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Most people who know me see me as a textbook extrovert. I’m online 24/6 sharing my opinion, pictures of my kids, memes, and what seems to most like every minor and major event in my life. The shocker comes when people learn that I’m actually a textbook introvert, sourcing my energy from within. Crowds and social interactions drain me, turning me inward and leaving me searching for a quiet space to rest and recoup.
Up until I had children, this wasn’t such a big deal. I avoided situations that I knew or thought would drain the life out of me pretty easily. And then? Then I had Asher.
When he was little, and even now to a certain extent, Asher was cautious, careful, hesitant almost. He wasn’t a daredevil, and I probably spent more time saying “be careful” than letting him run free. So when he started to talk, he found a place where he could really be himself.
Asher is now 3.5 years old, and, as I like to say, he could make conversation with a paper bag. The moment this kid started talking, he talked to everyone and everything. He talked to dogs, he talked to trees, he talked to complete strangers at the grocery store, he talked and talked and talked and if you gave him even the slightest hint if interest, he would talk your ear off whether or not you understood him.
Now, I love my son to the moon and back, but even in the privacy of our own home it’s exhausting to hear the stories (and then … and then … and then …), answer the questions, and have conversations that go on and on. But when we’re in public? When he starts engaging strangers? That’s a new level of exhaustion.
You see, being the introverted mother of an extroverted child is complicated. Throw my social anxiety on top of that, and you can only imagine what a trip to Target or the park looks like.
I recently took Asher and my 1-year-old Tirzah to a sandbox early in the day. We were the only ones there for a while, so when a family walked up, Asher let his extrovert flag fly. He ran over, welcomed them, urged their bewildered little boy to come and play with him. When the parents sat down at the sandbox with their son, Asher started asking questions.
“Why are you wearing that hat?”
“What are you doing here?”
“What’s his name? Why’s he wearing that hat?”
So, naturally, like normal people in normal social situations, the parents started talking to me. It usually starts with people telling me how adorable and well-spoken my son is. Most of the time, this small talk makes me anxious, but I go along with it. It’s when the parents take this as the launchpad for a larger conversation. During this particular sandbox excursion, I learned that the parents were from Canada, one of them had a Jewish parent from Haifa (this is called bageling), that the mother-in-law was just visiting, that they’re more specifically from Vancouver, and then I learned a host of Canadian words that I was unaware of (did you know they call a parking garage a parkade?). Every time I tried to pick up my phone and step away from the conversation, they asked another question or engaged me again.
Also, when you’re at the sandbox with two small children staring at your phone isn’t the safest or brightest game plan. Even if you’re trying to avoid talking to perfectly friendly people.
The entire time, I considered packing the kids up to leave, because I was uncomfortable. Because I don’t like engaging with people I do know, let alone people I don’t know, most of the time. Because I couldn’t figure out how to calmly engage with these Canadian strangers. But my son, my beautiful Asher is the most social person I’ve ever met — after his father, of course — and he thrives in social environments. It’s his happy place.
The truth is, one of the reasons I fell so hard and so fast for my husband was that he was my perfect opposite in so many ways. In public situations, he could carry the crowd, the conversation, the everything. If Asher could converse with a paper bag, his father could chat the paper bag into investing in some Tahitian property that doesn’t even exist. My husband and son are social, charismatic, and incredibly loved by those who meet them.
It makes me wonder whether my daughter, who looks like her father, will be the introvert like me. But, so far, all signs (she’s a climber, an adventure-seeker) are pointing to “like Tatty.” I’m learning more and more to accept who my husband and children are, to embrace the social moments and find ways to engage that makes sense for me. I’m learning that it’s okay to put myself out there and take the time to re-energize in my own ways.
Ultimately, as social and outgoing as they are, my children have given me the one thing that an introverted person can’t live without: The excuse to not show up at stuff.
“Oh sorry, I can’t make it. My kid just puked everywhere.”
“What’s that? Oh I forgot about our coffee date! I can’t make it. Tirzah just shoved something up her nose, and we probably have to hit the ER.”
“Oops, I totally forgot about that party tonight, and my kids are both in bed already even though it’s only 5 pm!”
And that is worth every awkward, uncomfortable conversation in the world.