Friday, October 16, 2009
I remember an interesting unit from my anthropology class last year involving the way in which reproduction interacts with aging. There is a theory that when a female of a species gives birth for the first time, aging begins in earnest. This seems to be true for all female mammals, including humans. Females who put off having children until later start aging later. Have a baby and you’ve just signed your own death certificate. Haaaaappy Mother’s Day, ladies!
Scientists know this connection exists, but they’re just not sure how or why. That’s because these scientists are not mothers…and the ones who are can’t remember why because they’ve been rapidly aging for years and can only focus on one thing at a time. (That one thing is usually Twilight, by the way.)
I, on the other hand, am a mother, NOT a scientist, and not a fan of Twilight (don’t lynch me!), so I can tell you exactly why women age more quickly after becoming mothers. I saw a prime example of it yesterday, as I sat at my computer, watching a live video feed in horror as a silver weather balloon whirled through the sky. The mother of little Falcon Heene, the boy we all believed was trapped inside the homemade aircraft and who was later found safe in his home, aged 10 years yesterday.
We moms age faster than non-moms for one reason and one reason alone. Kids scare the your expletive here out of us. They’re impulsive and fearless, dangling, leaping, and fracturing their way through the first 18 years of life. For every sweet and sentimental moment a mom has with one of her offspring, there are five moments of sheer panic that cause her heart to race and her body systems to shut down until the imperiled child is safe again.
You did it to your mom. Some of you tested out your ability to fly by jumping off your roofs. Others decided the bottle of cough medicine on the counter looked mighty tasty. 45 of you had the police out looking for you once in your life. At least 5 of you made your local news, and not in a good way. Your moms? They’re old, aren’t they? I rest my case.
So, we know the how. What about the why? Why do kids behave in ways that shave years off the lives of their mothers? Isn’t it in the child’s best interest to keep mom healthy and young? The answer lies in resource control. Newly born offspring know that when they reach the age of maturity they will have to compete with their parents for resources. If resources are scarce, it’s in a child’s evolutionary interest to ensure his parents won’t be around when he hits adulthood.
The scarcity or abundance of resources is relative, of course. To an adult, a package full of cookies is an abundance. To a child, it’s just another package full of cookies he can’t have unless mom says he can have one. We see a grocery store full to overflowing with food. The kid sees a grocery store full of “No” and “Not this time” and “If you whine for a treat one more time, we’re just going to leave.” Your offspring perceives scarcity at every turn, hence, their roundabout attempts to do you in. And you wonder why little Katie fell out of the tree the other day?
This, of course, leads one to question why savvy adults who were once savvy children fall for the old, “Look mom! I can fly!” routine. I mean, if you did it to your mom as a way of ensuring plenty of cookies in adulthood, why are you so upset your child is doing it to you?
Enter evolution again. The cuter the kid, the more likely mom is to worry, and let’s face it, most kids are cute. Really…how many ugly three year olds do you know? I can’t think of a single one. Kids pile on the cute at every opportunity until parents begin to believe they can’t live without it. Those smiles and cuddles and curls are nature’s way of ensuring you’ll have a near heart attack the next time Bobby runs toward the street.
Every time I walk into the kitchen to find my youngest perched precariously on top of something in a quest for snacks, I try to force down the rising terror and save my face from crows feet with a calm, rational, “Sarah, he’s just trying to kill you the way you tried to kill your mom. There were plenty of pop tarts to go around then, and there are plenty now. You don’t have to worry. You just have to educate him. You are smarter than this.” Unfortunately for me, every time I try to educate him, he grins up at me and says, “Holy ching chong doodles!” until I think I’ll die if I don’t hear that again.
Goodbye, rationality. Hello crow’s feet.
[Author's note, added 10/21/09: It seems the great balloon getaway was a hoax. I no longer think Mrs. Heene aged 10 years. I think she aged 15. If you thought a child in peril was stress-inducing, you have no idea how crazy a child who blows your hoaxy cover can be. She got 85 new gray hairs the moment little Falcon said, "You guys said we did this for a show." I bet you can even see it on the video.]