Beyond Mendel

Parenting the dominant gene

by , posted on November 2nd, 2010 in The Science Issue


The obstetrician lifted my first baby, all purply and slimy and squinty and seconds old, and said, “Well, there’s no doubt who the father is.”

This is how it all began. How my dreams of gazing into green eyes like mine, burying my face in a head of reddish curls, seeing my smallish mouth or pointy chin in miniature, were completely smashed.

Three times.

My husband calls me “the nanny.”

Because my kids look absolutely nothing like me. And everything like HIM.

David is half-Korean. My kids have almond-shaped eyes and look like they’re half-Korean, too, even though they are only one-quarter.

I know a little bit about genes. I remember the charts with the dominant and recessive genes we made in 10th-grade biology.

Based upon my completely scientific calculations?

I got screwed.

My husband’s mother is full Korean. His father is German and has blond hair and light blue eyes. My father was 6-foot-4 with a shock of red hair and had hazel eyes. My mother has olive skin and dark, curly hair and hazel eyes.

David has brown hair and light brown eyes.

So I’m thinking I could have three light-eyed kids with maybe a touch of Asian. Instead, my two boys have eyes the color of day-old coffee. My daughter has gray eyes that change to honey and dark blonde hair, but her heart-shaped face and tilted eyes? Not from MY side of the family.

I grossly underestimated the power of those Korean genes, which appear to supersede any contribution from my (Russian, Eastern European) kin.

They apparently do not care about any stinkin’ chart.

One time, when my first was about a year old, he and I went to our neighborhood park. It was early and there was no one there besides us – and a small group of women with young kids.

I put Sawyer in the bucket swing and while pushing him, noticed they kept glancing my way. And talking to each other. And looking back at us.

Finally, one of them approached and put her daughter on the swing next to Sawyer. We started chatting. And she asked if I was part of the group. Everyone was wondering.

“What group?” I asked.

“We’re moms who’ve adopted children from China.”


I assured her my stretch marks and the ability to pee myself with only a sneeze were directly due to the carrying and birthing of my little boy.

I held out hope my second baby, our only daughter, would maybe look something like me. Unfortunately the only thing she got was my attitude.

When I became pregnant with my third child, I once again thought I’d finally, finally get one who looked like me.

I should’ve known better. He even got the same dimpled chin as his brother – and, of course, as his father.

People are nice. They say Sawyer looks like me around the eyes (nope). Or that Sage has my hair-color (not even close). I appreciate their effort. I do, I know they’re trying to be nice, that they feel bad for me as they hug their own mini-mes.

But I’m okay with it: My husband’s very good-looking.

If I want to know what it feels like to see something of me in them, I just need to peer deeper. I’m there in Sawyer’s gift of gab, in Sage’s determination and sassiness, in Xander’s independence and sense of humor.

That is how I want the world to see them, too. To look beyond and within and see them for the amazing souls they are.

Even if they look nothing like me, they are still undoubtedly my babies.

And you know what? My kids? They’re gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

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4 Responses to “Beyond Mendel”

  1. Leslie Says:

    November 2nd, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Yes Cheryl, they’re beautiful – inside & out!!!


  2. Dave K. Cooper Says:

    November 3rd, 2010 at 1:40 am

    Love this!


  3. Kirsten Says:

    November 3rd, 2010 at 2:51 am

    oh heck yeah they’re gorgeous. Mine don’t look like me either – what is UP with that? But my girls have gotten enough of my personality that they end up making faces & gestures the same as me, so often people will say they ‘look just like you’…. until they meet my husband.



  4. Lori-Anne Says:

    November 3rd, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    My son looked identical to my husband when he was still in the womb! Looking at the ultrasound pics, the resemblance was uncanny. Like you, I held out hope that my daughter would bear some resemblance to me. She has my eyebrows. MY EYEBROWS. While, yes, they’re one of my best features, I can’t help but wish there was something more obvious of me passed on. I don’t know why, because they’re beautiful the way they are. Perhaps it’s vanity? Anyway, your children sound beautiful, and I enjoyed your essay.


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