I have a wooden cradle, even though I don’t have any kids. It’s traveled with me between apartments and between cities. Sometimes it has had a place inside my home, filled with stuffed animals or skeins of yarn. Right now, it’s in the shed in the backyard; there’s no room for it inside the house.
There’s nothing particularly special about this cradle on first glance. It’s not ornately carved, it’s not a triumph of the carpenter’s art. There’s no special cushion inside. Nothing remarkable at all. Until you turn it over and look at the bottom.
Written on the bottom in pencil is my name and my date of birth. It’s unmistakably my Dad’s handwriting.
He showed me this when I was a little girl. He told me that he made the cradle for me when I was about to be born. I didn’t believe him; after all, I had four siblings. There’s no reason for me to have something that special. I assumed it had been made for the older siblings and handed down to the younger ones. But he turned it over and pointed to that small bit of writing.
The cradle became a symbol to me, something special that proved that I was loved. Even on dark days, I could run my hand over the wood and know that someone loved me enough to give me this gift.
And this is what makes personalized gifts so special.
Why Names Matter
While a baby may turn their head in response to hearing their name as early as three weeks, they are likely just responding to their parent’s voice. They don’t really seem to know their names until they reach around 9 months of age. At that point the baby should not just recognize their name, but understand that it is a word that refers to them. From that point on, the name becomes a part of the child’s developing identity. It helps them understand that they are a separate and distinct person from their other family members.
Names start to become special; when other people use their names, children feel present and seen, they understand that they are being spoken to specifically. The tone in which a child hears their name spoken starts to impact their self-esteem. The use of their name influences how children form friendships and other relationships.
Names also help us feel connected to our community. We may have a name that refers back to our cultural ancestors, and last names connect us to our family or parents.
So you can see that names are incredibly important to children who are building independent identities.
Seeing Your Name on a Gift
As the second youngest of five kids, I was well acquainted with the hand-me-down. I played with my older siblings’ toys and wore their clothes. I was also accustomed to the group present; an object purchased for “the kids” instead of for any one of us individually. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes sense of the fact that I didn’t believe my dad when he told me the cradle was mine. I assumed it had been passed from baby to baby; it didn’t seem like a thing that would be a personal possession.
An important change occurred when I saw my name written on the bottom of the cradle; it went from being just a piece of furniture to something that was mine, that was special. Something that was not shared with my siblings. Something that was just for me. And there’s a kind of love communicated in that recognition, that may not be communicated in other ways. Those other ways are meaningful on their own, but they’re also different.
Objects Can Take the Place of Memories
I don’t remember the beginning of my understanding of my name, of course. None of us do. It feels as though our names have always simply been there. Seeing my name on something from my infancy still serves as a reminder, though. It reminds me that I was named. That consideration was put into the name that I would wear for the rest of my life, and that for good or for ill, my parents gifted me with this name.
In that sense, the name has taken the place of the memory. I think of infant me, and I think about how my parents must have felt about infant me. I think about the love and the effort that went into not just the creation of the cradle, but to the choosing of my name. This connection isn’t the same as memory, but it gives some of the benefits of memory; it makes me feel warm and loved when I need it most.
Personalized Gifts in Adulthood
I have gotten rid of a lot of the trappings of my childhood. I lost my mother’s old porcelain doll in a move. I used my baby clothes to dress up my dolls and later got rid of them. But the cradle, the one with my name and birthdate on it, has stayed with me. I can’t bear to get rid of it. It’s as though I would be giving away a part of myself.
I think it’s safe to say that it’s the most beloved gift I’ve ever received.
I want parents and grandparents to know how meaningful a personalized gift can be, not just as a child, but well into adulthood. Mine has meant the world to me.