Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dear Ruthie,

Thursday is your birthday, and I'm writing this letter to express how very much I love you, and how much I long to understand you, and support you in becoming your very best self. You are an introvert, baby, a quiet, pensive, perceptive person who spends more time listening than talking. I, on the other hand, am an extrovert. I get my energy from being with people. I really enjoy talking, and I try very hard not to do it too much. Your dad is an introvert, and he and I have spent almost twenty years figuring out the very best ways to relate to and communicate with each other. We're still working on it, and we forever will be.

The process is different with you, though, baby, because I'm your mom. Part of my job is to help you navigate life. And not just to get through, but to thrive. I want to help you figure out the best way to bless this world with the beauty of you! You are beautiful in so many ways. And while your brother and sister seem to be the kids who charge into life, and never look back, you are different. You are delightfully different.

I'm reading a book to help me understand you, and to help me help you to understand yourself. The book is called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, and it's written by an introvert named Susan Cain. One thing I was reminded of by Ms. Cain, which I already knew from you, is that introverts tend to be better at asking questions and actually listening to the answers, than non-introverts. You know that amazing memory you have? It's partly because you spend so much time listening. We baffle at how accurately you can remember the exact words someone has said. You listen, baby, you really listen. You're not busy thinking about what you will say next, because you're not really that interested in hearing your own words. You like to hear what others say to you. Ms. Cain also says that this skill of introversion - listening to others - along with a companion skill of being more likely to consider the suggestions of others, will make you a very successful leader. If you decide you want to be a leader. You don't have to be. Ms. Cain reminded me that it's important for me (especially as an extrovert), to accept you just as you are, and not try to force you into situations (like leadership) in which you may have little interest. You can be an amazing leader, though. I know that to be true (and Quiet says so)!

I love you so much. Just as you are. Being a mom is sometimes tricky, though. I need to help you figure out how to negotiate your world. There are things I adamantly encourage you to do - like asking the kind lady at the food counter for a second fork, when yours falls on the floor - because I want you to practice these things in a safe environment. Ms. Cain explains that being introverted and being shy are not necessarily the same, and I know she's right. But you, baby, are both. While I do not want to force you to speak to strangers, and I know you are often uncomfortable interacting with people you don't know, I want to make sure that you have the skills you need to get the things that you want and need when you're older. Ms. Cain says that some kids are almost like dandelions - they will prosper in any environment. She then explains that high-reactive (introvert) kids, like you, are more like orchids, "they wilt easily, but under the right conditions can grow strong and magnificent."(p. 111)

Another thing that I know about you is that you sometimes like to keep your thoughts to yourself. I support that, if that's what you want, but I never want you to feel scared to share your ideas. Sometimes shy introverts struggle with sharing their thoughts, even when they want to. You have great ideas - original, well-thought-out ideas. Your family, friends, teachers and bosses will be lucky to hear the thoughts and suggestions that you bring to the table! I want you to have the freedom to speak up, when you have something to say. So, we'll keep working on this stuff, and I'll keep trying hard to help you figure it out, without trying to force you to be more like me and less like you.

I know that having an extrovert for a mom is a huge relief to you sometimes, and a big embarrassment to you at other times. You and I will have a lifetime of figuring each other out, and of continually learning to accept each other for all that we are. Even now, you may wonder why I would choose to share these ideas I have about you with all of blog-dom. I'm pretty sure this is something you would never do, and to have me put the spotlight on you, like this, may seem embarrassing. But here's the deal, I am an extrovert, and extroverts like to share ideas all the time with others. While you sometimes long to be left alone, I often long to know that I am not alone! So, I share things on this blog, in order to connect with others, and to hear their thoughts and ideas. These are good people, and my letter to you is safe with them!

Words will never be able to express the amount of love I have for you, and how very much I want you to greet each day with your head high, knowing that you are the exact person God made you to be! I will always be here for you - on your team. And as much as it pains me to think about having you leave our home someday, walking into the world without me, I want you to know that I take this job of preparing you very seriously. You are an orchid, baby, my orchid, my beautiful,
magnificent orchid!

I love you forever,

Saturday, May 04, 2013

My Work

This morning at breakfast, I asked my kids this question, "If you had to say one thing you've learned from me, what would it be?" After a minute of "Aw, I don't know, Mom, you've taught us a lot." this is what they said (in the order of their responses):

Ruthie (9), "Be kind to everyone."

Gregory (11), "Eat when you're hungry, and stop when you're full."

Mary (4), "I've learned that you like me.... A LOT!"

There you have it.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Mary and the Umbrella

Mary is almost 5, and as soon as she realizes it's raining outside, she begins obsessing about the umbrella. If I were better organized and more forward-thinking, I would, by now, have a "Mary Umbrella". It would be a really cute pink one, that is just her size, and easily managed by her - alone. But I'm not. So, I never think about buying Mary her own umbrella, until the morning that it's raining, and I realize what kind of day I will have with her.

Mary wants to open the umbrella, carry the umbrella (unassisted) and then close the umbrella, when necessary. Not having an umbrella that is made for a four-year-old means that she and I argue about (and possibly wrestle over - not kidding!) the umbrella almost every time it's raining and we leave the house, the car, her school, etc... I worry that she'll poke her eye out opening it. I know that I'll get soaked while she carries the umbrella. She won't let me help her, which means I'm either not under the umbrella at all, or am under it in a cock-eyed way that gets me more wet because of the big drips falling on me from the umbrella itself. And, oh my!, the closing of the umbrella! We all know how hard and pinchy it can be to close an umbrella (at least one that's made for an adult)!

One day last week, it was raining particularly hard, and after I picked Mary up from half-day preschool, we headed to Target. (The fact that we were post-school, means that Mary and I had already had at least three occasions to grapple over the umbrella!!). When we reached Target, I made the decision that I would just let Mary do what she wanted with the umbrella. I was tired of trying to micro-manage her umbrella use. We got out of the van, and I handed her the umbrella. She opened it (with only one small reminder from me to "hold it away from your face"). Then she proudly held the umbrella directly over her head, and began walking toward Target, in the pouring down rain. Each time I tried to hold onto one of the umbrella spokes, to guide her, she insisted that I let go.

So I did. I let go, and I let her walk victoriously into Target. Walking next to her, I got completely soaked. The rain came down hard on me, while the little person by my side walked with her head held high, carrying the umbrella at my waist level. When we got inside, she did her very best to get that darn thing closed, while I shook the water off my clothes and hair.

Since all of life tends to feel like one big fat analogy to me, I will tell you what hit me, as I walked next to my daughter, proudly carrying an umbrella, while I got soaked. In that moment, I didn't care about getting wet. I could tell how happy and proud of herself she was, and that mattered to me more than keeping myself dry. Isn't that we do, as mothers (and fathers)? We walk right next to our kids, while they try out independence. They learn to do things like open an umbrella and hold in a way that keeps them dry. It takes a lot of practice and effort on their parts, but that's how they find success. Often, as we watch from our own spot - which is close, but not too close - we realize the last thing they may want is our assistance.  And in the process of not interfering with, but walking next to, we may end up getting wet.

Really wet.

But it's ok. Really, really ok.