I just read a disturbing article by Sharon Begley in the Newsweek from two weeks ago. (As in everything else in my life, I am having trouble being punctual in my magazine reading). In any case, the article, Sins of the Grandfathers, explains how early life experiences can affect a parent's reproductive cells, causing permanent changes for up to four generations. (The experimenters have only tracked four generations of rats, but it might still be occurring in the great-great-great rat grandbabies, too). The kinds of life experiences they are testing for include over-eating, eating fungicide, mal-nourishment, smoking, and having positive experiences in an enriched environment. (I personally have trouble understanding how they got young rats to start smoking.) The egghead types are finding that what one generation does in its youth affects the descendants in very striking ways. A young overeater has babies and grandbabies and great grandbabies with diabetes. A rat that has an enriched and stimulating environment as a youth has smart grandkids. One that smokes as an adolescent is destined to have generations of offspring that smell like ash trays.
As a newly minted Jewish mother, this gives me something new to obsessively worry about. What have I done to ruin things for LO? I used to pile all of my belongings on my bed, leaving a tiny sliver of space on which I could sleep, because I was too lazy to put everything away. Does this mean that LO will never learn to be neat and thereby nix his chances of ever meeting a nice girl? When I was a child, I once ate an entire party size bag of Doritos in one sitting. Is this why LO's burps smell like nacho cheese? And the one I hardly dare to think about: I listened to New Kids on the Block when I was in 4th and 5th grade. Who knows what damage that did to my ova. LO, I'm so sorry.
And that's just on my side! According to friends who have known him since he was 16, J used to subsist on Runts candy and Mountain Dew. Our child may never get off that sugar high. What other hidden dangers lurk behind J's every adolescent meal? I could be effectively worrying about this until the next millennium. Oh, Sharon Begley, what have you done to me?
On the other hand, I can take my wisdom from the Indigo Girls. As they say in their reincarnation-themed classic Galileo: "But then again it feels like some sort of inspiration/To let the next life off the hook." There were those positive results from having an enriched environment. Rats with smartness-inducing environments had great-grandkids with better memories, even when the ggk's didn't have the enriched environment themselves. So, that means I can help out LO's grandchildren (provided my youthful experiences make it possible for him to meet a nice girl and settle down--but I'll wait another 30 years before I start worrying about that). That doesn't mean I'm going to freak out and sign my kid up for Harvard Prep before he hits his first birthday. I'll just keep doing what I'm doing and trust that it will help out, for years to come.
But, I'll take this opportunity to apologize in advance to the spouses of my descendants: I'm so sorry about that nacho breath. Had I but known!