We all love to put certain aspects of our lives into categories; people especially. We have labels for every walk of life and we are identified by our communities and our characteristics. Sometimes I think we do this to excuse certain behaviors in ourselves, but the labels do help us understand basic things about one another.
A recently popular mode of classification is to call someone introverted or extroverted. This seems to be a young person’s dilemma – you don’t often hear a middle-aged woman claiming “I can’t go to that party, I’m too much of an introvert.” It may be true! She may be an introvert and not want to go out to the party, but she won’t tell you so in those words. She might say instead, “I’m shy,” or, “I don’t like large crowds.” Which brings me to this question: once we label ourselves as one thing or another, do we manifest more of those characteristics? How much of it is genetics? How much of it is taught? How come when I take a personality test (I’m working on a psychology degree, personality tests are rather par for the course) it flip flops between introverted and extroverted Every. Single. Time?
All right, I could discuss introversion and extroversion all day and long into the night. But today I want to share how my increased exposure to introversion and extroversion has helped me understand far better a woman I admire greatly: my mother.
I always thought I was an introvert. I like reading books. I pretended I didn’t like talking (but I couldn’t stand not raising my hand to answer a question in class). If you gave me the choice between hanging out on my own or hanging out with friends, I’d probably choose the friends, but I’d bring a book to read in the corner in case I got bored. Meeting new people was a nightmare as a small girl. I remember many an agonizing experience of just staring and smiling at some strange child while Mom chatted gaily with his mother. I didn’t know what to say, so I smiled awkwardly.
But oh, my mother. She doesn’t know a stranger. My earliest memories involve her socializing with other women, chatting with grocery store clerks, and getting a job as a church secretary. Mom was always talking, whether anyone listened or not. To my shame, if we were in the car and Mom was talking, I probably was reading instead of listening. At the time, I didn’t understand why – or how – Mom could talk so much. My sister was always quiet, and my brother even more so. My dad certainly never talked so much. Who was the odd one here?
My introverted tendencies lasted well into college. In fact, it wasn’t until I began grad school and was venturing out more on my own that I realized something:
I really like talking.
And I really like being around people.
How had I never known this? It’s a pretty basic concept! Well, upon analysis (psychology degree, remember?) I’ve come up with the solution that since two of the people I look up to most in this world (my dad and sister) are classic introverts, I grew up thinking that silent, independent occupation was the preferred method of interacting with the world. But when my coworkers and friends actually solicited my opinion, and laughed at my jokes (I used to think my sister was the only person who would ever laugh at my sense of humor), and accepted that I’m a bit of a nerd but also quite girly and forgetful and could spend days discussing the fine merits of chocolate chip cookies, the floodgates opened. I was reborn: an extrovert by nature who had been nurtured into introverted tendencies. Perhaps this is why my personality tests are so inconclusive. Don’t get me wrong; I like it this way! I can relate to so many more people if I understand both the desire to be alone and the need to be around people.
But then I began thinking: if I was an extrovert being raised by introverts, what did that make my mother? Nearly exactly the same, I imagine. She was (and is) an extrovert surrounded by introverts. It’s hard to be outgoing and bubbly and happy when everyone around you is focused on their own little world. I understand now my mother’s frustration when nobody would listen. I understand why she talked to herself incessantly. I understand why she talked to the grocery store clerks and took a job as a secretary and made it a point to socialize with at least one friend every week.
Now that I understand my mother’s nature, however, I am faced with a further dilemma. See, I’ve often thought that the greatest thing my mother taught me was to be independent and figure life out on my own. And this is a wonderful gift! But I have indeed thought petulantly, “I wish Mom had taught me ___________.” Now, I understand that she probably was teaching. I was just too wrapped up in myself to listen. Thankfully, my mother’s actions spoke louder than her words.Even though I cannot remember very much at all of what she has said, I can think back and examine how she lived her life day in and day out. And upon reflection, my mother has taught me many valuable lessons.
- My mother is one of the kindest, most generous people you will ever meet, sometimes to a fault. But it’s far better to be too generous than too stingy.
- Every person you meet has a life, and a need. Find out what it is.
- Clean your house before you go on vacation: you want to return to your home, not a catastrophe.
- If the closet doesn’t get cleaned out, the world will not end.
- (But try to clean out the closet)
- Jigsaw puzzles and a good book are about the most fun a girl can have.
- The words “I can make that … ” come out of my mouth automatically, and far too frequently. Whether I can make that or not.
- Fabric is a thing to be hoarded.
- Smile often and let it reach your eyes. Smile wrinkles are a badge of honor.
- Receiving a homemade gift is more precious than anything your loved one could have bought you in a store.
- A teacher glare is so much more effective than yelling…
- … but speaking softly is even better.
- Mommies will always want to take care of their children, even if they live 4,000 miles away.
I am so thankful for my mother. I don’t deserve her, but I am incredibly blessed to call her mine, and despite our family squabbles, I love all of her quirky traits. My sister-in-law and I joke that I am becoming my mother. And to be honest…
It would be my privilege.
(thanks to Juni Desiree for the post prompt!)
(photo credit: Victoria Rose Photography)