A Child’s Personality Unfolds
One of my children’s housekeeping jobs is to make lunches for everyone Sunday-Thursday, for the next day. This child has a gift for nurturing others, particularly young children, as well as a careful, detail-oriented personality. She does things carefully and with an eye for polish and beauty. These characteristics have manifested themselves so much this year, particularly with this job assignment.
She loves to include a little note, poem, or quote in her lunches, a different one for each person. So yesterday she was searching online for a quote to put in her sister’s lunch, and she found this one by Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” I love that thought!
(Those of you who know me know how much I love quotes. As a child, my mother and my best friend’s mother loved quotes and shared and displayed them frequently in their homes. I picked up on that and have gathered quotes along my path of life, too. This one is a gem!)
I love how Wilde rephrased the eternal truth that each of us is completely unique, unlike any other person on earth, with our own beautiful design and potential for being wonderful and doing so much good.
I received a mailer several months ago from a well-established creator of beautiful jewelry. (I haven’t been to their store–simply seen their advertisements.) Their advertising slogan caught my attention: You are 1/1. An artist signing her work numbers each copy made out from the total number of reproductions. 1/1 means that the designer made only one of that design.
We are each 1/1.
I have been studying nature more in recent years, since President Uchtdorf’s talk about learning from nature. I have always loved snowflakes and am amazed at how no two snowflakes are ever exactly alike. I think that our individuality is illustrated in the life of William Bentley, the man who spent his entire life studying and photographing snowflakes. It was his gift to the world. How did his parents know that this would be his gift? Certainly when he was born, they didn’t think, “This is our Willie who will give the gift of photographing snowflakes.” He lived on a farm in Vermont. They probably thought he would grow up to be a farmer. But at one point they used their savings to buy him a special camera with a microsope in it so that he could do what he loved, using the gift he had to help humanity learn more about themselves.*
Last night I was sitting on the couch reading to some of my children–whoever wanted to listen. I was doing this because of Elder L. Whitney Clayton’s counsel to parents “to the extent possible, [to] read with their children every night.” We started Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. I chuckled as I read the description of Pippi, who certainly is unique:
“She was Miss Pippi Longstocking out for her morning promenade. This is the way she looked:
“Her hair, the color of a carrot, was braided in two tight braids that stuck straight out. Her nose was the shape of a very small potato and was dotted all over with freckles. It must be admitted that the mouth under this nose was a very wide one, with strong white teeth. Her dress was rather unusual. Pippi herself had made it. She had meant it to be blue, but there wasn’t quite enough cloth, so Pippi had sewed little red pieces on it here and there. On her long thin legs she wore a pair of long stockings, one brown and the other black, and she had on a pair of black shoes that were exactly twice as long as her feet. These shoes her father had bought for her in South America so that Pippi would have something to grow into, and she never wanted to wear any others….
“…’We can be friends anyway, can’t we?’ [she asked the children watching her].
“ ‘Oh sure,’ said Tommy and realized suddenly that this was not going to be one of those dull days.” (pp.15-16,18)
Reading Pippi is going to be a very fun romp!
Raising my children has been a very fun romp so far, too. It is so interesting watching children’s personalities unfold. I have noticed this with my oldest daughter. I remember holding her in my arms and thinking about her. I was wondering about her even before she was in my arms. I remember holding her after I had just spent over two hours trying to push her out, and my first thought was that if I hadn’t just spent two hours pushing her out, I would not believe she was mine! She looked entirely different from me with her dark-black, curly hair, almost tan-looking skin and ruby red lips. Funny, even physically she did not stay this way for long. The dark, curly hair turned to straight blond, the tan skin was simply jaundiced, and the lips aren’t so dark, but they are still beautiful!
I also remember that this child moved a LOT while I was carrying her inside. I held her as a newborn on my lap in front of me, with her feet on my legs as if she were standing, and her legs were just moving up and down like she was bouncing. Having just nearly finished my college education in special education, I thought, “This child is going to have ADHD!” But it wasn’t so. While she didn’t like to take naps ever, she has shown that she has an incredible calmness, has spoken softly her entire life, and is like being around a quiet stream that makes you want to relax.
Fast forward from birth to age 11. I was praying to know which instrument she should study (she had already started violin then moved to piano), and I felt she should study harp, it being the most like her personality. I took her to hear some harp and she said she would like to study it. So she earned some money (to help pay for it), we bought a harp, and she began. Immediately we noticed that she had a propensity for the instrument. She seemed to really like it. She didn’t pour her heart into it, most of the time, but she did like it a lot, and it seemed to come so easily to her.
Let me just say that the loveliest instrument to hear being practiced is the harp.
She progressed on the harp through the next 7 years, excelling. She ended up at Interlochen music camp in Michigan before she left for college, an unexpected miracle.
And then her first year of school, she was praying to know which direction she should go educationally. Her answer? Medical school!
It came as a surprise, but not entirely, and when she told us, I felt like she had picked what was just right for her. It made me feel happy inside. So the music she loves will be something she carries with her as she pursues other things. I am so excited for her!
Who would have known?
I look forward to seeing what else happens in her life as it unfolds.
I have learned this principle in the last 18 years: a child’s personality, like a flower, unfolds. While the core personality remains intact, the outside appearance, like the plant, changes over time. The internal characteristics manifest themselves as time goes on. And one habit or expression may emerge but not be permanent.
For example, one of my children was very loud as a child. I remember one day in Stake Conference when I was holding this child and everyone was very quiet. Then this child spoke, and I felt pretty certain everyone there heard the conversation. I marveled.
Now this child speaks softly, and sometimes I have to ask this child to repeat what was said! I was surprised when I realized this not long ago! It reminded me that we all change, and that our children change, and we must simply watch to know what is core personality–divine nature–and what is just part of the growing plant.
My lunch-making daughter did a science project this year in which she planted some seeds. These were enormous seeds. Ironically, we didn’t know what they were for, since they weren’t labeled! So we have watched in wonder to see how they would grow. The seed sprouted and the huge pod moved up as the little stem pushed it upwards. It split in half and out grew two huge leaves. The pod remained for weeks and weeks until just recently, when under the shade of the leaves, the pod fell off. Now a long, spindly stem with some more tiny leaves above continues to grow upward. We continue to watch and wonder!
I saw an example of this in a sister of mine. Her child had an extremely strong aversion to certain foods as a child. She did what many of us would not have done: she allowed it. She catered to this child’s tastes, and over time, this child’s tastes have changed! What a surprise! Now you wouldn’t know that there was ever any concern about what to prepare for meals!
So how do we know what to nurture? That has been a question in my mind as the years have gone by.
I’m studying Jacob 5 and I notice that the main thing that the Lord of the vineyard does is: prune and pluck out branches, grafts in branches from other trees, nourishes his trees, digs about them, and checks their fruit. (Do I have that right?) Sounds like how gardeners care for their trees today as well. We work the soil, we prune dead and crossed branches, we take steps to protect the branches from pests, we fertilize, we water, we take off extra buds so that the fruit won’t be crowded. My knowledge of fruit tree gardening levels off there. I have no idea how to graft!
But I think that the information here is really helpful in considering nurturing children and their interests as they manifest themselves: we encourage all the good we see developing and try to help with the stuff that is harmful to the child by protecting and removing influences. We also try to teach the child to do good things instead of that which would hurt the child.
Some of the most helpful “child gardening” tools I have been thankful for are personal revelation from the Holy Ghost (such as answers to prayers, or ideas during scripture study or conference talks or discussions about the child with my husband), priesthood blessings (baby blessings, confirmation, back to school blessings, blessings of comfort and when sick, and Patriarchal blessings), journaling, and the child himself.
One of my daughters was very active as a young child. She was a very easy baby–smiling, sitting happily, so pleasant and content–until she learned how to climb and walk. Then my peace came to an end. It was constant watching after that, since she went everywhere and got into everything. For a number of years I had to begin learning patience on a new level.
Then one day as a young child she received a back-to-school blessing given by Lane. In the blessing she was told, “Heavenly Father never is mad at you.” I was humbled and corrected! She was told how wonderful she is, how special to Heavenly Father, how gifted, capable, valiant and good. I knew I had to learn more patience and to recognize her temporary behaviors as manifestations of some amazing qualities in their infancy. I tried much harder to be patient and loving after that!
This same daughter, because she was so physically active, did not enjoy learning to read or being read to. I did keep with it, trying to help her as much as she would allow. I kept praying for her, knowing how critical reading is. When she was in fourth grade, we were inspired to change bedroom arrangements so she would share rooms with a different sister. She started reading at the same time in bed as her sister did, and it seemed that all of the sudden she caught her stride with reading. We were amazed as she started to love reading, and to read a lot more. Now she loves to read!
This daughter has also told me what she wants to do. When it was time to choose a musical instrument (she had taken piano), I let her pick. She had heard many different instruments by this time and chose the one she wanted. It has been perfect for her personality, and we love to hear her play.
Monday I was helping to teach a song in choir at our elementary school. Afterwards, one of the little girls said to me, “Thanks for making choir.” I was so touched! I was surprised by the gratitude of a 6 year old. It reminded me how children have such wonderful divine attributes that manifest themselves as we try to nurture them with love.
Yesterday morning one of my children asked, “Who are you going to be like when you’re a grandma? Grandma L. or Grandma McC.?” I answered, “Me! I’m going to be a little like Grandma L. and a little like Grandma McC., but I’m going to be mostly like me!” (You can see that this was the theme of my day from dawn until dusk.)
All of this thought about individuality and watching personalities unfold reminds me of a song I like called “Plant a Radish.” It’s from a musical I’ve never seen called “The Fantastiks:”
Plant a radish.
Get a radish.
Never any doubt.
That’s why I love vegetables;
You know what you’re about!
Plant a turnip.
Get a turnip.
Maybe you’ll get two.
That’s why I love vegetables;
You know that they’ll come through!
They’re the best pal a parent’s ever known!
While with children,
You don’t know until the seed is nearly grown
Just what you’ve sown.
Plant a carrot,
Get a carrot,
Not a Brussels sprout.
That’s why I love vegetables.
You know what you’re about!
Life is merry,
If it’s very
A man who plants a garden
Is a very happy man!
Watching a child’s personality and gifts unfold is one of the great rewards of nurturing the children around us. Children are the best!
My question for you: How have you seen your child(ren)’s personality unfold? When has a change in your child’s growth surprised you?
*Here are two books I love about snowflakes: Snowflake Bentley by J.B. Martin and The Story of Snow by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, Ph.D.