Sunday, December 17, 2006

People Hands

One of the interesting things I read about 15 years ago is that the genetic instructions for how the mind works are carried on the X chromosome. What that means is that, since boys have only one X chromosome, which they get from their mother (Dad giving them his Y to make them boys), sons think more like their mothers and daughters, who get an X from each parent, think more like fathers. (I have no idea of why Dad's X overrides Mom's X in this matter, but it does seem to.) In my little family, this meant that Richard and I tend to understand each other and even anticipate each other very rapidly, while Julie is odd girl out. She thinks like her Dad, who has never lived with us and who she didn't meet until she was 21. (Anyone interested in this story can go to the three part story on Julie's blog here and here and here and read it.) So, her experience growing up was of being with two people who understood each other rapidly while she was still trying to figure it out, and who didn't understand her nearly as quickly as they understood each other. Although she got better grades than Richard, and is at least as smart as we are, she told me later that she always felt stupid.

Part of having her father's mental map is that her sense of humor is like his -- dry and subtle. Where Richard and I will use sometimes wild hyperbole and vocal inflections as well as lots of body language, hand gestures and humorous facial expressions (just in case you don't get that it's a joke by the words?), Julie and Michael say outrageous things in understated vocabulary and deliver them deadpan.

They began as serious statements that were unintentionally funny. When Julie was three she took a bundle of about four twigs that she had broken in half to show her nursery school teacher. When the teacher asked if she had done that with her bare hands, Julie looked at her hands with a puzzled expression and then answered, "No. With my people hands."

About two weeks after that, Smokey Bear came to visit the Montessori school where I was doing my student teaching and I brought Julie and Richard for the day, since Smokey was Julie's favorite person in the world. My master teacher heard Julie tell Richard in all seriousness, "He's too big to live in our little apartment."

It was that literal and serious turn of mind that often caused Richard and me (as well as almost everyone older than she was at the time) to break out laughing, which she hated. So, her brother and I learned not to laugh when she said these things. Which backfired for a little while, since when she was about 12 she figured out that they were funny and started saying them for the laugh. Understated. Absolutely deadpan. Being well trained, we didn't laugh and she would indignantly tell us it was a joke. (She told me years later that when we didn't laugh she thought she must not have a sense of humor.) Once we knew that she knew, things went better.


Anvilcloud said...

I think I'm Julie-like. That's interesting about the chromosomes.

kenju said...

That may explain why my son and I share an interest in and understanding of various types of humor that escape my husband and one daughter - sardonic wit and other black humor. He and I shared that from the time he reached the age of 6-7, and mr. kenju still hasn't figured it out.....LOL

Gina said...

That is interesting about the X and Y chromosones. It is true that Mr. P and I have a "smoother" relationship than he has with his Dad.

Poor Julie! Thinking for so long that she had no sense of humor! :(

J said...

It's funny, because for some reason, I was just telling Maya the people hands story the other day...

Anonymous said...

Interesting, except that my mother's sense of humor, such as it is (was), was always pretty childlike and open. My father's ran to dry, much more like mine. Also he was a real storyteller, including jokes -- much more than I.

On the other hand, when we first met Julie, she and Maya & Melissa (her sisters) kept discovering habits and mental processes they had in common. Not necessarily mine, but they all shared them.

Maya & Melissa's senses of humor are more like mine and Julie's than their mother's. Wordplay figures big with all of us.

I also thought I was stupid (retarded, actually) until 8th grade when I could no longer rationalize away why they kept putting me with the bright kids. My problem was that things that seemed obvious to other kids (why should we care about grades? who cares about being tough?) didn't make sense or matter to me. My quick wit got me labeled as a smart alec, so I pretty much stopped joking in public until late high school when the audience got more sophisticated.

Michael (Julie's dad)