Saturday, April 08, 2006

Cult of Personality

I suppose most every couple has a root issue or conflict from which all other tension springs. For Matt and me, this issue is the difference in our personalities (and, by extension, our family personalities). You can guess from the ratio of my blog contributions to Matt's that I am the more vocal member of the family. When we first took an extended car ride together, I was convinced Matt was furious for some not-yet-named reason; the silence in the car seemed thick with unspoken anger, simply because silence was almost always a manipulative communication tool in my family growing up. In Matt's family silence rarely has meaning. It simply is. In my family, any single word rarely has meaning. It is the cumulative collection of a lifetime of talking and writing word after word after word that begins to approach some semblance of meaning.

Our children seem to be a mixture of us, with each leaning slightly toward one parent or another in the extraversion/introversion realm. Kyra is in many, many ways her father's daughter, reserved personality being one of them. Reserved is a good choice of words to describe them, as it accurately reflects how they often hold themselves back in public, but also how they reserve the very best of themselves for very private spaces. Kyra is wild at home--no other way to describe it! But if you were to meet her in unfamiliar territory, you wouldn't know she had yet learned to speak. Her father can also have very verbal moments when he is with his inner circle. I have long counted myself fortunate that he considers himself closest to me; I know his thoughts, regrets, fears and dreams better than anyone in the world. While I hold unique trust for him as well, there are others in the world who share some of the personal disclosures I have offered to him over the past 16 years. We are at once compelled and repelled by our differences.

Kyra has a close day care friend--we'll call her "M"--who draws the same attraction/repulsion emotions from her. As much a listener as Kyra is, M is a talker. Kyra holds back her physical affection for rare generous offering; M offers a squeeze you until your eyes bulge out hug to every child who walks through the day care doors. Despite Kyra's caution, she is very at home with crowds of boys (remember the rough team?), and her interests follow those of her male classmates. Though she has never seen a superhero movie or cartoon, she has action figures at home. She would sooner request a Power Ranger than a Barbie, and Matt and I encourage this because we prefer a child who can be her or himself over societal expectations, and because a little gender bending feels right to us. M, on the other hand, adores princesses and only princesses. When M's mom called last weekend to invite Kyra to a "dress up princess tea party," I honestly didn't understand what she meant at first. I knew there would be a princess theme, and certainly have hosted and participated in my share of tea parties, but I assumed "dress up" meant, well, church clothes. Midway through the week, it dawned on me that the girls would be dressing up as princesses. Oh! Completely different picture....

Kyra and Lucas have a bin overflowing with costumes--on any given day we host tigers, dogs, firefighters, train conductors, cowboys and girls, and clowns. But princesses? Not exactly! M's mom knows the girly crowd is not Kyra's style, so she offered that Kyra could borrow something from their extensive princess collection; she very kindly offered as an afterthought that Kyra could wear whatever she was comfortable wearing. I prepared Kyra for what the other girls might be wearing, and even managed to dig around and find some non-specific princess garb, but she refused my offerings of help. In the end, she wore a nice pair of capri pants, a sweater set, a necklace, ankle socks and sneakers. This was VERY dressed up for Kyra. Though there are numerous baby pictures of Kyra in dresses with matching tights, shoes with ribbons and lace, as soon as she had a mind of her own, the dresses came off. We had Auntie coax her into a dress for Lucas's dedication in church when she was nearly three years old. I believe it was our last significant effort to see her in anything "fancy." When I suggested this evening that she wear something nice for church tomorrow, she asked me to pull out her best jeans. This is who she is, through and through. Though some of the girls at the party know her well from day care, I was concerned about the collision between Kyra's idea of a princess dress up party and M's idea of a princess dress up party.

Some of my fears were validated--all seven of the other girls were wearing tiaras, Disney store-purchased princess attire (all dressing not only as princesses, but specific princesses--Ariel, Cinderella, Snow White, and more....), and those wretched princess high heel shoes that are a broken ankle in the making. Not all of my fears were accurate, however. I was concerned Kyra would feel out of place and uncomfortable; I thought she would feel unsettled and either quickly give in to M's mom offer of a dress or wind up in tears in the corner. Neither happened, despite that I checked in periodically to see if she was interested in a dress or comfortable as she was. My girl--capris, sweater set and all--even joined the other girls to participate in the princess parade. It seems already she has more confidence in herself and her choices than I potentially have now!

What bothered me about the party wasn't the dress difference, as I had assumed, but rather the occasional remarks about Kyra's personality. One of M's grandmothers has seen us now for a series of M's birthday parties, and even brought M and her sister to Kyra's party last summer. As soon as we walked through the door, she commented on Kyra's lack of a dress, pausing only for a quick breath before exclaiming to the group, "Kyra's just so shy!" One comment wasn't sufficient; she made a couple others to the collection of moms, and then even approached me at one point to comment on how shy Kyra had been when she had seen her with Matt at another child's birthday party. While I believe her intention was not to ostracize Kyra, I'm sensitive to remarks about her personality; they always feel judgmental to me. When Kyra crawled onto my lap while the others were playing freeze dance, I was torn between letting her stay and be where she was comfortable and urging her to "get out there and have fun like the other kids!" When Kyra would look to me for a twizzler or drink or anything at all from the party table rather than initiate conversation with M or M's mom, I wanted to somehow force her to open her mouth and just ask already! After warming up for the first hour or so, Kyra freely joined the other girls in the basement playroom, and was reluctant to leave as we gathered our things to go. Hmmmm....where was the "Kyra's so shy" grandmother then???

When I came home and found myself annoyed with Matt without any apparent cause, I began to analyze my own feelings about Kyra's personality. Matt and I had been talking about our plan to attend a family wedding (my side of the family; the wedding takes place on Matt's birthday--not an ideal draw, no matter your personality), and I found myself wanting him not to go. I wanted to not face the awkward conflict I often feel when I'm out with Matt or Kyra--do I express my own comfort and inclination toward being social, or do I stay close and hide out with them? Today, at the party, I was more reserved; in some ways, it was as though I was validating how Kyra is by being more like her. (I could write a completely different blog post about being a "church supper" kind of woman in the presence of the "five star restaurant, pass me the wine list" women, as that, too, is part of my holding back with this particular crowd.) Matt and I often joke that I am more him than he is some days. While I began going to movies on my own when we had babies, Matt no longer felt able to enjoy being out on his own! We have mixed and merged and become something quite different than when we first met, but when conflict arises, we fall firmly back into our personality camps. Life, being life, presents a perpetual string of conflicts, and we often retreat to modes of communication and expression that seem incompatible. Each time we anticipate a family holiday or vacation on one side or the other, the roots of our difference are exposed and raw. I can't speak for Matt (though many would say I do often!), but there are times when I honestly wonder how we persist in being together. The differences can feel that strong.

I suppose the balance tips just enough to the staying together side--we are just a tiny bit more attracted by the other person's differences than we are repulsed by them; we are just a tiny bit more compelled to better understand him or her than we are repelled in the other direction. And of course there is deep, lasting love there as well. My love for the kids comes right from my gut. My mother love requires no thought or decision; it simply is. With Matt, it is more of a choice--something I wrap my mind around and work my heart into. As I love and parent the reserved, private and very wonderful Kyra, I experience new depths of love (okay, I'll be honest--perhaps new depths of frustration, too, as evidenced when I returned home this afternoon!) for Matt as well. As the more outgoing Lucas grows, I'll have to ask Matt if he better understands and loves me, too. Of course I'll have to be prepared to wait for his answer....those introverts like to think things through, you know.

1 comment:

Sue Sehulster said...

Oh, the volumes I could write in response to this! We certainly have had our share of conversations about this topic, and I have always been fascinated by the E/I differences, with Don and I being the reverse of you and Matt. And Kyra ... how I can truly relate to your beautiful girl. I have certainly had that label of "shy girl" follow me my entire life, but what's interesting is that even though the label might be "true" in nature, you do end up believing it yourself, even though you might not want to. And that's where any hope of trying to "grow out of it" becomes extremely difficult. I was first faced with the unbelievable possibility that I CAN start to become "un-shy," at least to some degree, by my dear college roommate, who was so breathtakingly extraverted that I really didn't have a choice but to start re-thinking who I was, or could become. I do have to say that I love my "new self" -- who I grew into -- and I thank her for that. Yes, I can still so vividly remember and feel the pain of that "shy girl" of many, many years, and I do fall back on that "label" occasionally (and it's funny when you just KNOW you're doing it, too). And while I will always be an "I" according to Myers/Briggs, I rejoice at the gift of being surrounded by my "E" friends (and husband, and son, and daughter??) who will continually feed that part of me that will always want to grow. I can't wait to talk to Kyra in years to come. :)