My daughter Deborah recently gave birth to Eva.  Family members arrived soon thereafter (one can imagine the prehistoric origins of such in-gatherings of the clan in an effort to determine or confirm the likely father) to offer congratulations and, quite predictably, to go on record with their first impressions.  “Who does the infant take after?”  Everyone felt obligated to provide an opinion.  The subject dominated the conversation.  Family features and traits were identified (“She’s a good eater.”) and credit assigned if a consensus emerged.  Claims were made, supporting evidence put forward and contrary opinions advanced.  (“I don’t recognize the hair”.)  Because heredity involves a fluid genetic stream supplied by an extensive network of individuals, it’s possible to range pretty far afield here.  Distant relatives barely acknowledged could nevertheless end up in the mix as readily as those close of kin.

Opinions flew fast and furious.  Some focused on facial evidence; others relied upon body shape.  Agreement was not easy to come by.  Further complications arose from the fact that in the early weeks the situation was remarkably fluid as the baby’s features changed, creating obvious disappointment for some, but also opening the doors for others to stake their claims.

Each encounter with Eva prompted renewed discussion and debate.  Some referenced family baby pictures still in their possession to support their contentions.  Meanwhile my daughter and her husband looked on delighted at the attention their child was receiving while advancing their own, obviously legitimate, claims.  Compromises were possible, however, once discussion turned from the infant’s overall appearance and focused upon specific features.  Concessions were forthcoming from all concerned parties.  Some conceded the eyes, but claimed the nose.  Others insisted upon the cheeks and bargained away the lips.  The hair was a bone of contention, but judgments regarding the chin gained acceptance.  Once the conversation expanded to include temperament, sleeping and eating habits, the possibilities for give and take on all sides expanded greatly.

Meanwhile Eva began to cackle and coo, oblivious to the ongoing debate over her genetic inheritance.  But we shouldn’t be deceived.  She was probably taking it all in and perhaps was upset at being used to satisfy the expectations and needs of individual family members.  No doubt, in the years to come, she will reject being defined by others and insist upon establishing her own unique look and identity.

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