I have had friends tell me I’m cold and distant, but I’ve never seen myself that way. Instead, I tell them I’m shy, not bitchy, not snobby, but withdrawn, closed-in, sealed off. I am not sure how this happened. I was raised by two outgoing people who socialized often and with vigor. At parties, my parents would offer me up for hugs and kisses to all their friends, and I would retreat deeper into myself. I vowed to never betray my own children in this way—though I hoped my children would be more comfortable with people and also themselves.
I often believed when I got older, went to college, got married, had children, or hit one of the other millions of milestones in my life, the shyness would magically disappear. It never did, and when I had my first child, things were even harder. I was in a new state with no support system. I stayed home with my winter baby holed up in a small apartment, and I felt lonely. This was an opportunity, something that could push me out of my shyness, finally open me up. I managed to meet a few people, but never really connected with any of them.
Oh, and the son who I hoped would hug and cuddle with everyone was slow to warm, unwilling to hug, just like me. From the millions of traits he could have inherited from his mother, he got this one. A strange thing began to happen when he would withdraw: people would comment, calling him shy. They tried to draw him out, while making me feel guilty about the boy who wasn’t outgoing and talkative. “He still does that,” they’d say as he held onto my leg and hid his face. I would see myself in him as he rushed to me for protection, for love. I remembered my promise to never force my child to do things for me, to hug others so they, and I, would feel better. It was not about us, it was about him. He needed to feel comfortable with his decisions, not mine.
While I didn’t encourage him to hide, I never forced him to be who he wasn’t—a cuddler, a hugger, a kid who warmed easily. With him, people had to work for his affection, to prove to him they understood and accepted his hiding, his insecurities, his natural predisposition. I didn’t think it was a bad thing. Instead, I watched his quiet curiosity and reveled in the closeness we, two shy people, shared because we understood a part of each other that few others did.
My boy is 10 and I’m 40. He no longer hides behind my leg, though sometimes I often wish I could hide behind his. He is a smart, curious and confident kid. He is far ahead of where I was at his age and is comfortable in his own skin. He is still shy, but he is happy. He may never be a hugger, but he has a sincerity and a genuineness I sometimes think his outgoing friends don’t possess. When he tells you something, he means it, and when he hugs you, it is because he wants to.
Shyness is a blessing and a curse like any personality trait. We pass it down and see it manifest in children we hoped it would skip. On the days where I watch the outgoing huggers of the world fit so snuggly into their lives and into the lives of others, I remember my son and how amazing he is. Shyness has not stopped him from being himself. Maybe I can take a lesson from the little boy who no longer needs to hide.