Keeping The Family Together

I am the middle child. Translated: I grew up with the Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak draped around me. I’m also an introvert and my entire family is the biggest bunch of socialite-extrovert-pranksters-life-of-the-party crew you’ll ever meet. The phrase, “I need to move,” was always in the back of my mind. Running as far away as I could get from these scene-stealing folks was a regular back-up plan. Let’s be honest. It still is. I was thinking about it this morning as there are several upcoming family events and I already feel about ten years old wondering where the exits are.

My other plan was no less dramatic. I would become famous. Because famous people are not invisible. They’d have to notice me then, by golly. Of course, your first chance for true notoriety is in high school where the popular kids rise to the top of the peer ladder and the rest join the masses, and that sealed my fate. My sisters were first tier popular. I was mass material. It was a story written before my time on earth: The introvert, middle-child whose life is spent in party-land. How does she manage it? Books and gardens, my friends. Books and gardens.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my family. How often I wished I were more like them, favored, pretty, outgoing, funny, always a cute outfit.

I wished I could throw on any old thing, show up to any old function and be that person everyone was waiting to show up. The party starts when you walk through the door. But, let’s be honest again. I never even go to parties until I’m forced.

Though, hey. The best party I ever attended and was even a hostess of was a medieval party where deer burgers and ox-tail soup were on the menu, and the ladies wore pointy hats. Sounds dorky, but it was one for the books and everyone still remembers it 30+ years later. I had to be alone for a month afterward to recuperate–fun as it was.

But, here’s the deal. You can’t force yourself to be anything other than your introverted, garden growing, book nerd self. My mother, the queen bee of extroverts, suggested I could become an extrovert if I only tried.

Extroverts live under a delusional idea that introverts are just being stubborn.

When you’re born into a dumb spot (to quote Erma Bombeck) in a world where being visible is the ultimate gain, and you’re the introvert, moving is probably your best bet. Famous is a possibility, but likely out of reach. Consider the east coast if you’re a west coaster and the west coast if you’re an east coaster. Or hey, go all the way and be an ex-pat.

Here’s what doesn’t work: Divorcing yourself of your family. You know, finding your people, your tribe, as the saying goes. It’s great to find people who get you– do that where you can because life is hard and we need people who get us to join us on the journey. But, finding a crew that fits you and abandoning the crew that felt like it didn’t isn’t the answer and it ignores the issue. If you’re the one introvert in the land of happy-go-lucky extroverts or the one extrovert in a house of people who haven’t looked up from their books in a week, maybe there’s a reason. Could you have something to learn? Possible you have something to give?

Oh, do hit the pause button and ponder. Pondering is a lost art. Pondering can be revelatory.

What have I learned from my family of extroverts? Sooner or later extroverts simmer down, and introverts open up, so there’s that. But the lesson for myself was learning to love these insanely party-happy people just period. I was always waiting to love them when the party died down. When they were no longer talking to everyone but me. I’ve learned that loving means loving them during the party, not just when the party finally stops.

In other words, don’t start to love your family when they start acting like you, love them now.

One of my happy places is with my sisters, in our pajamas, sipping coffee, and catching up in my living room (or theirs) on a weekend morning with zero agenda ahead of us for the day other than lunch at some cute place with a hokey name like The Puffy Muffin. (You know you want to eat there.) In those before-noon-hours, I have them all to myself. No one interrupts, no one suggests we all hop up and go someplace–it’s the four of us, listening to each other’s lives. I can wallow in such a spot. My sisters gifted me with this recently on my 60th birthday. They get it now and I understand their need for speed, parties and on the go fun. It’s who they are. It’s who I am.

My mom finally understood it too. A few years before she died, she stopped asking if I wanted a big party for my birthday and started giving me what I did want, her. Just the two of us, having dinner together, me basking in her full attention. She was the best birthday present she could give me, well that and she had excellent taste in purses.

The thing I celebrate most isn’t that a few extroverts and an introvert figured out a personality trait. I celebrate that despite decades of differences, we’re still showing up for each other. In a world where family feuds can outlast a lifetime, and family members feel justified in making it so, I am thankful for the family of extroverted, party-crashing, dancing-silly, people I ended up with. It took this introvert way too long to join their party, but I am forever thankful that I finally did.