May 16, 2014

The beauty of independent, introverted children

I have a very independent little boy.

He's smart, stubborn, determined, and less affectionate, in some regards, than a lot of kids his age. Sometimes that's hard to swallow. In the drop-off zone in front of his school each morning, he might return my "I love you" if I say it with the request for the reply built tone, drawing low like an admonition. But at other times, the words roll off his tongue like butter, smooth and unexpected.

With a child like mine, whose moments of affection are sporadic and sometimes rare, they remain a constant and sweet surprise. I almost prefer it to a steady stream of kisses and hugs, because his "moments" seem to come out of nowhere, at just the right time. And they seem to mean so much more because of it.

Once, on a stressful morning where nothing seemed to be going right, I rolled up to the school just as the bell was ringing for kids to go into the building. I was agitated, felt rushed, and certainly wasn't focusing on my relationship with my son. He grabbed his things, and slipped out of the backseat onto the sidewalk, an apple in one hand, his hair still disheveled by sleep, his shoe laces dragging, as usual. At a dead run, he turned, stopped ever so briefly, and blew me a kiss.

I was so taken aback, so surprised, that it didn't even occur to me to blow one back. I wouldn't have had time, anyway, as he'd already turned back around to disappear behind the chain link fence and enter the school.

As a toddler, he wasn't the child who constantly asked to be picked up and carried. No, he wanted his freedom as soon as he was mobile. I'm not sure if it was due to the rather unconventional and harried experience of his birth, but he seems to have been born this way.

From day one, he slept through the night. He didn't cling to me, he didn't look back and cry every time I left him at daycare (maybe for the first week, but that was more about his unwillingness to accept the "new" or to handle transitions with aplomb).

Last year, when I took him to the North Olympic Kids' Marathon, I came ready to run along with him. That sea of children, many with accompanying parents, lined up at the starting gate. I looked down at him and asked if he wanted me to run with him (because of his nature, I never assume he'll want me or need me to do things with him and I don't press myself on him). He looked up at me, smiled (happy I was there to support him), and said, "I got this, mommy. I don't need you to run with me."

So I let him run, and I waited, camera poised, to get a picture as soon as he came into view on the return lap. As soon as he saw me waving, he waved back, smiled, and yelled, "I did it! All by myself!"

So, yes, I guess I could be sad that my child doesn't "need" me all the time. But, since I don't base my identity on him, that sadness is also sweet. He's not an extension of me. He's his own little person. We are separate beings held forever close by blood. He's a lot like me. Introverted, and inwardly affectionate. He loves me. He loves his family. He loves his pets. He cares for his friends. But, he keeps his circle small, and he reserves his reservoir of affection. He comes by it honestly, as do I. A long line of "you know I love know I'm proud of you..." folks who show what they feel in their eyes rather than saying it.

It's not optimal. I know I should be more verbal about my feelings for others (it drives my husband crazy, as he's a much more openly affectionate person than I am), and I try show my affection through words and actions as often as I can. Encouraging him to offer a more outward show of his love for others. But, in the long run, he is who he is.

And that's okay with me.

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