but I also think his unwillingness to explore WHY he gets him also becomes a barrier to being helpful.

[In case you were wondering, there is little more heartbreaking than having your Aspie ask you, “Mom, do you think Dad has Asperger’s?” and after very carefully explaining that you think it’s very likely but he has never been diagnosed, then being asked, “Well but does he not think he does because he thinks it’s something bad?” There are a hundred reasons I wish my ex would explore this, and reasons 1-98 are because I think it would be hugely beneficial to Monkey, with reasons 99 and 100 being because I think he would ultimately find it helpful for HIMSELF. So.]

So when we talk nature/nurture with Monkey, sure, I think there are some genetics at play, but in terms of our day-to-day stuff, I have to just… do the best I can and continually work at understanding him.

With Chickadee, though, although I already acknowledge some similarities between her and me, all it takes is my father sitting across the kitchen table and LAUGHING AT ME to remind me just how similar we really are. And even as I make my argument for SOMETIMES GIRLS HAVE HORMONE POISONING I have to admit that yeah, a lot of this is a little too familiar.

And the part that kills me is that I had long assumed that many of my… less-than-savory behavior as a tween/teen were because of my environment. Our home was… ummm… let’s just say things were pretty tense a lot of the time. So once I grew to adulthood and looked back at what a complete jerk I was as a kid, I assumed it was because I was unhappy due to situational factors. But when I look at Chickadee’s behavior I see many of the same sorts of MY LIFE IS SO TRAGIC AND EVERYTHING IS AWFUL ALL THE TIME kinds of things, even though HER home is a whole lot happier than mine was.

And that’s about where my father suggested that maybe some of it is just plain genetics. And then I may have said that that’s SO NOT FAIR and MY LIFE IS TERRIBLE and also SHUT UP AND EAT YOUR ICE CREAM.

It’s really a wonder they don’t come to visit more often.


  1. Mamadragon

    Awesome post, Mir. On so many levels. You pulled together so many things. Nicely done.

    And inquiring minds just have to know what kind of ice cream!

  2. KMayer

    My dad’s favorite comment, at every visit ad nauseum…. ‘Well, Kathy, the apple doesn’t fall from the GD tree now does it?”

  3. Randi

    I think genetics is responsible for a lot more than most people realize. I’d love to see some studies on adopted children to really get some answers about the nature vs nurture debate.

  4. Rachel

    Mmmm ice cream…. or Hagen Daz Mango Sorbet… that counts as fruit, so I can eat it for breakfast, right? Are your parent’s still there? Enjoy the visit! =)

  5. liz

    Whoa. Insightful much? What an excellent post.

  6. Mia

    I love that insight that allows you to see the common-ness of teen behavior: it sorta takes away a measure of parental guilt to see that hormonal girls will be hormonal girls in the best of circumstances and not because of the worst of circumstances. Yes? And even though the ex family is silent and deadly, I rejoice for you that you have YOUR family, and OTTO’s family to surround you all with their love… you can’t go wrong with all that love (and all that food! yum!)

  7. Sheila

    You are forcing me to take a hard look at my own obnoxious behavior from the tween/teen years in order to try and be understanding of my twelve-year-old’s speshul level of obnoxicity, and I must say I do not like it. Not one little bit.

    It’s a wonder my mother ever picks up the phone when I call.

  8. Trish

    Our 8-month is adopted. I guess we’ll see how much nature vs. nurture plays into the teen years. I’ve always been a “nurture is more powerful than nature” kind of person; I just hope I’m right!!!

    I worked for years as a behavioural consultant for parents who children had one diagnosis or another and were experiencing some behavioural issues. Whenever I worked with a family with a child diagnosed with Aspergers, inevitably the mom would say “he’s just like his father”.

  9. Headless Mom

    Yes, I would love to know if my husband was like my 10yo pms-ing boy. Alas, both of his parents are gone and memories from his siblings are not as reliable. So.

  10. Ruth

    Great observations. I, too, believe genetics play a huge part in our outcomes. I have behavioral issues, as does my whole family. If you look at your family tree, it is amazing how many clues are just hanging out there on those limbs for all to see (but only when you are ready to see, thus the ex-husband’s inability to see his own issues clearly).

    The support you are providing for your child is incredible and kudos to you all for your hard work.

  11. m

    going out for good food is always a good thing not wanting to play hours on end with your kids Oh well stuff happens.My Nephew Matthew never got to know his grandfather(Our Dad)

  12. Megan

    My uncle is probably an undiagnosed Aspie which no one in his family realized until a few years ago. It was a great relief to his children and wife but him? Oh no, one session of therapy and he’s FINE, just fine. Unfortunately it is too late for his relationship with his family. Thank GOODNESS Monkey was diagnosed early! I am sorry the ex cannot or will not explore this possibility. I hope Monkey can understand that fear is a strange and irrational thing and that people under its influence say and do things that do not make sense.

    Personally I’m STILL coming to terms with how much of a pain I was as a kid – trying to work past my own guilt, my mother’s rather passionate and dramatic reactions to everything, and (sadly) my desire NOT to have been an obnoxious, button-pushing, ungrateful little git. I’m still not sure where reality is and there are days I don’t want to know but… you know I think I’ll call my mum really quickly and apologize, just on the off chance…

  13. Kirsty

    This is a great post but makes me feel all bitter and twisted… I was never any trouble (too timid, too inhibited, too scared of everything) as an adolescent, never had a teenage crisis, never did anything “risky”, was always horribly responsible and sensible, never rebelled (except after my first term at university when I dared wear a skirt above my knees for the first time ever, despite my mother’s insistance throughout my school years that I was a “big girl” who shouldn’t ever wear anything other than long, shapeless sack-like garments). God, I sound boring as hell, don’t I? Is it any wonder I couldn’t get a boyfriend?
    Yet both my daughters – currently aged 8 and 6 – are already showing signs of teenage snark, temper tantrums, the works. I’m dreading adolescence and just feel it’s all SO UNFAIR!
    That said, their father (my ex, and someone I and several professionals believe has psychiatric problems) was HELL as a teenager, so I guess that’s where it comes from.
    I AM AFRAID, very afraid.

  14. Rachael

    I have a step-daughter that they thought has Asperger’s, but it turned out that she was mildly mentally retarded and learning disabled. But through that process, we did a lot of research and found out that indeed, Asperger’s is often genetic, and many adults don’t find out that they have this until they’re adults. Sadly, by then, there’s so much that is lost from a therapy sense. There’s some Aspie characteristics that my daughter has, but i just deal, I guess. I mean, what other choice do I have?

  15. Amelia

    Wow. I think we have the same ex. Except yours talks to you, so maybe not. :)

    My family life as a teenager was pretty near idyllic, and my poor family was nevertheless subjected to a lot of I HATE THE WORLDs, especially when I was a tween and young teen. I do blame hormone poisoning.

    (And my mom, who raised FOUR TEENAGED GIRLS in quick succession, some even simultaneously, with nary a son in sight to break up the angsty wretchedness…says that the earlier a girl starts that stuff, the earlier she finishes, and that we were all pretty much sane again by 16. Good news for you? I hope so.)

  16. Karen

    The loss is your ex husband’s.

    My husband is not autistic, but does have TS and ADD, both of which have some overlap with autism. He and our daughter delight in their similarities. They share some obsessive interests, and it is a lovely thing to watch them launching model rockets together, or studying weather or space science together. But, then, we don’t regard neurological differences as inferior around here. ❤

  17. Chuck Mann

    Denial…it’s not just a river in Egypt.

  18. Leandra

    It’s the parental curse — “I hope you end up with a child JUST LIKE YOU.” I think every parent has uttered it at least once. I got mine in spades but I’ve already passed it down to the next generation. Mwahahahaha!

  19. jennamom2boys

    Mir, I’ve always loved you, but now that I have an official Aspie I love you even more. Monkey’s so lucky to have you as a mom!

  20. Veronica

    Due to Aspergers, we’ve been getting to explore ALL our childhood quirks. It seems my kids get it from both parents, because we’re equally quirky. Yay.

    I think it would be good for Monkey’s dad to explore things too, but also know that aspergers has such stigma to adults that they’ll never explore it (and tend to brush off challenging behaviours from your child with ‘But I do that and I’M FINE’ – sigh).

  21. kim

    I have limited experience with Asperger’s, but it seems hard enough for Monkey even with the diagnosis. It seems like undiagnosed adults must have spent most of their lives feeling like some thing must not be quite right with them, and developing strong reflexes and coping mechanisms against those feelings. I’m sure it doesn’t make them any easier to deal with as adults – it does make sense to me that some wouldn’t want anyone else telling them they need fixing, though.

  22. mamaspeak

    Maybe, your ex will read this, and, in an effort to be the best dad he can be, will get tested. If nothing else, he may find ways to help Monkey w/some of the things he finds difficult. (Of course, that will require putting aside ego, so yeah….)

    I sometimes wonder about my husband. I don’t think he’s an Aspie, but he is ADD (adult diagnosed, and man, they could use him for the text books!) many of the “quirks” sound very similar.
    I mostly look at it as a different way of interacting & learning. It’s not good or bad, just different. If everyone & everything stayed the same all the time, there would be no improvement in our quality of life, right? Different is good. But then, I live in Silicon Valley, where there’s a higher value placed on different than most other places. (At least it seems like it. Geeks Unite!)

  23. Brigitte

    Wow. When I started researching Asperger’s (for a friend whose child had been diagnosed), and everything looked SO FAMILIAR in regards to my family and all our childhoods, and even some of my parents’ behavior, I personally found it to be a relief. No, I’ve never received any official diagnosis, and I think it’s more definite with my sister than myself, but it’s nice to have some kind of explanation for why we had such a tough time. I don’t understand why the ex won’t even read up and educate himself about it.

    Now YOU, on the other hand, apparently had no excuse for your youthful behavior.

  24. s

    Its interesting to see traits and behaviors reflected by our children – they are such mirrors aren’t they? I recognize so many bits of my brothers and my father in one of my boys – and I’m not better at dealing with these traits in my son than my mother was (hmm maybe bc I inherited some of her unsavory traits like impatience and quick tempered annoyance?). I see some of the anxiety that both my husband’s family and my family bring to the table – its amazing that I was so shocked when I started seeing it in one of our boys. And I am sure scientifically shyness is not something you inherit, my daughter is the spitting image of me in terms of her shyness and very very quiet speaking voice (except when she’s at home where she is all loud and dramatic). Sheesh if only we had that knowledge PRIOR to selecting our partner?? :)

    and yeah, my kids definitely inherited their sweet tooth from me…my husband has none. Gotta have some ice cream!

  25. karen

    *sigh* Your ex (AND MY HUSBAND) would have an easier life if they just looked at themselves objectively. Is that even possible? I’m thinking not.

    You just broke MY heart with that statement/question from Monkey. Please.. tell the EX what he said if you haven’t already. Maybe those words will be enough to shed some light.. or enlightenment.

    Great post, Mir. If you’ll excuse me I’ve got some mint chocolate chip in the freezer I need to dig in to.

  26. Katie in MA

    I would suggest trying to IM your Ex about the Aspie Convo, but somehow I don’t think it will be quite the same magical balm as that’s been for you and Chickie. At least you can (sort of) laugh it off with those you love and keep on keepin’ on.

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