Being Known

“She’s going to be the outgoing one” they tell me, nodding knowingly at each other, as we stop to chat on our way out of church. We were late, a few rows in front this morning, but they don’t miss a thing, these ladies. Watching. Analysing. They have my one-year-old pegged. The outgoing one. I nod too.

They are probably right.

***

Angel Gabrielle can’t remember her lines. I am in P5. My teacher asks me to try. I know every word. But I am too quiet. She asks me to try louder and louder, but in the end, I am too quiet to be an angel that talks.

***

I had read the Oliver James books, the F*** you up ones. I was well versed in his psychology, I think there is a lot of wisdom there, a lot to learn about the effect of our nurture. I knew about labelling from the earliest moments, about self-fulfilling prophecies. But yet. I can see it, in their very first hour in this world. Even though I know, as well, about the effects of their different labours on how they come into the world. Still, I still say it: Wasn’t Olivia always so self-contained? Didn’t she arrive quiet, watching, those unblinking blue eyes taking it all in? And didn’t she always need time and space? I read all that I now know of her into that very first photograph. And, in comparison, didn’t Imogen arrive hanging on, reaching out? Didn’t she just emerge feistier? I think now of her first hours of screaming and feeding and I think of it as ‘so Imogen’ –  looking for comfort and connection. 

In Comparison. Is that ok?

***

There is a parenting thing on the internet about how to care for introverts and how to care for extroverts. I read it to my skeptical husband. “Yes” he says, “that’s our 2 girls.”

***

My primary school reports all say variations of the same thing. I am a lovely/quiet/shy little girl in the school. I need to participate more in class. My teachers tell my mum that they know I know the answers, they would like me to put up my hand. I wonder now, why they didn’t just ask me to answer, I would have told them.

My P6 teacher notices that I love to read. She moves me up to the top group, never mind that I don’t answer out loud. She sends me home with novels that she thinks I might like to read. I do. Every time I finish one she sends me home with another. I thrive.

I have this teacher for 2 years. I love English. Forever after. This teacher who let me read and stop worrying about putting up my hand.

***

She shakes my hand away at her big cousin’s birthday party and disappears into the huge play area that I’m sure she’s a few years too young for. She doesn’t look back. She climbs. She explores. She pops out now and again and then she is gone. She follows the big kids to the ropes course. She waits in line. She tries to put on her own harness. She holds on, steps out, works out what to do. I thought she’d be more nervous. We almost didn’t come. She is 3-years-old, at home in this sea of older children, among the ropes and tunnels and bridges.

She gets scared only once, when she enters the small party room for lunch. She freezes at the sight of the kids all round the table and turns on her heels to run.

Olivia’s my introvert, I’m fairly sure. She needs a bit of time before she will sit on that cow print stool beside 8-year-old boys she doesn’t know.

And yet she is curious and brave and comfortable in her own skin. She escapes laughing, every chance she gets, out of that small room and runs for her life.

***

I am trying to teach comparatives and superlatives to my class. Bigger, smaller, nicer, taller, stronger, weaker, prettier, funnier. More than. Less than. Good, better, best. The most. The least. I love words, but sometimes I hate these words. I struggle to think of sentences that are worth saying as examples.

***

I met an old friend recently through work (my bible-class teacher and teenage inspiration). We digress from time to time from the work we are supposed to be discussing. She is talking about me as a teenager and talking about my mum. She says “it was an amazing thing to witness, how your mum stepped back and just let you grow.”

***

She’s going to be the outgoing one” they say and I nod. I think so too. But still I wonder… about the things we notice, and the things we say. About understanding V labelling.

I want my girls to feel known, but not labelled, to feel unique but not compared. I want them to know they can be quiet, it doesn’t mean they are too quietI need to remember I don’t know who they are going to be. I need to let them surprise me. I am conscious of the words that will ring in their ears. They are a thousand other things than the shy one or the bossy one. I want to let them be, let them grow, let them thrive, and when necessary, let them turn on their heels and run.

Are you a poet or a dancer
A devil or a clown
Or a strange new combination of
The things we’ve handed down … ?

[Marc Cohn]

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14 thoughts on “Being Known

  1. I love how you have specifically paused between each thought, and then moved on to the next. The whole thing comes together as a beautiful sentiment, wonderfully written.

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