Beyond Nature vs. Nurture

The late setting of the sun in early May robs me of my usual solitude as I settle in to write. The birds are still chirping, the neighbor’s children are squealing as they chat on the front porch, and someone down the street is setting off fire crackers. As I drove home tonight on 64 East, the rear view mirror was filled with a red-orange sky of almost ethereal quality. I was reminded of the saying my mother taught me as a young girl: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning gives sailors a warning.” Tomorrow will be a beautiful day.

Elements of nature often speak to mankind, if we have the wisdom to pay attention. I have two hanging plants, and side by side they dance in the gentle breeze accompanied by my butterfly wind chime. They receive the same amount of direct sunlight and shade, water and plant food, and pruning kindnesses. Yet, one thrives and one dies. This weekend, I switched them in hopes of bringing the one half dead back to life, but to no avail.

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As I consider the little girls’ voices echoing from across the road, full of delight and excitement as the sisters play in their pajamas in the grass, I recall two teenagers’ voices in the fitting room next to me at Macy’s on Saturday. “That dress is too childish for Marcus,” one chided. The other replied, “It wouldn’t fit for long any way. My parents are getting me a boob job for graduation.” I wasn’t trying to listen to their conversation, but it was hard not to overhear their chatter of desperation to leave childhood behind. While I attempt to pen words over one screaming sister throwing a temper tantrum at being called to bed, I make out a, “Yes, Mommy,” from the other. I can’t help but wonder what transforms innocent darlings into oversexed teens. Who will they become?

The disappearance of light signals bedtime for neighbors and birds up and down the street. While my two purple azaleas are losing their blossoms, the two shrubs framing the outside of the porch have begun to bloom the same strawberry sherbet pink as the one that appeared last week. It seems they are another type of azalea. Nature abides by laws that we cannot see, much as we do as we prepare for bed when nighttime sets in. It is not just the seasons that dominate the changing of stages but mere weeks of time that mark a bloom’s beginning and end. If the new shrubs are the same as the one that bloomed last week, what marked the delay in their shows of color?

There must be indomitable unseen laws of nature at work beneath the ground of the azaleas and my hanging plants. There must be an explanation; however, unable to see the roots, I can only guess at the cause for delayed blossoming and simultaneous thriving and dying. There must be an explanation for the eighteen year old who boasts her upcoming boob job while trying on prom dresses to please her college-aged beau. But I can’t see the roots.

Earlier this evening, I sang my niece Katarina to sleep with an off-the-cuff lullaby just for her while her mother readied her twin Theresa for bed in the next room. I stared into her blue eyes and could almost cry with the overwhelming love I have for this tiny creature. Though born on the same day, changed on the same table, dressed in the same outfits, and fed the same food at breast, bottle, and bowl, the girls have remarkably different personalities. Theresa’s long legs are constantly moving, her neck always swiveling to catch any action. She has teeth and started crawling this weekend. Katarina is more contented to sit still and play with toys within her reach. She has a full head of hair and raises her arms high as if asking to be picked up when I come within view.

On Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, I have the privilege of helping with the nighttime routine, most often putting both girls to sleep, one at a time, with the same sweet song, “In The Garden”. It was my grandmother’s favorite hymn, one I sung at my grandfather’s funeral nearly two decades ago. My mother’s younger brother died of cancer in his late twenties, and he was the apple of her eye. Both of my parents were raised in the church as pastor’s kids. To this day, my mother claims her best friend growing up was Jesus, while my father rebelled until well into his college years before transforming in heart and mind.

Is there really an answer to the question of nature verses nurture? Or is there so much more that transpires beneath the surface of one’s life that cannot be explained without being privy to roots not visible? Within the same Pentecostal upbringing, my mother faith’s blossomed long before my father’s. Something struck my uncle’s life short, some inner working cancer that claimed him for the grave while my mother’s life continued flourishing with husband, children, and grandchildren. Elements of nature speak to mankind, marking the coming of a beautiful day with red hues at night and the call to rest with darkness. Some laws are universal.

Others leave us guessing. Every night as I sing to Katarina and Theresa, I watch their eyelids fight the night. It’s in those moments when the girls are between sleep and wakefulness that I wonder who they will become. What will prevent them from becoming like the teen in the dressing room, begging to grow up too fast?   What sports will they play?   What careers will they choose? Will they end up married with children, or wishing, like me, as they hold their own nieces in their arms, that they will someday have their own babies to sing to sleep? Will they opt for faith in the Creator or a longing for meaning and purpose that finds them unfulfilled?

These questions I dare to ask. Others I cannot dwell upon, like the possibility of a fate like my uncle’s. I place stock in the insightful, careful rearing of my brother and sister-in-law and believe the girls will bloom where they are planted. I imagine Katarina and Theresa doing life together as best friends, sharing in each other’s joys and heartaches. I hope beyond hope that they will make good choices and not end up… well, like me.

Though I cannot see beneath the soil of my own life at varied seasons, I have a storehouse of journals overflowing with writing that marked my struggles as a girl, young woman, and wife. While some, like my mother, celebrated in friendships, heeded wise counsel, put stock in an omnipotent Father, and lived in the current reality, I strove always to have something else, be something else, and believe something else. All three of my brothers have thriving families. Is it nature verses nurture, or is there an element unknown at work beyond the surface that I cannot see?

Better yet, am I the late blooming azalea or the dying hanging plant?

That question I dare to ask, mostly because there is still hope. Tonight, I moved the hanging plant to the side of the house that receives full sunlight, determined to coax it to survival. Wasn’t my decision to end my relationship with Tom a similar interchange?

Though I had no desire for plastic surgery, I was eighteen going on thirty, with a mind preoccupied with finding Prince Charming and my happily-ever-after. Now past thirty, I realize how much I missed out on trying to grow up too fast. Red skies at morning were warnings I did not heed. Had I the wisdom to pay attention, elements of nature, nurture, and beyond advised different life choices. I cannot deny or regret who I was in the weeks within the seasons within my existence. But with the very acknowledgement that she was who she was, I can celebrate that I am no longer her. She would have lacked the wisdom to see the difference.

And if my life choices and experiences have brought me a moment where I can divorce former and current versions of myself, then perhaps I now have the good judgment to choose which part of my garden with which to identify.

As I watched the sisters across the street, as I sang my twin nieces to sleep, I dared to ask a question. As darkness signals sleep and red skies mark a beautiful tomorrow, I ask it again. Who will I become? No one will fault me for choosing the late blooming azalea.

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