How is it that I get on my own nerves?
In my case, I’m socially awkward. As a child, I’d always be the quiet one, not sure how or when to interact with others. Seventy percent of my interactions with people were, to my estimation, “weird.” Then, I’d spend the day or week thinking of how I could have been wittier, or more responsive. Better listener, responder, etc. I have these memories going back to elementary school.
It took me many years to come to grips with this and accept I had a closed personality. Many more years to learn compensating techniques. And awkwardness is still prevalent when I am not confident of my role in a social situation.
If we’re meeting for social purposes, it’s OK. If it’s professional, I need to know what it is. If it’s a brief, chance interaction, I’ve developed enough “small talk” to get me through a few minutes. If it’s a blend of fun and professional, or small talk lasts more than those few minutes, or none of the above, I’m lost. I’m awkward. I usually shut down, not knowing what to do.
Basically, if I have an interaction I’m not mentally prepared for, and I “botch” it — like shaking someone’s hand while I’m sitting down when I knew I should always stand, or saying the wrong thing — I’ll replay it in my head repeatedly and plan how to be better next time. I’m always striving for continual improvement in life, to figure out how can I win at everything all the time. (Side note: This mindset leads to a lot of disappointment and feelings of loss, as you may expect. Try it at your own mental health risk. But for some reason, it doesn’t stop me from trying.).
My fear is that my son may be following my footsteps. He’s quite intelligent, capable, learns easily, active, good-natured, loves to ride his bike and laugh. However, he seems to like to take his time and assess situations before he opens up. Similar to me.
Being a part of the Anchorage Dads Group, going to our events and seeing everyone else’s kids immediately running and playing while I’m holding my kid until he gets the lay of the land is sometimes worrisome.
Why isn’t he doing the same? Why does he need to be held for 20 minutes first? What am I doing wrong to socialize him? Am I unwittingly damaging him through my awkward parenting style and personal deficiencies? The self-doubt runs rampant in my head as I’m hanging out with the guys who’s kids are having the time of their lives.
However, a watershed moment happened the other day.
Our group went to meet at a playground, like we usually do on Mondays. My son is in my arms, watching everyone else. We go to the woods that surround the playground to get a stick, suddenly, he practically jumps down and starts running around the trails and trees having fun. Then other kids go into the woods and he’s leading some other kids on a “trail run.” WOW!
It dawned on my cloudy mind that maybe I’ve falsely thinking that my son needs to be like everyone else. Maybe my kid just doesn’t like the playground? Hahahaha – such a relief.
My wife and I take him to the woods and trails about five times a week. Playing in the trees, running the trails, bushwhacking, mountain biking, throwing rocks into the creek, playing stickball with sticks and rocks. We’ve been taking him on walks through the forest since he was born, telling him that the woods are a place to recharge, breathe the clean air, look at the trees, listen to the wind. The forest is his home away from home. He’s just more than comfortable in the wild.
Maybe the playground to him is like swimming to me or after-work softball to my wife? People love swimming and softball, but we have minimal interest in the respective activities. I’d be more than happy to go hang out with people and socialize, but I’m not going in the water above my mid-thigh. My wife will play softball if she absolutely has to, but is extremely pleased to not have to participate.
Why did I write this giant explanation of myself to come to the realization that my “awkward” kid just doesn’t like the playground and he might be like me?
The thought process.
The journey of discovery.
The mountain I made of a molehill. The highs and lows of parenting and worry for the child. He’s 3 and doesn’t really know the words to articulate, “While I don’t dislike the playground, I’d prefer if we did something else. I might play with the others, I may not. I would rather just go to hang out and see the other kids.”
While talking through this issue with another member of our dads group, he said something to the effect of “I don’t think anything will cause deeper personal introspection than parenting.”
What if my son does turn out like me and is somewhat socially awkward? Lucky for him, his mother and I are there to coach him through these things. Probably half the world is in the same boat.
My lesson learned from all this? RELAX! He’ll be fine. Unbelievable how many times I need to relearn the same thing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Jenks, a married at-home father of one boy, is the organizer of our Anchorage Dads Group in Alaska.