I have reached the chapter in Quiet that discusses personality differences between parents and children. Well, and not just differences—in just as many cases both the parent and child might be introverted or extroverted, and this can cause conflict as well. But of course what I’m reminded of is the fact that my mother always thought there was something wrong with me.
My mother is very social. I’d guess she’s an extrovert. She talks to everyone, likes to be involved in a lot of stuff. She reads, too, and likes “down time,” but she mostly likes being busy.
I’m an only child. I liked to read a lot when I was a kid, and played by myself a fair amount. I had friends, sure, and I’d go out and spend time playing with them, too. But I didn’t like big social events, and I didn’t like sleepovers. I wasn’t especially outgoing, more an observer than an instigator, though happy enough to play with one or two really good friends. Just not big groups. I liked games involving my imagination, and I liked conversations that were deeper than “The New Kids on the Block are so hot!” I wrote stories and poems. I daydreamed a lot.
My mother always wanted me to be out with friends. She wanted to know why I didn’t talk on the phone more. She told one of her friends she was worried I didn’t know the difference between what was real and imaginary. She worried that I spent too much time alone. She would invite my friends over as a surprise—I recall one time coming home and finding about six girls from my school in my living room. I was mortified. Why were they in my house? What was I going to do with them all? I just wanted to go up to my room and hide.
My mother also used to lock me out of the house. She wanted me to get outside, go make friends. I sat propped against the garage door and read a book or wrote in my notebook. Not only was I an introvert, I was a stubborn introvert. (Still am, I suppose.)
You say, Okay, that’s your mom but what about your dad? My dad is a lot more like me. Quiet. Happy to stay home or just hang out with family. He’s a reader, too, and one of only two people with whom I can spend hours on the phone. We talk about movies and television and pets and politics, digging in to all of it. We’ve done that since I was six or seven, when we would sit outside on the deck at night and Dad would set up his telescope and we’d talk about books and music and the stars and planets. Very satisfying conversations. But we were also fine not talking, just listening to music or whatever.
I often wondered how my parents could manage, being so very different from one another. But they seem to have a sort of agreement. Mom is allowed to do however much stuff she feels she can handle, so long as she doesn’t drag Dad along. (This was a real problem when I was younger, my mother volunteering Dad and me for various projects and outings.) And if Dad starts to feel neglected, he lets Mom know, and she makes it a point to schedule some quality time with him. I guess it works out okay; they’ve been married upward of 37 years.
Anyway, what does this mean for me, growing up with one extrovert and one introvert, a constant sort of tug-of-war? Well, it means that about half the time I felt like there was something really wrong with me, and half the time I didn’t give a damn. Which is to say: I knew I was different from a lot of the other kids, the ones who hung out together all the time and went to each other’s houses and had parties and prowled the mall. And there were times when I was sad that I couldn’t be that way, wished I could be that way, which was in my mind “normal.” But there was never a moment when I considered even trying to be “normal” because I knew myself well enough to know I’d never be happy like that. And I had my dad as the role model for someone who could go through life without having to go out and do and be seen all the time. And be perfectly fine with it.
Maladjusted? Not at all. In fact, I’m adjusted just right—for me. I’m normal—for me. At any rate, I’ve concluded that normal is an arbitrary zero. And I’ve never been willing to apologize for being myself.