A friend of mine recently blogged about things people say to you when you're a parent of twins. Things that, on the surface, seem innocuous enough. But when you the parent have to hear them repeated to you ad infinitum, well, then you have to control yourself from doing a little thinning of the herd if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
So to extrapolate on that thought (thanks for the inspiration, Jaime!), I just wanted to write a quick word or three hundred about one my wife and I hear with alarming frequency lately. The old "Oh, she's unsure about me! She's not too happy with me, is she? What did I do?" We've heard this one a lot recently when one of our seven-month twins makes one of the following faces: neutral face that doesn't display any signs of positive or negative emotions, or just a slight frown, or the full-on-pouty-lipped-about-to-burst-into-tears-any-minute face. More often than not lately it's been our daughter who elicits this response from strangers* (and let it be known here, I'm really talking about strangers, not friends or family; that's part of what makes this whole thing worth exploring, to me). So far, she seems a little bit more leery of strangers than our son, who is usually happy to flash a smile at just about anyone. But he has his moments too, trust me. Still, I've been feeling for my daughter when people say things like this. Maybe it's because when she's with us, especially at home, she's a ball of energy and fun, laughing and playing and beaming with a wide grin every time we pick her up or talk to her or just look at her, even. It just seems like she's a little shy in public at times. Sometimes. Not always.
So what?? I think part of why I internalize this for her is that I was a shy kid. I only learned what it was like to live as an introvert--how looked down on it is to even be an introvert in this society--as I got older. But I distinctly remember being made to feel bad about being shy as a kid. I remember adults saying things to my parents like "Oh, he's shy, isn't he?" in hushed tones as if it was a bad thing. It's not, I'm here to tell you that it's really not. As an adult I really transitioned into being more an ambivert: someone with qualities of both extroversion and introversion. But even now I have to occasionally face people's lack of knowledge about what it's like to be an introvert--that it doesn't mean I don't like you because I'd rather be drawing right now, or it doesn't mean I'm not interested in your story because I'd rather be taking in some much-needed quiet time at this moment. But when I was ten years old, I didn't have any confidence to express things like this to people; I just knew I preferred being quiet and was often too scared to speak up to adults or even certain kids my own age. It didn't hinder me much, though. I made good friends and I grew out of my shell with time, as I found other like-minded people who helped pull out the best in me.
Clearly, our daughter is too young for us to know if she'll be an introvert or an extrovert yet. But sometimes when strangers put their own feelings onto her by saying things like "She's not sure of me!" I want to speak up and say "Um, no, it's not really about you. It's about her and maybe she's trying to pass some gas right now or is contemplating chewing on mommy's dangling necklace or really maybe she's just concentrating extra hard on reading people's thoughts because she's hoping to be a world-class telepath like Jean Grey or Professor X, so, you know, thanks but move along now, please." It's really interesting to see how people--total strangers--put so much onto a baby! It goes to show you how involved we all are in our own heads and how we tend to see things through our own lens and can't break away from that to realize that a baby is almost certainly not creating any deep feelings about a stranger she's seeing for the first and last time for a total of maybe two minutes of her life. And then I'm struck by how similar that is to how people have reacted to my shyness or introversion over different stages of my life--when I was ten, or maybe thirteen, and then again in my twenties or thirties. So watching strangers' reactions to our kids has shown me just how early in life you have to face a lot of people's bullshit and dammit I'm proud of my daughter when she just stares at them and doesn't offer any quarter--it's like she's saying "Just for that comment, lady, you aren't getting a smile out of me now, no way." That's my girl.
*I don't even have the time right now to write about how a lot of this response being directed at my daughter is similar to how people often feel that women need to "smile for them" or "look happy" and how there are some major league messed up gender perceptions going on here. Eye opening stuff to see that starting so early in life too.