Heritable Traits

Hello from North Haven!

As those who know me from college are well aware, I am an inveterate slob when left to my own devices. My personal hygiene is socially acceptable, but my life tends to accumulate around me in piles without another person reminding me, kindly or not, to take care of the stack of dishes in the sink or the lava flow of dirty laundry. Cooking brings out the best in me creatively and emotionally, but it also unleashes my uncanny ability to get pomegranate juice on the ceiling or flour on the dog.

My husband, on the other hand, is terrifically organized and tidy. He sweeps and vacuums on a schedule, casually dusts the piano mid-sentence, and keeps his basement work space immaculate. For the sake of our relationship, and because I actually do notice and feel better when our house is clean, I take care of the bathrooms and stay on top of laundry and dishes for the most part, but it’s not my natural state.

Our daughter, at two-and-a-half, seems to have somehow perfectly blended our two personalities. She sweeps and vacuums (my mother gave her a tiny desk vacuum and she brought it with us to a mainland hotel and vacuumed the dining room for fun), but she also takes out all of her toys and spreads them around the living room.

The best evidence for her shared genetics is the fact that as she takes all her letter and number magnets off the fridge, or empties a jar of rubber bugs, she arranges them into rows, organizing her messes. Sometimes she sorts by color, sometimes by type. The art installations, as I’ve started thinking of them, can sometimes stretch across the kitchen floor, or cover an entire coffee table.

Rainbow House, 2017

Pen Art 1

Through my rose-colored maternal glasses, I think of my daughter as a young Sarah Sze. The American artist, whose work I first encountered at the MFA, builds universes out of paper clips, house plants, Legos, wire, and other tiny objects. She instills order in the joy of mess-making and chaos, with results that seem simultaneously celestial and primordial.

Triple Point (Planetarium), 2013, Sarah Sze

sarah-sze1 from Bronx Museum

photo oliveoylloves.com, from bronxmuseum.org

My daughter’s creations, while not as elaborate as Sze’s, are pieced together with a great deal of thought. I watched her line up the little round pizza toppings from her pizza party toy the other day, stopping to shift them closer together in one place, and swapping a mushroom for a pepperoni in another. Citrus season has given her an exciting new medium to play with as she picks small pieces of peel away from clementines and lines them up on the coffee table. Testing the limits of my art appreciation, she made a mosaic out of pieces of asiago cheese (Cheeseman, 2016) when I had the flu and asked me not only to look at it (and therefore smell it), but to protect it from the dog, whose interest in it was perhaps not aesthetic.

Untitled 2017, multimedia: magnetic characters, bouncy ball, rainbow ring, toy airplane, toilet paper tube, coasters, clementine peel (Artist pictured)


Several friends, many in artistic or STEM fields, have documented similar behavior in their children. One referred to an elaborate arrangement of shoes and dolls as “toddler crop circles.” For my kid, the process of making a mess, organizing the mess just so, and then returning the mess to its place seems to be part of a dynamic creative process.

Or maybe, it’s just her way of reconciling two vastly different heritable traits.




Courtney Naliboff

About Courtney Naliboff

In addition to this blog, I'm a contributing writer to kveller.com, a Jewish parenting site, a blogger and book reviewer for reformjudaism.org, and the author of Salt Water Cure, a column in Working Waterfront. I report news from North Haven for Working Waterfront and Island Journal, and was a speaker at the Maine Conference for Jewish Life in 2015. Follow Frozen Chosen on facebook or visit my Web site for more writing and free music to download!