Julie Lyles Carr: Nature vs. Nurture

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Nature vs. Nurture

Psychologists have debated it for years, the line between learned behavior and instinctive behavior, the tendencies we engage in toward particular stimuli and circumstances. Back in the '60's, when experimental psychology was a whole lot more fun because it was pretty much unregulated, psychologists would plumb the depths of the human psyche on a number of topics, including whether children learned to play with 'girl' toys or 'boy' toys based on the inborn traits of their gender or based on the learned behavior of parental expectation and advertising. And surprise!--boys still wanted to play with balls and trucks and girls still wanted to nurture dolls. But within the annals of psychological insight, one area of testing still remains untapped, one that needs to be addressed, one that needs explanation. I give you Fear of Bugs.

Last night was a late one, dress rehearsal going much longer than expected, and I staggered back to the house with two exhausted babies and numerous hyper dancers. We began running through bedtime prep, hollering gentle reminders up the stairs ("Get in your bed now!", "No more talking!", "You can tell me about Boba Fete tomorrow!"). Things had finally begun to quiet down when a piercing, and I mean piercing, scream erupted from upstairs. 6 of 8 has many talents and piercing screams are among them. Should the girl need a fall-back career if her chosen path of being an 'Ice Cream Girl' (serving ice cream at a local shop) does not materialize, she could do all the piercing screams for scary movie audio tracks--seriously.

Piercing scream again. M lurched up the stairs, heading toward the source of the piercing scream. More screaming and general hysteria, now 4 of 8 joining the chorus. And the cause for all this? A bug, yes, an eyewitness report of a bug seen scampering along the baseboard in 4 and 6 of 8's room. 2 of 8 (second oldest girl) ran in, heard of the bug report, and hightailed it out of there with numerous shudders. 3 of 8 (oldest boy) strolled over, took description of the bug and announced, "Sounds like a huge cockroach." More piercing screams. After ten minutes or so of bigger screams, lesser screams, search party activities for the said bug and analysis of the relative innocuousness of bugs, things quieted for a bit--until another piercing scream from 6 of 8 that she experienced another sighting.

The irony is that my girls have been raised with a mother who is not bug-phobic. Snake phobic, absolutely (I did grow up in the Mojave Desert, after all). Cellulite phobic, you bet. But bug phobic? That's so, so...girly. My girls have seen me crush, squish, exterminate many an exoskeletal being. They've seen my capture and release program for bugs that don't seem as evil, like ladybugs and crickets. They've seen me closely examine spiders to determine if they are brown recluses (worthy of immediate capital punishment) or if they are the often misidentified, much maligned, harmless wolf spider. And yet, this girly squealing, screaming thing remains.

So as I slurp down my first half-gallon of coffee this morning, trying to erase the effects of last night's buggy broken slumber, I have to wonder: did I miss an essential lesson in the Laws of the Feminine? I don't remember learning Fear of Bugs at my mother's knee. Have I missed an opportunity for my husband to traffic in the role of the Masculine Bug Masher? What if my sons think all women are not bug phobic--is it fair for them to bring that expectation into their marriages? Did I miss an important micro-chip in my DNA sequence? However, my genetic musings will have to wait--we've had another sighting--and it's time for me to go put my squishing shoes on....
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