We leave our house, ready for the party she’s been anticipating for days with her full princess regalia on. The invite encouraged all the guests to come dressed as a princess, a fairy or a mermaid. We cheated a little. Instead of wearing a princess costume, Shaila decided she would wear one of her beautiful Indian outfits and go as Jasmine. The deep purple fabric of the lehnga looked incredible on her. It was a bit long, so I wanted to pin it up. She, however, was adamant that she wear it just the way it was. Almost like she wanted to have a floating train on the dress.
I probably should have argued a little bit more strongly, but she looked so darn cute and so excited that I just went along with it.
When we got to the party, I could see her full fledged excitement waver a little as it turned into a little bit of anxiety. When she realized that she didn’t know many people at the party, and many were friends because they went to a common school different than her own, her little bit of anxiety turned into a whole lot of semi-freaking out.
I could feel it in the way her tiny hand kept reaching for my hand. I could feel it in the way her eyes tracked my movement – making sure I was never too far from her. I could see it in the way her big brown eyes simultaneously searched for friendship while retreating a little from making a bold move and saying “Hi” or something equally crazy to another five or six year old girl.
When a girl running by at top speed in the hallway tripped over Shaila’s gown, I could feel it in the way her eyes sought mine out. They looked like they were about to overflow with tears. I admonished myself for not pinning it up her gown as I had wanted to. I think she probably admonished me too, though she was thoughtful enough not to say it.
Mostly, I feel what she is feeling not just through the senses with which I can witness her feelings today, but through a very clear view of my own memories of me at her age.
And to some extent, to the way I often still feel today.
2013 was the year of the introvert, I think. It was the year where we started talking about introversion through a different lens. It no longer felt like a bad word. I think a lot of this is owed to Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introversion which seemed to be on every best-selling list last year. People started identifying themselves as introverts and the word no longer carried with it the connotation of some weird recluse with no friends. We realized that the definition is much broader and more inclusive of a lot of people who might appear to be extroverts by societal standards, but are really introverts in disguise.
I started to recognize many of my own personality traits which I had tried to change over the years and mold to fit the “better” model. The more extroverted and animated version of myself.
I was surprised that no matter how hard I worked at it, I seemed to fall short.
Reading Quiet made me realize that it’s not so much about changing these very core things about myself that make me the way I am. Introverts can still have very meaningful relationships with people. We can even be outgoing and gregarious in the right situations. (In college, I thought that this meant doing a lot of shots before I went out, because that was the only way this girl was going to be gregarious). But we handle social situations differently than extroverts. We thrive in certain work environments that might not be suited for extroverts. We recharge in solitude rather than gathering energy by surrounding ourselves with more people.
I look at my daughter now and I see that she is wired very much as an introvert. Like her mother.
And frankly, it scares me a little bit.
In the right social situations, Shaila is fine. But in situations like the party above, she will generally become very anxious. A concerned mother will usually ask, “Aw, is she okay?” And I will find myself responding “Oh, no. She’s just a little shy.” But I feel like I’m apologizing. And the thing with apologies is that you save them for when you’ve actually done something wrong.
And in this case, nobody has done anything wrong. My daughter is who she is. She just thrives under certain circumstances more than others. I don’t know if this will ever really change.
“We need to register her for more team sports,” my husband, John, says. He thinks that this might make her acclimate to situations like that party better. And he might be right. But I look at the things she gravitates towards – reading, piano, art, singing – and I realize that she already possesses a very strong identity of who she is and what she loves to do. Is it the right thing to overlook what her nature is and push her away from the things she truly thrives at?
On some level, I wish my daughter was the child who could run into a party, not know a single person there, and throw herself with reckless abandon into all of the activities as she simultaneously has play dates planned by her equally socially savvy mother. But just as I will never be comfortable being that mother, I can’t expect my daughter to be someone she was never wired to be.
Instead, I need to look to the beauty in the friendships she has made. I need to look for the care she takes in cultivating the relationships that matter to her, even writing letters to friends at age six, explaining how much they mean to her. I need to look for the beauty in her laughter when she IS at home and she IS comfortable in her surroundings.
I need to look for the beauty in her quiet. Which can be an incredible thing.
And mainly, I need to be there for those parties or those days when she still needs to hold my hand. I will not be able to do it with her forever, but I think that maybe, just maybe, me being there to do it now will forever leave the imprint with her that she needs to feel.
And that is, she’s ok. In fact, she is more than ok.
She is perfect.
“Introverts living under the Extroversion Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform” Susan Cain