When it comes to talking about small victories in my children’s lives, it seems natural to focus more on Vivi’s (my youngest), rather than Addie’s accomplishments. For instance, today Vivi faced down her first giant bumblebee (I wouldn’t call it a victory, but no one died.) She’s dealing more with separation anxiety, sharing with her sister, and making friends at daycare. In the next few months she will have (hopefully) mastered the toilet and gotten over her intense dislike (hatred) for having her hair washed. Soon she’ll spend her first night in a big girl bed and before long she’ll be tying her own shoes and buckling her own car seat. With Vivi taking up so much of our attention lately, it’s easy to overlook just how many things Addie is experiencing and going through because they aren’t really the type of victories you check off in a baby book.
Addie has been teased at school, she’s faced down bullies, she’s dealt with disappointments in class, and successes in art class. For the last three years, she has been training in gymnastics and the growth has been slow but impressive. The best thing I ever did in parenting Addie was learn and read as much as I could about introverts. While I always imagined kids her age as being loud and extroverted, Addie is decidedly not. For a long time I became really angry with her that she couldn’t adapt to new situations without being rude. “You’re eight! Act like it!” The thing is she’s an eight year old introvert, and the way she acts in a new situation is vastly different than that of an eight year old extrovert.
We were in New York last summer when we attended a little luncheon with a children’s company. Addie immediately hid behind me, refusing to say hello to anyone and if I tried to pull her out and get her to participate she would begin to cry and hide behind me even more aggressively. When people would try to talk to her, she would hang her head and refuse to acknowledge they were there. I’ll be honest, I was embarrassed at her behavior. It was only after reading more about introverts that I understood I should have approached the situation much differently. I didn’t explain to her what would happen or what to expect. I didn’t tell her how long we’d be there or what I expected of her. She was thrown into an overwhelming situation not knowing anything, I don’t know anyone— eight or otherwise — who thrives in such circumstances. I knew we had another event coming up within the month and I decided to begin working with her on what I expected of her, as well as what is expected by the general public.
I made a deal with her that if she could just look a new person in the eye, smile, introduce herself, shake their hand and maybe answer a few questions from the new person, she could be done with all the social niceties until she was comfortable. We practiced over and over, I pretended to introduce myself to her as she practiced her part and became more comfortable with with going through the motions of meeting someone new. Finally, the big day came and I knew Addie would be meeting at least a dozen new grown ups over the course of the weekend. I knew I had done all that I could do, the rest was up to her.
Her first introduction went perfectly, we had rehearsed so many times that everything went flawlessly. As soon as she had responded with an “It’s nice to meet you too,” she hung back and observed until she was more comfortable. Not a single introduction was bumpy or awkward the whole weekend. At one point, she even introduced herself to someone before I had the chance — even thinking about it now makes me tear up a little bit. Oh my, I was (and still am) so proud of her. Not only because I found a way to make her more comfortable (PARENTING SUCCESS!), but it was a small victory that helped her understand a bit about her personality and fight to overcome a legitimate discomfort in a productive way, rather than allowing her to believe she will always be shy and never be comfortable talking to new people. Seeing the friendships she’s made and her little personality blossom as she approaches new situations in a way that is comfortable for her, has been one of the greatest victories in my own role as a parent.
While Vivi may be having more noteworthy small victories in her day-to-day life, Addie has been growing into her role as a young lady through small social victories of her own. Ones just as deserving as praise and pride as potty training and shoe tying.
Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.