Hollis is one of the great loves of my life but sometimes watching him grow and find his place in the world can be painful. It's painful because I see so much of myself in him. I wouldn't change a thing about him, but I know that he will have a harder road ahead of him than many other children simply because he is an introvert.
By the time Hollis was 18 months old we knew he was introverted. He is cautious in new situations and around new people. Don't get me wrong, Hollis loves people. He is an affectionate, energetic, and fun little kid, but he isn't going to immediately warm up to someone who walks up and starts to chat. Yes, he is going to need more down time than many other children, but I have always thought of introversion as a good thing. I'm an introvert and I know first hand the rich internal world of the innie. I know that Hollis will probably have no problem concentrating intensely and shutting out the world. I know that he will probably have a very active imagination. I also know that occasionally he will shock people with his insight and observations. He will be a quiet kid, but there will always be an awful lot going on inside.
I have to admit though, that I hadn't really thought much about the downside of Hollis being an introvert until recently. A few weeks ago, however, I took him to a birthday party for a 3 year old friend of the family. The party was at one of those places with inflatable bouncy toys and slides, called The Jumping Monkey. (Actually, that's where Hollis acquired the "monkey balls" from last week's post.) It was a party of 15 kids Big H has never met (with the exception of the birthday boy), with loud music and pandemonium. Hollis was clearly out of his element. In fact, I couldn't get him to try any of the bounce houses or slides. He spent most of the party glued to my side or in my arms. At one point when he lost sight of me he actually freaked out until I got to him thirty seconds later. I know it is not unusual for an introverted child to react like that to such an overwhelming environment and I wasn't surprised at his reaction. I was, however, surprised at my own response. Seeing Hollis so uncomfortable and scared disturbed me because I remember that feeling. I remember it well.
I've written about being an introvert in an extraverted world before. Seventy five percent of people are extraverts and it can be difficult to be so different from the majority. As a child, I was painfully shy around new people and in new situations. It was a horrible feeling to be standing on the sidelines wanting to join in and just not able to do so. In fact, Hollis's experience at the party brought back a specific memory for me. I must have been 4 or 5, but I was standing by the merry go round on the playground and I desperately wanted to get on. I watched it whizzing by me with kids smiling and laughing. I was afraid to jump on but also afraid to ask anyone to stop it for me. An older child came up beside me and asked if I wanted help getting on. I just stood there, mute, and shook my head. He shrugged and hopped right on.
Over the years, I have overcome my fears. As I grew in age, experience, and confidence, new situations and people weren't quite so overwhelming for me. Now, I'm a litigator and I spend a good part of my career putting myself in what many people, even extraverts, would consider uncomfortable situations - networking, trial work, and client contact. A large part of my job is really internal - developing arguments and case strategy and writing - but I argue publicly for a living. I argue for a living, sometimes in front of large groups, and I'm perfectly comfortable doing so. In fact, most people I know are actually shocked to hear that I consider myself an introvert. What they don't know is that I have had to learn how to talk to people I don't know well and learn how to react to the new situations and arguments that trial work can throw at me. But even now I over prepare for hearings and meetings and I hate to be caught off guard. I don't like to attend networking events where I know only one or two people. And it can be truly exhausting for me to spend a full day with an extraverted friend. I need time alone to regroup and be alone with my thoughts.
I know what to expect with Hollis because of my own experiences. What scares me is knowing that making your way successfully as an introvert in an extraverted world takes a lot of self confidence. Confidence that I know I might not have if I had been raised a different way, by different people, or had different experiences. I worry that Big H will be picked on in school because he's quiet, or we'll do something wrong, and he won't have that confidence. I don't want him to be paralyzed by fear of the unknown or locked in his own head and unable to share his beautiful self with others. I look back on my life and see the path that led from the scared child by the merry go round to the person I am now. I just hope that I can help Hollis find that path as well.