The other night I was talking to David about the homing instincts of baby rats. And how, if baby rats are raised in bedding that smells of citrus, they will after the tenth day be drawn to things that smell of citrus. At least, I think that is what he said. I liked the idea of a homing instinct as a learned adaptation. It made me think about the four mammals I've raised and wonder whether or not the same window of learning -- the first ten days after birth -- would apply to them.
Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter was born in the summer, right before a big camping vacation with my extended family. Since we had no crib in the tent, she spent those early days being passed from person to person, held in the shade of big oak trees at the edge of a marsh that stretches to meet the river. I can remember changing her diaper at the end of the dock, splashing river water to clean her wrinkled newborn skin, and noticing that her umbilical cord stump had dried up and fallen off. Without a thought, I tossed it casually into the marsh. Only later did I wonder: did that moment bond her forever to the marsh that I love? And perhaps spending her earliest days being held by aunts, uncles, and grandparents imprinted on her forever the value of community. Most certainly, it seems to have made her affectionate, compassionate, and able to manipulate family members at will.
Boy-in-Black was born in springtime, just as the lilacs were blooming. His earliest days were filled with the heavy scent of purple blossoms, and he too made a trip to camp before his umbilical cord had fallen off. Perhaps the early imprint of spring flowers has made him the gentle, good-natured kid that he is. Certainly the intensity of that lilac smell is mirrored in the intensity with which he approaches life. I wonder if he will always return in spring to a place where lilacs bloom.
Shaggy Hair Boy was born in winter during a snowstorm. Perhaps early exposure to raging winds gave him his temper. I wondered if his homing instinct will keep him here in the north, tie him to a landscape that boasts sparkling drifts of snow. Maybe it's why he has already chosen to grow his hair long, a thick curly mane of hair that certainly does keep his ears warm. No wonder he has taken so quickly to snowboarding.
With-a-Why was born in the fall at peak foliage. He spent his first week under maple trees that glowed red-orange, birch trees all yellow, even the ground covered with crackling brilliant color. Perhaps this explains his silence, his awe of the world, his own shining brilliance. Perhaps this is why he is so drawn to beauty: why he will stay up late to practice the piano, why he begged for saxophone lessons.
I like the baby rat theory because I understand that teenagers must separate from their mother, make their own way, figure out who they are. I guess I am hoping that this landscape -- with its oak leaves, lilacs, snowdrifts, and flaming color -- will hold them here, give them the stability and grounding they need, no matter what the season.