Month: February 2014

An Introvert’s Life Among The Extroverts: A Dramatization

If a tree falls in the forest and you don't tell anyone about it, you're probably an introvert.

If a tree falls in the forest and you don’t tell anyone about it, you’re probably an introvert.

It’s 10 a.m. and, despite the fact that I had a double shot espresso this morning, I already need a nap. This exhaustion is not because I was up all night with a sick child because I wasn’t. It’s not because I ran eight miles this morning either because I didn’t. I’m wiped out because I was part of a ten-minute long conversation this morning. I am an introvert. This is my story.

After grabbing my caffeinated crutch from the Starbucks drive thru this morning, I headed to the boys’ school where I was slated to volunteer for a couple of hours. I pulled into the parking lot, dropped the boys off, and walked into the main office to find out how I could be of assistance. The school secretary was looking for the stamps and mailers I needed when a bright-eyed, perky mom in jeans, running shoes, and a yoga hoodie bounded into the office. She immediately entered into an animated conversation with the secretary while I stood there silently waiting for my supplies. The secretary found them, handed them to me, and I sat down to get to work, and all the while the spunky, blonde mom carried on her running conversation.

A few minutes later when the secretary ran out of the office to find something, the other woman approached me. I had hoped it would not come to this. I prefer to hide in the shadows in the presence of strangers, not because I am shy but because I am marginal at best with small talk.

“Hi,” she said cheerfully. “I’m Suzie Sunshine.” (not her real name)

“I’m Justine,” I replied, extending my hand as an introduction as I always do.

She shook my hand weakly, perhaps surprised by my formality, and continued.

“I’ve seen your name before,” she said. “You volunteer a lot. I’m the volunteer coordinator.” This I already knew because I volunteer a lot and I’d seen her name on myriad emails in my inbox. She sat down to help me with the 75 or so postcards I was busy adhering flag stamps to.

“So,” she went on, “what grade is your son or daughter in?”

“I have two sons here. Joe is in Room 159, and Luke is in Room 161B.”

“Oh. My daughter is in Room 12, I think. Either that or Room 7 or Room 13. I always get them messed up. I have a son named Luke, well…Lucas, actually, but he doesn’t go here.”

I smiled, nodded my head, and kept on working, not having anything to add.

“Is your son a Lucas too?” she inquired.

“Nope. He’s just our Cool Hand Luke,” I replied. I didn’t tell her that I intentionally did not name our son Lucas because I couldn’t get over how it rhymes with mucous.

“My son is 12. He’s really into sports. He goes to the STEM school.”

“Oh. I’m interested in that STEM school,” I said, pausing briefly when another mom popped into the office and approached the secretary. She was wearing a college sweatshirt. I tried to continue. “Where is that STEM….”

“Hi, Katie,” Suzie interrupted, excited to greet the newcomer. “How’s it going?” she asked without waiting for a reply. “I love your sweatshirt. How’s your son liking college there?” She fired off her words, releasing them like rounds of ammunition from a machine gun belt. I watched in amazement.

“He likes it a lot. He’s coming home for Spring Break in a couple weeks.”

“Is that college in the city, then? What do you think of it there because I was there once and it was not at all what I imagined. I thought it would be a really big city but it seemed small to me.”

“Well…I think it’s pretty big,” Katie said. “I mean, the suburbs and surrounding areas…”

“Maybe it just seems small because I’m from Houston, and Houston is so huge that other cities seem tiny by comparison.”

Because I am an introvert and casual conversation requires concerted effort on my part, I was waiting for a chance to tell them that I used to live just a few hours from the city in question. I was hoping to back up Katie’s assessment of it by offering my opinion. I began formulating the message of my intended verbal output while waiting for a lull in the chatter so I could carefully insert my commentary.

“What’s he majoring in?” Suzie asked as my opportunity to speak evaporated.

“Civil Engineering,” Katie replied.

“What’s he going to do with that?”

“His dream job would be designing golf courses,” Katie said.

“Oh. I didn’t know he played golf. Lucas plays golf. Actually, he plays golf and football but I’d really rather he focus his attention on golf because it’s just a safer sport, you know?” And from there she began telling us about what he hopes to study and how she might get him some additional golf lessons this summer at this course near home. She talked for the next few minutes with Katie about colleges, internships, and sports while I kept placing stamps on mailers as quickly as my fingers could move, looking up occasionally to acknowledge I was at least superficially involved in the conversation.

After placing the last stamp on the last postcard, I gathered up what I had completed along with the remaining stamps, handed them to the secretary, silently waved my goodbye so as not to interrupt the continuing conversation, and wandered out into the hall. I heard Suzie shout a perfunctory “Nice meeting you” from the office and I echoed the sentiment as I continued heading for the door. When I got to my car, I leaned back into the seat and closed my eyes. I dropped my skull onto the headrest and took a deep, cleansing, yogi breath to bring fresh oxygen into my enervated brain. Social interaction wears me out.

In the past, I’ve unwittingly bothered extroverts who found my reticence problematic. I’ve been labeled conceited, aloof, and even rude, because I’m not gifted in the area of small talk or rather in the art of being able to sneak my two-cents into an already busy conversation. To further exacerbate the disconnect with these extroverts, when I’ve been confronted with these allegations I’ve found myself nonplussed; I had no idea my lack of conversation could say so much. The upside of being an introvert in an extrovert-focused society, though, is that you are happy living in your own head. If others don’t get you, you don’t spend much mental energy on it. I have no idea if Suzie found me conceited, aloof, or rude, and I’m not about to lose sleep over it. She seemed like a nice enough gal, and I’m pleased to have put another name with another face at the boys’ new school because it takes a long time to get to know people when you’re not immediately communicative. For now, I’m going to go focus what’s left of my energy on the downtime I earned this morning. And hopefully there won’t be any fallout about my introversion (or my blogging about it) later.

Our Perpetual Lady of Slow Learners

Lovely couple of kids

Lovely couple of kids

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my journey as a parent, it’s that expectations can be your undoing. In terms of expectations, mothers are doomed from the start. From the day we pee on a stick and see pink lines, we are an expectant mother. Our pregnancy bible is entitled What To Expect When You’re Expecting, and we devour the information between its covers because pregnancy is so new and different and impending parenthood is equal parts exhilaration and terror. We want to be prepared…as much as anyone can be prepared for the arrival of something so much a part of oneself and yet totally unlike anything anywhere else. While our children begin their lives unencumbered by the existence of expectations, we embark on our parental career ready to measure them against the rubric of the typical. And that’s the point when we make our first big mistake.

I knew fairly early on that our sons were not typical. They did not follow growth and development charts. They were on their own schedules. Things their peers were readily learning, our sons could not. They skipped letters in the alphabet  and struggled to write their own names. They were uncoordinated with sports and were unable catch a ball or skip or follow rhythm. Physicians noted their shortfalls while reassuring us that they were fine. In school, they displayed obvious intellect while retelling stories or playing creatively, but rote memorization of math facts escaped them. They began to get poor marks on tests science and social studies tests despite knowing the answers when asked orally. We were frustrated. We knew they were intelligent, but their grades didn’t reflect it. Teachers told me they weren’t trying, but I knew how hard they worked. I could see their constant struggle to keep up and fit in with expectations they now innately understood by watching their classmates and receiving their report cards. When we finally realized that they had learning disabilities, the damage had been done. Our sons no longer believed they could be successful. Expectations were crushing them.

This year we pulled them out of traditional school and did what we swore we would not. We put them into a special school, a school for children who think differently, a school for the atypical. We’d been hesitant to take this route, fearful of pointing out to them and to others that they weren’t measuring up in regular schools. But the time for denial being a river in Egypt was over. They needed help…no matter what that help looked like. Their new school was a big adjustment for me. You see, there are no grades there. None. Kids aren’t in 4th grade and they don’t earn letter grades. They’re not evaluated that way, and teachers and students don’t discuss grades. They discuss progress. They discuss solutions to struggles. While the kids are evaluated regularly, they are assessed solely on improvement. If they’re improving, they’re on the right track. If they’re not improving, it’s time to re-evaluate how they might learn better and pursue a different route. It’s so simple it’s scary.

And, honestly, this new system of analysis did scare me. I was so tied to our traditional conventions that the variation seemed dubious. As a culture, we subsist on numbers and quantitative results. Our conversations with other parents about our children often revolve around concrete standards. Bobby came in First at State. Jimmy has a 4.0. Sue got a 1300 on her SATs. Hey. I get it. It’s an accomplishment and a feather in our caps when our child is successful in a way that we can readily point out. I know from personal experience, though, the other side of that equation. When our sons were earning C and D grades, I perpetually feared having someone ask me about their report cards. I knew that based on their grades our boys would be marked as sub par by others, and that was frightening. And now when they’re getting no grades, well that’s even scarier. When you tell someone your son is “around the 4th grade level and is a consistently improving student,” they look at you as if you’re sporting three heads. No one is up for flexible standards of personal success although that is the only type of personal success there is…the personal kind.

If we’re going to live by expectations (which we seem bound by human nature to do), perhaps we could be a bit more flexible with our assessment of others? We could accept steady improvement as our rubric. We could value overall forward progress over typical milestones because the truth is that not everyone is typical in every way. Our sons are slow learners because their brains process information differently than the majority. So what? It’s taken me almost 46 years to believe that a piece of paper doesn’t prove wisdom and all the outward success in the world doesn’t make you a better person than the next guy, and that makes me a pretty slow learner too. I’m learning to let go of expectations and becoming more patient with myself and with others. It might be two steps forward and one step back, but I’m making progress just like my sons. By the end of my life, I like to think I will have evolved not just to standards but beyond them in ways that are immeasurable.

I threw away the books that told me how my children should be. I now appreciate them for how they are.

Grand Gestures and Restraining Orders

One of these things is not like the others.

One of these things is not like the others.

Those who know me know that I despise Valentine’s Day. It’s partly because it’s never been a happily memorable holiday for me and partly because I’m highly pragmatic and figure if you’re not loving on the people who matter on a daily basis then one day isn’t going to help. Despite my antipathy towards this pseudo-holiday, though, my sons enjoy it. Or at least they enjoy the candy aspect. So every year I go out and buy candy for their classmates and make Valentine’s Day cards for the boys to write and hand out.

Over the weekend, the boys and I were discussing the Valentines they were going to give their friends.

“I don’t really want to write any out,” said Luke, hoping to avoid any extra work that even remotely felt like a homework chore.

“Even though it’s a pain to do, you might feel a bit awkward if everyone else in the class ends up handing them out and you don’t, Luke,” I nudged.

“Okay, okay,” he acquiesced. “I’ll do it.” There’s the male Valentine spirit I am used to…hands tied, forced to participate.

“There ya go,” I replied. “What about you, Joe? What are you thinking?” I asked.

“Oh…I want to hand them out. I have a plan.”

Now, Luke often has a plan. Luke is dreamer and a schemer. Joe? Not so much. He’s as straight forward and up front as you can get. I was curious. I raised an eyebrow at him.

“A plan, huh? What kind of plan?” I teased.

“I am going to write To and From on all the Valentines except one,” he said quite matter-of-factly.

“Oh…I see. And the one that’s the exception, would that one use a different word than From?”

“Yes,” he answered.

I knew exactly where this was going. Joe has had a small crush on a girl in his class all year. He can’t seem to decide on a best friend, but the boy knows a cute girl when he sees one.

“That’s pretty bold, Joe,” I said. “Women like a grand gesture.”

“It’s not a grand gesture. She’ll only figure it out if she sees that I didn’t write Love on anyone else’s card,” he said shyly.

“Yes. But you’re putting yourself out there, Joe. That’s brave and not at all easy to do. I’m proud of you.”

It was probably because I told him I liked his plan and was proud of him that he told me the very next day that he was not going to go through with it. It was too risky. I told him understood. I do. I didn’t tell my middle school crush I had a crush on him until we were 38 and at our 20-year high school reunion. Only then did inebriated and emboldened me take the time to seek him out and tell him that I regularly used to ride my bike by his house. I don’t know what I expected from my admission, but having him look at me as if he might be in need of a restraining order in the near future wasn’t my best case scenario. Admitting your feelings comes with a risk no matter how old you are. It never gets easier, but the younger you start the better off you will be.

Tonight I called the boys up to write out the cards so I could attach the treats and get them ready for dispersal at class. I left Joe with his class list and went on to other things. When I returned later and was slapping lollipops on the handmade, handwritten notes, I noticed that one of the notes did not have the customary From sign-off. One of them was clearly and neatly signed Love, Joe. It made my heart smile.

I still don’t like Valentine’s Day. I don’t. It’s hokey, commercial, and highly overrated. But this year I almost have reason to celebrate and it’s because of a card that wasn’t even written to me.

 

 

Sour Grapes Just Make Bad Whine

Go Broncos!

Go Broncos!

“The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.”       ~Vince Lombardi

So, we’re Broncos fans in this house. As you can imagine, the Super Bowl tonight was not exactly the game we were hoping for. We started off hopeful, quickly became disillusioned, slid right into disappointment, and from there rapidly devolved into depressed. And that was all before the end of the first half. Our sons, especially, were not handling the game well. At one point they vowed to stand out in the freezing cold yard until the Broncos scored. After 15 minutes, they gave up and came inside after hearing me drop a particularly fervent expletive. I guess we were all having a rough time. The game continued from bad to worse to appalling. The Broncos were handily outplayed. Seattle and their incredible defense had their best game, while Peyton Manning and the Broncos had their worst. Anything that could have gone wrong for the Broncos did. I started hoping the zombie apocalypse would interrupt the game and save us further disappointment but, alas, it did not.

As it became increasingly apparent how the game would end and as our entire family began spiraling into the pit of despair, I made a choice. I decided that if I wasn’t going to watch my team win the big game perhaps I could turn it into a win all the same. Instead of getting more upset, I reined my emotions in and modeled the attitude of gracious loser. I reminded the boys that every game has a 50% chance of ending in a loss, and today was not our day for a win. I reminded them to Look for the Good and Keep a Grateful Heart, just like our family mission statement urges. We talked about ways to do just that. So instead of ending the game with sour grapes, when the clock finally ran down and the blue and green confetti rained on MetLife Stadium, we ended it happy for Seattle’s first-ever Super Bowl win and grateful for a record-breaking season with Peyton Manning at the helm of our Broncos. Are we sad that the Peyton didn’t get to end his unbelievable season with a Super Bowl win? Absolutely. Are we bummed that we won’t get to enjoy a victory parade in Denver for the team that worked so hard for its fans all season long? Of course. But it isn’t the end of the world, and acting like it is would be an unfair example for our sons. Life is full of defeats, some of them crushing losses like the one the Broncos suffered tonight. Teaching our kids to accept disappointment is every bit as valuable as celebrating victories with them…maybe more so.

Our guys didn’t win the Super Bowl, but tonight I feel like we had a little victory all the same. Peyton Manning is not a failure because he didn’t get this Super Bowl win. He still had an unprecedented season that is worth celebrating. We have a tendency to focus only on the outcome and not the journey, and that’s not right. We don’t all get a Lombardi Trophy to hoist and we can’t all be Super Bowl MVP. After tonight, though, I hope our boys are on their way to becoming gracious losers because in this day and age it’s harder and harder to find those. Next year though, just for the record, I’ll be perfectly okay with it if we have to teach them to be gracious winners instead. The world could use some more of those too.

Thanks for a great season, Broncos!