Optimism vs. Pessimism: Nature and/or Nurture?

On New Year’s Eve, my 15- and 13-year-old stepsons and I watched Ryan Seacrest and Dick Clark ring in the New Year, Eastern Standard Time, even though we live in a Chicago suburb—in Central Standard Time (CST).  My husband, long suffering from a kidney stone, and my 4-year-old, too young to be up at 11 p.m. CST, were asleep.

After the countdown, per usual, couples were smooching, with the TV cameras zooming in on the many public displays of affection, and my 15-year-old stepson commented about his surprise at the amount of lip-locking. 

“That’s what you do at midnight on New Year’s Eve,” I said.  “If you have someone to kiss, you kiss.”

“Well, go wake Dad up then,” he replied.  “And have sex.”  

At this stage, he has no verbal filter…

“We can’t have sex.  So, rest assured, that’s not going to happen.”

“You can’t have sex!  That sucks that you have to give up sex to have a baby.”

“Normally, you don’t have to give up sex to have a baby.  I have a complication—a rare complication—so that’s why we can’t.”  (I have placenta previa, a condition in which the placenta is completely covering my cervix, which can result in hemorrhaging and pre-term labor, so, at my 21-week appointment three weeks ago, the doctor told me not to lift anything, to get extra rest and to not have intercourse.)

“OK.  Whatever.   Well, in 2012, will the world end right when it turns midnight?”

“What?”

“People have predicted that the world is going to end in 2012. Do you know exactly when?”

“Where did you hear this?”

“YouTube documentaries, people…”

“OK…  Well, the world was supposed to end in 2000 also, and it didn’t.  So, don’t believe everything you hear.”

With that New Year’s pick-me-up of a conversation, I announced that I was going to bed.

“Happy New Year, M.K.,” he said.

“Happy New Year.”  And, as I walked up the stairs, I stopped and leaned over the railing and said, in a sing-songy voice, “You’re going to have a baby brother in 2010…”

“Too bad he’ll only be around for two years.”

In the nearly 48 hours since those two conversations, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about optimism vs. pessimism—and why different people view the world through such different lenses. 

Why, when I said his Dad and I couldn’t have sex, did my stepson immediately jump to the worst-case conclusion—that having a baby means forgoing sex for nine long months—without asking me any questions?    

Why does he believe in the end-of-the-Earth-in-2012 prediction enough to voice that his baby brother may not live beyond age two?

Why do I—who am in the midst of a high-risk pregnancy, worrying about placenta previa and my likely upcoming incompetent cervix; who already lost one of the twins I was carrying in this pregnancy; who just vomited four times because of severe coughing that has lasted weeks, regardless of my asthma inhalers; whose husband has been in agony trying to pass a kidney stone for the same number of weeks—have so much hope for 2010 and beyond?

I met my stepsons when they were 10 and 8 years old, so I was not involved with their development in their early formative years.  And, I’m not part of their gene pool.  So, I can only guess that, as with most personality traits, the pessimism is a combination of nature and nurture, of genetics and upbringing.

I had my 4-year-old son via insemination with anonymous-donor sperm, and, while I have three generations of medical and personal history for the donor, I will never have anecdotes from others who recognize my son’s aptitudes or quirks or looks or personality coming from his biological father’s side of the family.  I am, however, in contact with several of the mothers of my son’s half-siblings, and we’ll continue to share information about how our donor-conceived children are similar or different. 

As far as the son I am carrying, his biological father is my husband, the biological father of my stepsons.  I know, based on nature, our son may tend toward pessimism.  And, if so, I intend to nurture him right into optimism, every day of his life.

Happy New Year.

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