Judy Wearing, "A Familiar Stranger"

Want to take our Close Encounters with Science writing challenge? To inspire you, our GG nominees and finalists have each recommended a "Writer to watch." Their Close Encounters will instruct and delight twice a week through November.

Today, Governor General’s Award-winner  Karen Connelly recommends Judy Wearing: 

david adams richards
"Judy Wearing’s writing is original, unexpected, sometimes very, very funny. As a science writer, she is exploring things that few popular science writers have written about, with verve, grace, great humour. And in her more literary work, she has a cool, sharp eye and a cheerful willingness to go straight for the jugular—that’s a very rare quality in the memoir field."
"A Familiar Stranger"
By Judy Wearing

When you give a baby up for adoption, you don't expect to see him again. But you always hope. I gave up a baby boy with a dimple in his chin when I was 17. Twenty-four years later, a letter arrived in the mail with his name written in it. I rushed upstairs to my computer, logged on to Facebook, and typed in his name...Joshua. And there he was.  A thumbnail of a dark-haired young man with a dimple in his chin.  I posted on his wall, "I think I'm your birth mother." In seconds we were connected.  

It was an odd sensation to say the least when Josh and his jeep pulled into our courtyard less than a month later. I was incredibly nervous all day, but when he arrived and pulled off his shades and waltzed over to me, grinning, I felt comfortable as well as excited. It was that feeling you get when you meet a new friend and you hit it off instantly, and you are both rushing to speak at once, and you use words like "kindred spirit" without feeling self-conscious.  

Josh was a stranger, and we had to get to know each other, but I came face to face with the nature vs. nurture question almost immediately. At first, it was both freaky and amusing to see him poking out his cheek with his tongue, an odd habit, identical to my brother's. 

Then the annoying things started. Have you heard it said that what parents find most aggravating in their children are the very traits they possess themselves? It's true. Josh likes to work with his hands. He builds things. He likes to cook, he can't sit still sometimes. Give him an unsolvable philosophical question and he'll think of nothing else for hours. All things I can relate to. But he's also a walking accident. Give him a shovel, and chances are it will be returned in two pieces. I was thinking about this at the moment I smashed my favourite mug to smithereens while making him a latte.

"I love him. He's a part of me," I said to my husband, "but man he bugs me sometimes. You know, in the car, he takes his shoes off and puts his feet up on the dash! "

"You do that," Tom said. 

And that made me smile. 

It is not just me. Whenever Josh meets new family members he fits in, like a pea inside a burgeoning pod. How similar our whole clan must be in the grand scheme of things. 

Josh has had to struggle in his own way with the nature vs. nurture question. There are aspects of his character that my family and I have helped him understand. But he's learning that identity is not a question of nature vs. nurture; he is simply a unique mashup of nature and nurture, as are we all.


Judy Wearing is the author Edison’s Concrete Piano: Flying Tanks, 6-Nippled Sheep, Walk on Water Shoes and 12 Other Flops by Great Inventors. Her articles have appeared in Canadian Geographic, Outdoor Canada and Your Workplace and she has written more than twenty books for children. Judy has a PhD from Oxford University in evolutionary biology and works as senior editor for The Critical Thinking Consortium from her rural home in Eastern Ontario. Her next book is about body hair. 

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