Sunday, March 02, 2014

Learning to Dance

I had a few deep thoughts occur to me this weekend as I took my little girl to her first school dance at her elementary school on Friday. Before I go any further, let me say from the start that this is in no way a criticism of the dance itself. The people who organized it did an outstanding job and it was well done, good, clean fun with lots of security measures in place and I appreciate all the hard work that went into it, and I know people had a great time. So don’t read this as a criticism of the event at all. It is not. This is more an insider’s look at the life of an introvert. Now on with the blog post, which I warn you is a long one.

One thing about my little 7-year-old girl is that in some ways she reminds me a bit of the beloved Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. She builds things up in her mind and gets so very excited about them that, as Marilla tells Anne at one point after a broken hearted experience, 

“You set your heart too much on things, Anne, “ said Marilla, with a sigh. “I’m afraid there’ll be a great many disappointments in store for you through life.” 

Though I do love Anne’s response, 

“Oh, Marilla, looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them,” exclaimed Anne. “You mayn’t get the things themselves, but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them.”

I think there is some wisdom in both quotes, but I think I also share Marilla’s caution when I watch my little girl.

Boo was terribly excited when the announcement came home about this school dance, and she pleaded with me to take her. She chattered about it all week and planned what to wear, and come Friday she was so ready to go she was practically floating.

And then we arrived. 

The school gym was filled with kids and their parent chaperones and loud music. My poor girl froze and looked at me in terror. “It’s not at all what I thought it would be like. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do." We attempted to stay, but we ended up leaving early because she felt so out of place since none of her good friends had come and what she calls the ‘girly-girls’ who never seem to click with her were the only ones she could find there. Then all my old insecurities from my youth came crashing in around me and I realized my poor little apple hasn’t fallen far from her mommy’s tree, and it broke my heart because I truly do not know how to help her. 

My girl loves to dress up all pink and sparkly, and she’s not a tomboy, but she’s not what she calls a ‘girly-girl.’ She’s not into shopping and the coolest fads or clothes or name brands or squealing and talking in that ‘girly-girl’ way. I’ve tried to figure out what it is that makes her girly, but not a ‘girly-girl,’ and I realized it’s that some girls seem like little mini teenagers and are already concerned with fads and pop culture things that my girl just isn’t interested in yet. She doesn’t know or even like the popular music - just ask her how much she despises “What Does the Fox Say?” or One Direction. And I am SO okay with that. I don’t want her running her life by the peer pressure to be just like everyone else or giving up her own personality to be part of the in-crowd, or trying to grow up too fast. I like that she doesn’t feel the need to be someone she’s not to fit in and is perfectly willing to like what she likes because it’s her thing. I don’t want her growing up too fast. I like that she’s not ‘seven-going-on-fifteen.’ 

But. Watching her at that dance, seeing how out of place and uptight she felt with the crowd and the noise and the ‘girly-girls,’ I thought about what a torture I’ve always - still today - found dances and parties to be. No matter how much I wish I could let out my playful side, no matter how much I may be dancing and easy-going and fun-loving on the inside, no matter that in a small group or at home I can ‘let go’ and sing and dance and be, put me in a crowd and I just can’t.  It isn’t that I don’t want to. But for some reason I find crowds leave me feeling unsure, awkward and alone. I am so much more alone in a crowd of ‘girly-girls’ and extroverts - those fortunate ones who are able to let loose and have a naturally bubbly personality - than I am in a smaller group. Parties, even Sunday School parties, are hard for me, though truth be told I’m always glad I went when all is said and done. 

All my life I’ve felt a bit like I’m on the outside looking in, wanting to be a part, but never quite feeling like I fit in, never quite peppy or ‘fun’ enough. As much as I wish I could let loose, I just can’t. I’m reserved and quiet by nature, and when I try not to be, it often comes off as false and not who I am, trying too hard to be something I’m not. As much as I’d like a crowded party to be something I enjoy, as soon as I walk in my brain shuts down and it’s all I can do not to run away. But I have learned not to run away, and most of the time I’m really glad I stayed.

So that’s why it broke my heart when I saw that familiar deer-in-the-headlights freeze up in my daughter, and all I could think was, “Oh, honey. I’m so sorry.” Seeing my sweet, sensitive little sweetheart, who I know has oodles of personality in just her little thumb be ignored and pushed past by the acquaintances who have naturally bubbly personalities that allows them to be in the moment and let go and feed off the energy of a room that only serves to paralyze a more introverted personality, was hard. 

She had looked so forward to this event, and her hopes were crushed when she got there and didn’t have anyone to connect with. It is not that anyone was unkind to her. Not at all. It’s just that she seems to have inherited some (though not all) of my reticence and inability to function in such an environment. I don’t know if I’ve somehow projected this onto her, though I’ve tried so hard not to, or if people are just wired this way. She is sensitive and wants to be a friend, but she seems to have a hard time connecting to the ‘girly-girl’ world. 

I hate it for her because I know how hard it is to feel like you don’t really fit in. She wants real friendship, and she does have some good girl friends, just not at that dance. That would have made all the difference in her case, I know. Had any of her good friends come, she would have been able to shut out the rest and let loose with her friends.

I told my husband how hard it was to see her just like I always was, uptight in the crowd. I told him about the giggly ‘girly-girls’ and how they just seem to be able to have fun and let go. And you know what he said to me? He said, “I’d rather have Boo’s personality than the girly-girl personality any day.”

And that’s when I realized something huge. He wasn’t just saying that about Boo. He was saying it about me, too. We have been together a long time. I know, and have known, that he loves me, I’ve never had any reason to doubt that. He demonstrates it in so many ways. But I did not realize until he made that comment that somewhere deep inside me I’ve harbored this unconscious lie of a suspicion that though he really does love me, maybe he really wishes I were different, maybe he wishes I weren’t so introverted and more like the extroverts who have those bubbly personalities. But the truth is he doesn’t wish that. He loves me. He chose me. He didn’t choose an extrovert. He chose introverted me. And he loves me for me, not for someone he wishes I were, but me. And that undid me. 

My husband showed me something in that comment as he demonstrated to me his real love. He pointed me to Jesus and how He loves the Church. That’s what that pointed me to, when my husband made that innocuous comment that he had no idea would prove so profound to me. Jesus created me. He knows my insecurities and introvertedness and sinfulness and He loves me even still. He died to save me. There is room in the Kingdom for the introverts and the extroverts. He made both types of people, He saves both types of people, and He has things for both types of people to do in His Kingdom. More important than being an extrovert or a 'beautiful person' I need to focus on being a woman who loves the Lord and let that make me useful and beautiful in the ways that really matter. And that's what I want for my girl, too, to learn to be a woman who fears the Lord more than she wants to 'fit in' or idealize worldly charms. May it be so.

And I found that to be a very comforting reminder indeed, and maybe, just maybe, it could give me the courage to dance a little, and to help my little girl do the same. 

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