You know those viral videos of obnoxiously adorable kids hamming it up at the school play or dance recitals? The videos that make the rounds across the internet racking up ‘loves’ and ‘shares’ faster than a giraffe ready to drop the mother load…oh wait. (Can we all agree that giraffe totally milked her fifteen minutes for all they were worth?!) Well played April, well played. But preggo giraffes notwithstanding, watching cute kids with big personalities ranks pretty high on the world’s happiness meter. Just ask Ellen.
Watching those gregarious kids do their stuff, it’s hard not to think that those are the ones who are going places. How can life be anything but a dream with a personality like that?
Now that you have the picture in your mind, direct your brain gaze to the kid standing a few feet away from the rest unable to look at anything but his toes. The kid with one foot practically in the wings, with an expression on his face that radiates he would rather be anywhere else on Earth. That’s my kid.
I have this beautiful child with a technicolor imagination. He’s wildly smart, and loves to make up silly jokes. He knows all the songs in Moana by heart. He randomly ‘breakdances’ when the mood strikes. He’s a bright and vivacious child, and he disappears almost entirely in the outside world. This animated kid whose vocabulary often shocks me, transforms into someone I don’t quite recognize when he’s around other people.
My kid’s public persona often lacks the ability to make eye contact with adults or other children. He struggles to crack a semblance of a smile, and has difficulty answering even the simplest of questions. He frequently stares blankly when asked his name and age.
Inside, I am at Threat Level Midnight* panicking in these situations.
I fight the urge to grab my son by the shoulders and shake him (gently) back to life. In my head, I’m yelling ‘stand out kid, you must stand out!! If you don’t, you will get passed over, lost in the shuffle, or worse…UNNOTICED!’ Then I hear a gentle voice in my ear. The voice that is most often one of reason and sound judgment in my life: my husband’s. As though he can read my anxious thoughts, he whispers ‘hey Crazy, dial it back to a two. He’ll be ok.’
My husband and I have come together in this mad world from two different paths. I was one of the kids chasing the spotlight, eager to stand out from the crowd.
If the concept of internet fame had been a thing when I was growing up, I probably would have been a special kind of scary. The eagerness to please and desire for approval have followed me into adulthood to some extent. And after some good old-fashioned life experience and excellent therapy, I’ve come out on the other side a semi-functional human being. Looking back, while I can say I’ve navigated social and professional relationships with relative ease throughout my life, I cannot say that my outgoing nature has made it any easier. Nor have I become the super star that so many adults in my childhood had hopes I would become someday. Sorry guys.
My husband, on the other hand, was a quiet and reserved kid.
He was a good student. He was a hard worker, and truthful to a fault. He spent hours in his room taking apart computers and putting them back together. His quiet self-discipline gave him the patience to teach himself to play piano, guitar, and engineer albums. He is pragmatic where I romanticize. He is patient where I am restless. He is genuinely confident where I often pretend. What’s evident is that he is no worse for the wear from having flown under the radar through childhood.
In a place of calmness, which is often on my back porch with a glass of wine, I wonder if I’m worrying about my son because there’s genuine cause for concern. Or is it more of a inability on my part to understand a kid who is much less like me and much more like the man sitting next to me quietly sipping his whiskey while building some insanely complex web app on his free time. Something tells me the kid will be all right. But just to cover the bases, I’ve ordered a crap load of books on raising introverts, scheduled a conference with his teacher and his pediatrician because I’m nutty like that.
What I can say with absolute confidence, is this marvelous kid is going places in life. Even if it’s quietly. You may never notice his magic or brilliance, but those of us who know him are dazzled by it. Some of the world’s rarest flowers only bloom at night or a few times a year. How lucky am I to water this one?
Recommended reading: Quiet Kids: Help your Introverted Child Succeed in an Extroverted World by Christine Fonseca
*Threat Level Midnight- Episode 7, Season 2 The Office (Michael Scott’s screenplay) Go watch it, now.