I don’t like drawing attention to myself. I don’t like having to ask for help. I don’t like bothering someone. Most of the time, I try to be nearly invisible. If no one else is talking and others seem bored or lonely, I don’t mind stepping up. But I’ve noticed that especially in crowded places, it’s hard for me to take initiative. If someone cuts in front of me, I generally let him. If someone is in my way, I don’t ask for her to move; I just wait until she is done. I give up really quickly in customer service situations. I don’t like confrontation, and I don’t like rejection–even if it’s as simple as I smiled at you and you didn’t smile back. I make myself as small as possible in most social situations.
Having a baby has changed this in some ways. Now I don’t mind asking someone blocking the diaper rash ointment to move. I ask for help if I need it. I make phone calls, and I am more insistent than I ever have been. In addition, my baby draws people in, and I’m forced to be friendly and receive the friendliness of others.
But it’s not just having a baby that’s helped me with this. It’s also learning from him.
We have a fairly demanding baby. I look at my son and think that he embodies my true, inward personality. He’s intense and moody. When something isn’t going well, he lets you know. He has this new trick when he sees something he wants; he will instantly smile and then grunt continually until he gets it. He wants to touch and experience the world. He takes up space, and he doesn’t mind.
I’ve read that a positive quality of a high intensity child is that their demanding nature gets them the help they need from parents, teachers, and others, which fuels their success in life. I can already see this in my son. He lets us know (quite loudly at times) when things aren’t going well for him. And usually we can fix it and he is instantly all smiles again. He doesn’t like to sit around; he wants to be moving and playing and seeing. He doesn’t mind attention; in fact, he craves it. And he is also giving–thanking us with his smiles and chuckles and squeals.
And I’m learning from him–and from other children–how to be friendly again. I’m learning how to ask for help when I need it. I’m relearning how to strike up a conversation with a stranger just because. I’m learning that it’s okay to take up space in this world–to taste and smell and touch. I don’t have to be invisible, and I don’t have to say “no” to curiosity and the delights around.
I loved my demanding students–you know the ones–the ones that challenge and provoke. Their questions kept me on my toes. Their questions taught me to pause, to think, and not to accept something just because it’s the expected answer.
It’s okay–important even–to be curious and ask questions–especially the ones no one else wants to ask. After all, those are the questions that lead to change. “Mom, why aren’t we helping that homeless man?” “Mom, why are people homeless?”
We live in this world. And it’s necessary to participate in it rather than living in fear that we’ll be a bother or ask the wrong question or hurt someone. Instead, I want to live freely and joyously, quick with a smile or an apology, and taking time to really think about the injustices and demand justice rather than accepting a pat answer.