Today, I was going to write some fiction for you guys. Really, I was. I had ideas circling around m’brain about Gaspard, the mad scientist from the “Julia Child, Zombie Hunter” fiction. He’s totally a Baron and a foodie, doncha know. I have the best mental image of his particular weirdness.
But, I was distracted.
See, every morning, before anyone gets up, I sit down with my first cup1 of coffee and read my email. Email includes a daily (if they’ve posted that day) offering from a couple of blogs that I follow. People whose words have impacted me, have amused me, have shown me something new. One of these is a woman named Desi. She writes about her life, inner and outer. Her words are like yoga for the brain.
Anywho. This morning, she wrote about the uncomfortableness2 of being a non-social type with a social kid.
That noise you hear is the OMG, Someone Else? Bell ringing madly. Because that is a disease that I suffer from, here in The Home Office.
Cast of Characters
A (now) 12-year-old social butterfly. Beautiful. Artistic. Talented. Friendly. She is able and willing to make friends with many, many people. They are willing to make friends right back.
Mostly introverted but with extrovert tendencies, esp. if surrounded by what I consider “my tribe.” Has trouble with large groups of strangers.
Do you know the …
Wait. I said “the” as if there is just one. Let me restart.
Do you know what one of the problems of being the introverted parent of an extroverted child is? Yup. Birthday parties. Birthday parties thrown by school chums. Especially if you – O Introverted Parent – don’t exactly fit into the local schema.
Let’s take an example, shall we?
You’re an agnostic or an atheist. You don’t listen to either news radio OR to the local pop/country/rock stations. Your music is a wee bit different. You don’t watch TV nor do you care to. You read. A lot. A whole, whole lot. Your hair is blue. You know what the words “aggro” and “THAC0” mean. More importantly, you can calculate the latter in your head.
Now, top off that (perceived) Parental FailCake with Social Anxiety Awesome-Sauce and the Crunchy Bits of “Small talk – what’s that?”
You know what that gives you, right? Portrait of non-traditional parent.
And your kid, whom you love more than ice cream3, has been invited to a classmate’s birthday party. What do you do now?
Well, you go. Of course. You suck it up and you go. You put on your jeans, studded belt, decide that the Zombie Bait Tshirt you scored off Woot is probably inappropriate and wear your favoritest stompy boots to help give yourself a dose of courage.
At the do, you find yourself in a corner, looking out at all these people so very different from you. They all look exactly as you imagine your parents wished you did. None of them approaches you. You gather your courage in your hands and attempt to make small talk. This generates a strained smile and a murmured, “Oh, I see….something! Be right back!” scurrying away. All of these parents are perfectly dressed, perfectly coiffed and OMG, perfectly boring. Their conversation4 seems to consist of endless rounds of what happened on last night’s television show.
You find yourself utterly grateful that you have friends who do understand you. Folks who grok what “grok” is, who understand how movie-quotes add spice to a conversation, who know that a low DEX means trouble for your rogue.
Meanwhile, your baby is running amok with a huge group of kids in a shrill frenzy of cake-induced hysteria. Totally having a blast. They’re all following her lead because she is The Idea Girl. She comes up with the games and the fun. During the clown5 performance, when one of the other kids heckles Fuzzy the Freaking Scary Friendly, she puts her finger to her lips. The other kid obeys because well, she asked him to. When it is finally time to leave, the other kids group pile on her. This adds another fifteen minutes to your escape.
And its all OK. Because she had fun. She kisses your cheek, leaving a purple smear of icing as you strap her into the car seat. On the way home, she craps out, asleep before five minutes of travel have passed.
It was a good party.
I have social anxiety, esp. in situations where I am not in control of the environment6.
My anxiety is usually controllable through deep breathing and a focus on knowing that I am ultimately the arbiter of my own location. There are folks whose anxieties or phobias are so severe that they’re not able to “just suck it up” or breathe through it. You have probably seen them at mandatory events or family gatherings. They’re the ones off by themselves, sometimes with their body in profile to the main event7. They aren’t being anti-social. They are being as social as they can in the situation they find themselves in.
Social anxiety/phobia is not simple shyness. It is not just being an introvert, although those two conditions often go hand-in-hand. It is a painful inability to handle all the flux that a mob of strangers can generate.
I have no answers or profound thoughts about either social anxiety or introverted-ness. Except maybe a plea to the extroverts in the audience: see that weird girl over there? The one all by herself looking longingly at the general hubbub of activity? Yeah. That one. Walk over to her, smile. Say a gentle “hello, welcome.”
I can virtually guarantee that she will appreciate it.
1 – or three.
2 – Shut up, spellchecker.
3 – A conversation between The Girl and myself, many years ago. She decided that she loved me “more than ice cream” – which for a 4 year old? Is a whole, whole bunch.
4 – Of course you eavesdrop.
5 – Really? A freaking clown? What ELSE you going to throw at me, Universe? ‘Cause I’m at max levels of tolerance, here.
6 – i.e., at a stranger’s house, or in a large crowd at a huge public event.
7 – Because head-on interaction is harder.