Who does she look like?

It's one of the first questions you hear when you have a new baby. What time was she born? What weight? Everything ok? How's Mammy doing? Who does she look like? 

After a week or so, no one will ask the first two questions anymore, word will have spread, you'll have noted the answers in your 'New Baby Record-Book' (or not) and it'll be old news. You'll hear the middle two from time to time, especially during the first year of parenthood. Mostly from public health nurses, family and close friends. After that you're considered an old-hand and expected to get on with stuff, even if things aren't ok.

But you'll hear that last one at least once a week for the rest of time... From everyone. Everywhere.

Who does she* look like? 

*also applies to he
"She's the spit of her daddy," some old lady at the bus stop will announce, out of the blue, while you're waiting for the 145. And you'll smile and agree. Even if secretly you think she looks more like you.

"Oh, she's the image of you. Definitely," that relation you only see once in a blue moon will exclaim the next time they see you. And you'll be delighted, (yet simultaneously worried that you've passed on that one physical flaw you've always hated about yourself...)
She's his double. She looks just like her auntie did at that age. Her great-grandmother had hair like that. She's like himself across the eyes, but she has her mammy's mouth. That's the *insert family name* nose, God love her. And so on. And on.

We are all obsessed, it would seem, with confirming that a child is in fact made of a combination of its parent's genes.
I'm guilty of it myself. When my newest niece was born I was convinced that she was the image of my sister (her mum) but at six months old it is clear she is much more similar to her Dad's side of the family. And I tell my sister that every time I see her because for some reason it's almost like a surprise every time that someone can look so much like someone else. 

Walking to school every morning I am confronted with a sea of faces. There are two larger schools right next to Lile and Sábha's small one and at 8.50am everyday the street resembles a Tube station at rush-hour. Parents with little ones and bigger ones and in-betweeners all running the gauntlet to get to school on time. It's not very difficult to spot the kids who are being dropped off by a parent, as opposed to kids being dropped by another care-giver, as there are so often Mammies and Daddies with mini-versions of themselves hurrying along.
It never ceases to amaze me how genetics works. How each of us carries the traits of ancestors we never knew and that we'll never even recognise we've passed on to our children. How when two people come together to make an entirely 'new' person, really they're just rearranging things a bit so that we end up with one child her mother's smile and her father's eyes. And another with her mother's nose and her father's chin. And then all the possible and endless combinations that make us at once the same, yet entirely different.

It's comforting, in a way, to know that we are all made of the same stuff. To recognise ourselves in our children. Including the good and the bad bits. I suppose that's the basic function of genes - to prove to us that we are family. That we belong together. That we are one.

For the record, both of my girls look a bit like me. And and a bit like their Dad. And entirely like themselves.


  1. Even as a geneticist I struggle to see where my genes have gone in each of my three children. My first born arrived looking so like her Dad's side of the family that I would have wondered about my hand in her making, were it not for the fact that I actually gave birth to her! I was delighted to have my green eyed, left handed second child make some kind of a nod to my genes. Otherwise I resign myself to seeing bits of me in their personalities (only the good bits of course) ;)

    1. I think my sister feels the same about her little one! It's really amazing how it works and how it's completely unpredictable. It's fascinating. Oh, and I have a tendency to only see the good bits too ;)


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