Posts Tagged ‘introverts’

Off-Beat

Monday, March 3, 2014
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I should've seen it coming.

I should’ve seen it coming.

I knew she’d ask me “that question” sooner or later.  I’d prepared for the moment, but when it happened, I stumbled. I stuttered. I stammered.  I’d practiced my response for months; rehearsed it in my journal.  I wrote down all the clichés that would make understanding appropriate for her age level.  I read multiple articles about this topic, and I bought a few books to help me understand how times have changed.

My 10-year-old daughter is going off to middle school next year. I’ve been told that I must address these delicate issues before she sets foot in this new place. But, I waited until she asked the question that I’ve been dreading.

“Mom, what if I don’t fit in?”

Gotcha! You thought it was the big birds-n-bees talk, didn’t you? But this conversation is equally burdensome for a parent.  What if your child doesn’t fit in?  Did you?

I didn’t at first. Seventh grade was an awkward time (that phrase is spot on) in which I wore a denim jacket with every outfit.  I grew out of Palmetto jeans (not Guess) every other month, and my hair was as shocking as the gap between my front teeth. A bad perm was tinted a terrible shade of orange thanks to a bottle of Sun-In highlight spray, and it wasn’t complemented by bronzing makeup that stopped sharply at the jawline. I looked weird.  I was weird.  I carried my mother’s old Aigner purse, for heaven’s sake.  Think I’m over it?

My daughter popped the question on my bed one night, when she should’ve been fast asleep.  She lingered a little longer that evening, bouncing a foot like she was kicking an invisible soccer ball.  “What is it?” I asked, closing my book.

She crossed her legs into some type of yoga pose.  This was going to take awhile.

“What if I don’t fit in next year?”

Mike walked downstairs to check the door locks for the third time.

“What makes you think you won’t?” I countered.

She shrugged her shoulders.  “I had a bad dream a few nights ago that I was walking down the hallway, and I didn’t know where I was going.  A group of girls started laughing at me, and then one chased me through all these classrooms.”

I shuddered.  Dear God, that would scare anyone.

“And I couldn’t get away from her.”

My overly-analytical parenting style forced me into thinking that she was dreaming these horrible things to try to deal with deeply-rooted worries.  It was her mind’s way of bringing a problem to the surface (I guess). This also explains why she’s been in my bed for the last few mornings, watching the alarm clock.

“Are you treated that way now?” I asked.

She shook her head no.  I then asked how much TV she’d been watching, or if her books were too old for her.  She shook her head no again. “I’m reading about Jackie Kennedy,” she said. Well that Ethel could be a real bully, I joked.  She didn’t laugh.

“You’ll fit in because you and 50 other kids from your school are headed in the same direction,” I began.  “They’re not breaking off from the mix just yet.  But most of them are involved in something — dance, soccer, softball, gymnastics — which will make the first days of school a little easier,” I admitted.

Choosing to be uninvolved has ramifications. Inaction has consequences, too.  “These kids have been going to practices for years,” I warned her.  “So it’s a little late to start something truly competitive,” I said.

After reassuring her that she would have the best years of her life because of a friendly personality, a kind heart and a generous spirit, I shared my worries with a friend as soon as she got out of bed the next morning.

“She is an introvert,” I told her. “She holds back, and we might’ve encouraged it to keep her safe.”

“Then you know what, Katy?” my friend began, in a slightly edgy tone (which scared me).  “That’s when she picks up an instrument and she joins the band.”

I sat there for a moment.  I was in the band. I played the flute (because my cousin did), and then I switched to the saxophone (because my friend did), and then I tried out for the majorette corps (because my cousin and friend did).

“Since kids aren’t introduced to marching band until sixth grade, it doesn’t matter that she’s never had a lesson.”

I perked up.  THE BAND!

Why didn’t this occur to us?  She’s already a student of the Magnet School of Music at West Side Elementary.  Why wouldn’t she continue this interest? THE BAND!

That night (on my bed), I asked our girl what she thought about learning to play an instrument. Flute? Clarinet? Sax?

She curled her lip.

“Well, you have to do something,” I snapped. “That’s my new rule.  I don’t care if you run cross country or join the debate team, but if you’re worried about fitting in, then you need to find a group that will be a positive influence.”

“Oh no, it’s not that,” she exclaimed, fanning her arms in my face.  “I think I know what I want to do.”

I waited.  She smiled.  Then she laughed.  She tipped over on the bed and giggled some more.

“I want to play the drums.”

After a match of “No, you don’t” and “Yes, I do”, I withdrew from competition.  “You’re serious?” I asked.

“Yes. I want to play the drums and then the xylophone.”

“We’ll support you, but you’ll stick with it,” I replied, shocked that a book about Jackie Kennedy would be replaced by a biography of Ringo Starr.  A similar worry set in. Classmate reaction could go either way. Kids are so critical, especially of those who do something unusual. Fitting in and blending in aren’t exactly the same types of acceptance.

“I’m pretty sure that a tall girl with long, blonde hair and blue eyes pounding on a snare drum will most definitely stand out,” I said.

She never lost her smile. “And you and Dad can sit in the stands and watch!”

With bells on.

The Right to Remain Silent

Monday, February 20, 2012
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Last week, I volunteered at my daughters’ school by making copies of flyers promoting an upcoming PTA event.  As I counted and sorted, I noticed a copy of Time magazine, which prompted me to stop what I was doing, find a bench and read the cover story word for word. I probably committed some type of faculty mailbox felony, but that’s OK. I did it for “The Power of Shyness.”

I gave birth to two extremely guarded, cautious, timid children. Often times, they would hide behind my legs when someone asked a question, forcing me to answer for them to kill the awkwardness of the moment.  They inherited this trait from their father, God love him, but I can’t hide the fact that I, too, get bashful on occasion. One of the reasons I write, blog and “chat” via Facebook is because it’s my preferred method of communication.  Despite having an early career in television, I’d rather type than talk.

So why does it bother me that my children are of the quiet persuasion, too?  Because a few people told me it wasn’t normal…and I started to believe them.

Who were these people?  Former educators, other parents, babysitters, psychologists, etc. One parent suggested I have our oldest daughter tested for Selective Mutism. Another woman asked if I had considered she might be Autistic. Perhaps it’s a Mama Drama-thing. I don’t recall ever having this conversation with a man.  And each time I tried to talk to my husband about it, he exploded in anger.  “There’s nothing wrong with being quiet!”

I will never forget the first time I left Ava with a sitter, who was a retired reading specialist. I warned her that Ava would be nervous and upset for a while, but she would settle in after a few minutes.  When my 50-minute class concluded, I went back for Ava but was met in the hallway by another childcare provider.

“Oh, Mom. Oh, Mom,” she began nervously, reaching for my hands.  “Mom, I’ve been a teacher for a long time, and I have to tell you – this little girl isn’t ready for kindergarten.  I’ve been screening kids for years, and she doesn’t even know her own birth date.  I asked her when she was born, and she couldn’t tell me.”

I pulled back. “Oh, Ava knows how old she is.  She just didn’t want to tell you. She doesn’t know you.  She doesn’t trust you.  And, my name is Katy.”

Let me see if I understand this correctly:  Parents dedicate hours to the topic of safety – don’t talk to strangers, never tell anyone where you live or how to find your house, never give anyone important information such as our telephone number – but then we should encourage our kids to recite details of their lives to total strangers?

The Time magazine article written by Bryan Walsh, “The Upside of Being an Introvert – And Why Extroverts are Overrated,” investigates why 30% of all people fall on the reclusive end of the communications spectrum (Must we all be on some type of spectrum these days?!).  He writes that shyness is not a behavior, but a level of anxiety; a fear of social judgment. Shy types want to be involved, but they’re simply afraid of the situation. However, true introverts choose not to participate. Introverts find social situations “taxing,” he adds.

Compared to their outgoing peers, introverts actually stand out in a crowd more so than the engagers, because they’re silently protesting what’s going on around them.  However, experts believe that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Introverts are deliberate in their actions, deep thinkers, keen observers and master listeners.  In a world that refuses to shut up, introverts apply their talents in other meaningful ways. Joe DiMaggio could be heard through the crack of a baseball bat, Moses produced the Ten Commandments in stone, Bill Gates communicated through computer code, and Bill Clinton raised millions of dollars behind a desk (go ahead and make a joke…you know you want to.).

The writer also tackles the pattern of quiet babies producing worried parents. Pushing a child to become more outgoing in play groups or in the classroom only pressures their son or daughter to perform on cue, which can actually cause them to clamp down even tighter. The pressure to conform to a parent’s vision is more stressful than taking center stage at a bar on karaoke night.

When our youngest daughter attended preschool, I asked one of the teachers to give her personally honest yet professional assessment of Maryn’s shyness.  This highly-trained and well-respected educator who was extremely proficient in early childhood development wasted no words.  “She’ll talk when she wants to talk.  Leave her alone and let her come out when she’s ready.”  Case closed.

Six years ago, my Maryn was born on Groundhog Day, making her debut on a cold morning drizzled in a wintery mix of rain and sleet. Weighing nearly 10 pounds, she was the star attraction of the labor and delivery hall, dubbed “the only toddler in the nursery.” Today, Maryn is even quieter than her older sister. But, what I love most is that she’s totally in control and quite self-assured.  While she may prefer her secluded little burrow, I know this kid will never see her shadow.

 

Taurus the Bull and her Gemini Twin

Monday, November 14, 2011
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Content…or contrary?

My daughter Ava was born on June 10 under the zodiac sign of Gemini.  A Gemini child is one who likes to explore and hates to be confined. Always on the move, Gemini children are easily bored and constantly seeking entertainment.  In addition, Gemini babies are reported to talk earlier than other boys and girls under different signs, a chattiness that is never outgrown.

Where did Ava come from?  She is nothing like little Gemini.  She’s not interested in leaving the front or back yard, she is the first one to buckle her seatbelt, and we thought for a while that she suffered from Selective Mutism. The child smiles a lot, but that’s about all you’re going to get from her.  Ava is not the extroverted Gemini by any stretch of the galaxy.  Ava is just like her mother: Taurus the Bull.

Yes, meet stubborn, bull-headed Taurus, born on a date only a few weeks before little Gemini.  Mother Taurus is a bull who’s happy to be by herself to graze, until she’s annoyed by another bull.  At such time, Mother Taurus turns on her terrible temper, often brought on by a change in her once peaceful surroundings.  When Taurus the Bull works, she works harder than anyone — a dependable, steady effort — but Taurus is hesitant to step beyond the capable line.

My Ava, wrongfully born under the sign of Gemini, does not want to participate in anything — not dance, not soccer and not even Accelerated Reader, a literacy program supported by her elementary school.  Quiet and reserved, shy and guarded, independent reading should be the one thing that attracts Ava.  But it doesn’t.  She hates the thought of competitive reading and she really hates the idea of taking comprehension tests a few times a week.  It had become such an issue in our house that I was concerned her attitude toward the program would kill her interest in reading altogether…and no child in the third grade should give up books.

If you aren’t familiar with Accelerated Reader (or Aggravated Reader as I call it), “AR”  is an assessment that primarily determines whether or not a child has read a book. AR’s creator, Renaissance Learning, does not require or advocate the use of incentives with the assessment, although most schools use them to generate involvement.

There are three steps to using Accelerated Reader. First, students choose and read a fiction or non-fiction book, textbook or magazine. Second, students take a quiz. Third, the teacher receives information that is intended to assist, motivate reading, monitor progress and target instruction.  Finally, reports regarding reading level and comprehension skills are generated for parent review.

The program — an outcome of the “No Child Left Behind” Act — is voluntary in elementary schools.  When Ava heard this, she opted not to participate despite being told by her father that “Yes, you will do A.R.”   Of course, she got upset and cried, which set off a domino effect of stressors to read enough books to take enough tests to earn enough points by the rapidly approaching deadline.

Incentives do not impress Ava. She is not interested in more time to play outside, being able to bring her Nintendo DS to school, or getting a goodie bag filled with trinkets and toys.  She’s content — like Ferdinand the Bull — sitting under a tree watching the world go by.

“There’s no reason why she shouldn’t do this,” my husband countered when I suggested we leave the situation alone.  “She’s an excellent reader and a bright student.  She just doesn’t want to and that’s not acceptable.”

This is when Taurus charged Virgo in the kitchen.

“But she doesn’t want to do it! It’s an option! We shouldn’t push her! If we do, she’ll just pull out of it completely! This is not a battle worth fighting right now!” I protested, nostrils flaring and hooves digging into the hardwood floor.

Sensitive, individualistic kids tend to be more creative, but they’re also less likely to perform in front of others, which is why they’re often referred to as “The Diminishers.” And most of the rewards aren’t persuasive enough to bring them out of their shells.

Experts warn that introverted children will not perform well under timed pressure, and measuring their speed is a mistake. So what motivates an introvert to get moving?

Introverts, like our famous Bulls,  couldn’t care less about money, candy or a new pony. They respond to intrinsic rewards — feelings of accomplishment and a sense of pride. Ava was comfortable with her situation: She could read well and well above her grade level, and she had recorded A’s in all of her classes. What more did she have to do?

Please her parents.

“I’m going to be disappointed if you don’t participate in A.R.,” Mike told her.  “I want you to do this because you can, and you’ll be so proud of yourself when it’s over.”

One of Taurus’ weaknesses is accepting less than she can achieve.  Slow, methodical, practical and reserved, this type of person is incredibly loyal — particularly to those people who provide her with security.  Knowing Ava as well as I know myself, I sensed that she would do anything for her dad.

Fair or not, Mike asked Ava to “do it for me.” After days of protest and a few tears, she completed the Accelerated Reader requirements and met her goal just before Halloween. She bounced out of school announcing “I DID IT!” and showed me the books she had checked out of the library, which she hoped to read over the weekend.

Zodiac theorists believe that it is best not to try to force children to do things. The danger is that the child will turn stubborn and Taureans can hold their ground for a long time. It is best to avoid harsh commands because affection and empathy are the most effective ways to end resistance.  But once this type of child learns something – the easy way or the hard way — it will not be forgotten.

Sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns.