This picture of our cat nursing orphaned baby bunnies with her own kittens symbolizes how I often felt about my own children. The expression on the mother cat's face is priceless because she seems completely baffled.
"Who are you? Where on earth did you come from?"
All my nine children had the same parents, lived in the same environment and ate the same food but each child inherited not only different physical genes but different character traits as well. This gene pool is larger than I ever imagined it could be.
The differences between my children are mind-boggling. Actually the truth is that every person is completely different. My two oldest children are dramatic examples. My oldest child, Matthew was, and still is, serious and contemplative. At eleven or twelve months, he would sit and slowly place household objects in a plastic jug after observing each object careful. He would then dump them out and start all over again, all in silence.
Matthew was only four when Michael taught him how to play checkers. Both men would sit in silence, contemplating each move.
When my second child, Melissa, was born everything we thought we knew about child development was blown to bits. Where Matthew was cautious, she was daring. She was only nine or ten months old, when I walked into the kitchen and found her sitting on the fridge! I froze in shock and yelled for her father to come witness this auspicious event because he would never have believed me if I had simply told him. Apparently this agile little minx had used the handles on the kitchen drawers to climb up to the counter and the breadbox to scamper up to the top of the fridge!
When Melissa was about fifteen or sixteen-months old, she gleefully picked up worms as we dug up the garden. Matthew at three and a half, acting on some deep macho instinct, forced himself to pick up worms too. Melissa had a peaceful sleep that night. Matt? He woke up screaming with visions of worms dancing in his head.
After his wonderful success with Matthew, Michael decided that by four, a child was ready to play checkers. Since Matthew picked the game up so quickly, sitting and contemplating his every move, my husband figured all kids would follow suit. After only ten minutes of playing with his daughter, he became frustrated; Melissa was standing up, hopping from foot to foot and jumping checkers backwards and forwards, skipping two, three, four squares at a time.
Finally I intervened and said,
"Honey, I don't think Melissa is going to play checkers like Matthew; you're just going to have to let go and go with the flow."
Although he managed to survive that first checker game with his daughter, Michael didn't play checkers with Melissa for another few years.
Melissa? She was happy doing her own thing and glad to leave that particular boring activity to the men in the family.
Every child is unique. I originally believed that everything could be explained in my dog-eared book on child development. My children soon shattered that myth. Of course, general guide lines hold true but ultimately it is up to the parents to intuitively and tentatively discover which approach clicks with each little person.