Matthew and I are introverts. We are classic introverts. To be around others spends energy. We find our greatest recharge in the quiet of solitude and we often have to psyche ourselves up for group events.
I am being charitable. There have been many, many an event where I have dragged Matthew by his nose hairs saying “to have friends, you must be a friend!” He is always glad to go and we love our friends but it is not either of our nature to be the life of the party. He has done the same for me, however, if I am brutally honest the ratio is much more Matthew protesting than myself.
So is it really a surprise that our Lillian is an introvert? Add to it, she is now almost 14 months old and in the throws of a very clingy phase. The two of these combined mean I have an extraordinarily quiet girl on my hands when we are around strangers. Some people take it in stride. My favourite ones are the ones that simply “ignore” her and allow her to warm in her own time. If given that chance (and perhaps half an hour to undo her spider monkey arms around my neck) she warms up and will gladly join the party. If people get in her space it is an entirely different scenario.
Lillian’s personal space bubble is larger than most. And that is okay. She likes a good 3 feet of space on any side of her at any one time. Her parents and grandparents are the only people she welcomes in that bubble when we are in public. Again, if she knows you or has had a chance to warm to you this is different. The girl likes her space. She is an observer. She loves to people watch and takes time to do just that. Her most content place is in one of our arms or within arms reach to take in the crowd so that she can hide away if it all becomes too much. She overwhelms easily. Lots of people grabbing, touching and making a lot of noise overwhelm her. We have often brought her home from gatherings and had to turn off all noise and simply play quietly with toys or read books. It takes about an hour and then she recharges and perks right back up again. She is an introvert learning how to handle at times a very extroverted world. It is my job to teach her how to manage it and it is a job I do not take lightly.
Out at the store this morning we were waiting in line to pay for our Christmas gifts. Behind us was a warm, lovely lady eager to play with and interact with Lillian. Lillian was sitting in the shopping cart with a completely deadpan expression on her face. This kind lady was cooing and playing peek a boo with Lillian, attempting to get even the slightest response of favor out of her. Lillian was not buying it. She just kept looking from me to the lady and back again.
“Oh? Do you not like me?” Queried the lady as hundreds have before her.
No. I thought. Looking at Lillian’s face I knew exactly what she was thinking. No, it is not personal, she just thinks you are an idiot.
Adults always make it about them. A child’s behavior is not about the person asking the child to dance like a marionette. It is about the baby! And that is the thing. Babies are people. Lillian is a 14 month old PERSON. She does not have to conform to social norms to make you feel better about the fact you want to play with her. She is a person. A person who does not find your peekaboo amusing. She is a person that would rather be left alone right now. And here is where I lose most people, I do not feel the need to make my daughter conform to make you feel better about yourself.
I will not ask her to smile. I will not ask her to play with you. You are the adult. She is the child. She doesn’t have to like you.
In fact, she thinks you are an idiot.
And that is okay!
When kids are told to kiss Grandma or smile because it is nice I worry about the level of control that places on their body. I worry that it teaches them that they must conform to make adults happy compared to validating how they may feel that day. Maybe Lillian didn’t want to smile because I tied her boots too tight? Maybe she has a headache from the second molar she has coming in? She cannot tell me yet as she does not have the words but how would you like to be told to smile when you are in pain? What if she was overwhelmed by all this attention from this stranger, what good would it have done for me to tell her to essentially “suck it up” and smile nicely for the lady? Why control a child for an adult’s amusement? Babies are people, let her be her own person.
Yes I promise my child will not be ill mannered and already says “peas” and “day-do.” I just don’t feel the need to make her perform for an adult when the adult is the bigger person here.
Needless to say Lillian never gave the nice lady the smile she wanted and I quietly picked my girl out of the shopping cart and plotted off home. She was jabbering away by the time she hit her car seat and giggling and kicking along to the music. And that to me is more than fine. My happy little introvert.