Educating our introverted children begins long before we send them to college. It begins at birth.
My Dearest Abby,
I am sitting on the edge of your full-sized bed and watching you pack for your first year of college. Your room is in chaos, but I only see the face of a young beautiful woman, transitioning from youth to adulthood. You are growing and changing, but you will always be the thoughtful, intuitive, compassionate, reserved, and quiet introverted girl I gave birth to 18 years ago. We are kindred spirits—unique introverts, educating each other about acceptance and love. You teach me more than I teach you. I let you be who you are.
I reach up with my fingers to tuck your long straight light-brown hair behind your ears. You look at me with your big beautiful blue eyes that beg me not to make this any more difficult than it already is for both of us. Instead, I look away and stare out the window. I am comforted by the peaceful view that surrounds our house with its natural beauty. It gives me solace on a day that is bittersweet. I have been preparing for the emotional and geographical distance that will separate us—a natural progression through the stages of life as a parent. Yet, at this very moment, I feel unready.
My eyes fill with tears. Not the kind of tears that gently fall one by one, but tears that puddle in my eyes and fall fast and steady. They threaten to drown me if I open my mouth wide enough to let them in. “Please don’t leave me,” I beg, feeling the words in my heart but never speaking them out loud. I close my eyes and wipe away the tears. Suddenly, I am transported back in time.
I see you nestled in your big bed, which makes you look smaller than you really are. Your 4-year-old hand reaches over and picks up our favorite book, which lies on your nightstand. You smile at me as I crawl into bed next to you, and we pull up the blanket to cover our shoulders.
We have been reading Goodnight Moon night after night, week after week, month after month—a ritual started long before you could talk. You hold one side of the hard-covered, well-worn book; I hold the other side. I begin to read. Your long, delicate fingers move from word to word, matching the rhythm and cadence of my voice. You briefly interrupt me and tell me this is your favorite story—a fact I already know.
Time passes in a blink of an eye. You have outgrown the book and say, “Let’s pick a new favorite book.” Before I tuck it away in your memorabilia box, I ask you what your favorite part of the book is. “Good night noises everywhere,” you say. “Mine too,” I chime in. “That last line makes me feel happy. The world seems quiet, and life is slower.” You nod your head as if you understand.
I am not surprised. You have always needed quiet time, and as you got older, you lovingly nicknamed it “Abby time.” A muted time set aside to regroup and recharge from the extroverted world you are still learning to navigate.
A soft-spoken voice brings me back to the present as I hear you say, “Should I bring my NorthFace fleece with me, or should I wait until I come home Columbus Day weekend?” I am cheerful when I say, “Take it with you. The Autumn nights get chilly in the western part of Massachusetts.”
While you continue to sort through your clothes, deciding what to bring, I tuck the list of coping skills we wrote together into your suitcase. This list is to remind you how to pilot your life in an extroverted world. These are timeless skills I hope you never forget:
1. Don’t lose sight of who you are, and celebrate your uniqueness. Embrace your introverted self for the gifts and talents you possess.
2. Claim your space, and find solace in your music, writing, and creative mind.
3. Be honest with teachers. Talk to them about your quiet nature. Tell them what may look like disinterest in class is merely you listening intently and absorbing the material in your own way.
4. Your quiet nature wields power, so use it for the greater good. Create time to think. Celebrate your inner life.
5. Don’t jump into joining groups. Pick and choose what brings you joy, but step outside your comfort zone so that you may grow.
6. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, touch base with family and friends who understand you.
Two weeks after Abby leaves for college, I receive a handmade card with a big “Thank You” written on the front. Inside is a simple hand-written note:
I am who I am. Because of your acceptance, I can stand up fully in myself and be a proud introvert. Some days may be hard for me, but those are the days I will call you just to hear your voice.
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