Nature: “the basic or inherent features of something”
Nurture: “the process of caring for and encouraging the growth or development of someone or something.”
My daughter is 4, and she is our only child. This means every piece of attention her father and I can spare zones in on her. She has no competition; there is no conflict at home. It is a situation that terrifies us. We worry that she will grow up to be spoilt and entitled, that she won’t learn how to care for others with empathy. We worry that we must nurture a lot more than necessary, to compensate for some of the things that may be lacking in her nature. Then again, she surprises us with a breathtaking display of empathy and we are left speechless. There is so much in her that we haven’t done anything to teach. We spend every day blurring the line between nature and nurture, wondering whether it comes from us or if it’s all her …
1) If she does a great job at her tennis lesson she gets an MVP sticker. Two stickers = free snack from vending machine, three stickers is a bottle of Gatorade. And “infinite” stickers will give her a shiny new racquet. On the drive back from tennis lesson on Saturday she hands over her sticker and says “keep it safe, I need infinite stickers”. Ever since I have explained the concept of infinity, she has managed to use it in almost every sentence! I am thrilled I don’t have to pay for her next racquet, but she stops my train of thought “ I need to get a racquet for you” she says. Me? I don’t even play tennis! “Don’t you want a new racquet? “ I ask. “No, it’s for you.” She beams – “You are the only one at home without a tennis racquet. I will get infinite stickers and get you a racquet”.
Was there some lesson about “sharing” that sunk in, or did I just witness an act of unadulterated compassion?
2) There is a girl in her pre-K classroom who has just moved from India and she speaks English with an accent that other children don’t seem to understand. I don’t pretend to understand the politics of 4 year olds girls, but from the bits and pieces of information I get from various sources, it seems like this isolates the little girl and she is unable to play with the others. One day my daughter decided to become her mentor. In her own way she started coaching the girl on how to pronounce words. I came to know about this on a ride home, one of those rare occasions when my daughter decided to be chatty about school. I asked her why she was teaching the other girl new words and phrases and she replied “You told me to. You said I should help everyone”.
I am impressed with her, with myself – I gloat about this moment internally for a full 5 minutes! But above all, I am amazed that a 4-year-old brain can grasp a concept, retain it, and then apply it to a real world situation. I had no idea she could comprehend anything at this level. What else has she been learning and absorbing?
3) Her father ended up in the ER two weeks ago. I could have dropped her off at my brother’s or neighbor’s, but she put her foot down and insisted on coming along. As always she made the best of the situation and had enormous amounts of fun! She ate too much pop-corn and tic tac, watched a lot of TV. She was running down the corridor at one point when she saw me wipe away a tear. She came to a screeching halt, sidled up to me, held my hand and started walking with me. Up until that moment I don’t think I had ever completely understood the term “unconditional support”. I felt infinitely stronger, and I told her that. She was happy that it was infinite! On the ride home she handed a wholefoods box to my husband with a small lingering piece of her favorite cheesecake “For you” she says “ So that you can feel better”. I know that he did feel a lot better in that moment. And I know that this was all her, I did not teach her any of this.
As any four-year old, she throws tantrums, refuses to coöperate, detests having to “share” anything. Then again, when she reacts to a difficult situation with the wisdom and perception of an old woman, or shows empathy way beyond her years, I have no choice but to stop and learn. Every day with her is a lesson in compassion and kindness without any thought of reward.