“No,” I said, tightening my grasp around my little girl. “No, she’s not, actually. She just does things in her own time.”
All of her life, I’ve heard the sentiments telling me (and her) that there was something wrong with her natural-born personality. Phrases like, When is she going to come out her shell? or Do you think she’s ready for preschool?
Even her beloved preschool teacher, the one that I sat down with before school started to make it very clear that I had no problems with my daughter’s more cautious nature, praised her at her parent-teacher conference for “coming out of her shell” this year. “She wouldn’t talk to anyone at the start of the year,” she beamed. “And now she just chatters on all class!”
And while, of course, I am grateful that my daughter has learned how to navigate a world that will demand that she learn its social rules, I am also overly cautious and protective of her introverted nature.
Even to this day, my daughter needs her alone time. She will come home from preschool or a play date and immediately disappear up into her room. I’ll find her tucked away in her own imaginative world or drawing in her journal, or even tenderly talking to her stuffed animals. Sometimes, she is so lost in her world she won’t even hear me — and I’m careful to give her that time, because of course, I know exactly where she gets it.
When I read the book, Quiet by Susan Cain, I felt like I had gone through a revelation of sorts. For the first time in my life, I realized how damaging the labels I had been slapped with all of my life really were. I recalled every, “Cat’s got your tongue?” or “Why are you so quiet?” chide that only seemed to make me clam up more, mortification rising hotly to my cheeks. I can remember sleepovers as a little girl that were so hard, shrinking into my sleeping bag and wondering why on earth I couldn’t just relax the heck out and be the life of the party, just for once.
Like most introverts, I have learned to adapt to a world where extroverts reign. I can force myself to be the outgoing one, the social one, the sure, let’s have a partyone. But for me, it comes at a price.
And I want better for my daughter. I want better for my daughter so much it hurts.
I never want her to think that she is less than or not enough or that somehow, the quiet thoughtfulness that I see in her, the tender creativity that brings tears to my eyes, the beautiful soul that is at once wild and exhausting, is flawed.
Because I do believe that “shy” is a negative label, not because there’s inherently anything wrong with being shy, but because as a culture, we associate shyness as a negative trait, I go out of my way to make sure that my daughter never hears it associated with her.
“She’s not shy,” I will gently correct. “She is just my thoughtful one.”
“She’s not shy,” I will chide. “She just may need more time to get to know the other students.”
“She’s not too quiet,” I will remind. “She just likes to take everything in.”
I hate these things, these labels that try to tell her that there’s something wrong with her, that she’s too quiet, too shy, too not-enough-of-this-or-that.
I want to scream at those who dare suggest that she is anything less than what she needs to be, my bright and observant second-born. Yes, she takes her time in new situations and yes, she will definitely give you the once-over before deciding to show you her whip-smart and funny side, but there is nothing wrong with her.
I wish I could stop the world from seeing her as less than she is, but I can’t. For some reason, the world wants to value the loud, the life-of-the-party types, the ones who steal the spotlight.
But know that I always see my daughter for what she is.
I see her bravery, the way she can size up a situation before approaching it.
I see her kindness, the way tears fall from her eyes whenever my own fill.
I see her loyalty, the way her eyes light up around her family, at home.
I see her dedication, to the friends that she has come to trust, the ones that she can play with on the sidelines.
I see her hesitation, wanting to do her best yet unsure if she can.
And I wish so much that the world could see her the way I do —