Jay is who he is, but his behavior is not inevitable

Yesterday afternoon at 4:30pm it was time to pick Caroline up from school and Jay was still fast asleep.  Wally and I went into the room where Jay was napping. I put Wally on the bed beside Jay, and Wally began to paw excitedly at Jay’s face and bare legs.  Jay’s eyes fluttered open.  He reached up, groggy in the dim late-afternoon light, and petted his brother on the head.

As I’ve written before, Jay is very affectionate towards Wally, always kissing him and giving him hugs.  But his motives are suspect.  After he performs any kind deed towards his brother he looks right at me or Caroline for affirmation.  If we happened to have missed it he’ll say “Look Mama,” kiss Wally on the head again, and wait for his praises.

But the petting of Wally’s head, in the moments right after waking and before Jay had all his faculties together, struck me as a sign of authentic, deep-seeded affection.

Yesterday was also the fourth day in a row that Jay has taken a two-hour nap.  The run of good napping comes on the heels of a month in which Jay napped fewer than a handful of times, and it coincides with a decision I made over the weekend (and wrote about on Monday) to let Jay do naptime beside me on the guest bed.

Parents often talk about the nature/nurture dichotomy in relation to their kids.  Over the weekend we had brunch at a friend’s house and met a mom with one-year-old twins.  She said the differences in their personalities even at this young age were all the evidence she needed that kids are who they are from birth.

Most parents I’ve talked to say the same thing.  Caroline and I do, too, having had the chance to compare Jay and Wally over the first six months of their lives.  Jay has always been spirited, a little defiant, somewhat volatile, prone to frustration, intent on doing things his own way. (In short exactly the kind of kid I always imagined I’d have.)  Wally is even-keeled, adaptable, relentlessly cheery, pragmatic, poised.  (In short, the kind of kid I can barely fathom as a product of my own genetic material.  So kudos to Caroline.)

Personality seems to be innate, but the recent run of good napping is a reminder to me that behavior is very modifiable.  Jay didn’t nap for a month.  Then I changed the circumstances of naptime and introduced new incentives and he’s napped four days straight.  I don’t expect this run to continue much longer which I take as a function of who Jay is—you need to work to stay ahead of him—but I also take it as a reminder that while his personality may be inevitable, his behavior is not.

There’s nothing profound about this, but I think it’s an important reminder whenever narratives about the boys begin developing in my head- narratives that take for granted what they do well and make me feel resigned to what they don’t.