Wednesday, August 22, 2012


He hides himself in the folds of my yoga pants and whimpers.

There are people, Mama. People. 

He doesn't say it, but I know what he is thinking. He is afraid of humans, my little Thor. I give him a hammer and a lightning bolt, but he still cowers. At the playground, he holds my hand and watches, and I push him gently toward a manageable slide. "Go play, my angel. Go play." And he shakes his head and reaches up.

No, Mama. No. No.

I take him in my arms, and stand on the sidelines watching the other children play. Watching Beezus slide down the fireman's pole, and talk to other children, and try the monkey bars. He still struggles with the talk. I hear him try sentences on for size, rolling around in his mouth. Aspirating after each word. I want to encourage him, but I don't understand what he is saying. He repeats the phrase again. Then out of the blue, he will perfectly pronounce 'garbage truck.' Most often, he won't speak at all. People ask him, "What's your name?" Or "Why aren't you talking?" Or "Don't tell me you're shy."

I smile and answer for him. I tell people that he is in speech therapy, so they know we are working on this, and I spell the word S-H-Y. They seem to want answers for the reason that he is the size of a four year old, but doesn't speak yet. They look at Beezus and say that his sister is probably speaking for him, and I nod and laugh, and all the while, I think that Thor knows exactly what we are saying and is living his fate.

The speech therapist wonders if he is lacking confidence, since he seems to whisper the right answer and then not repeat it aloud. She mentions selective mutism. She says he is probably the brightest child she works with. He follows complicated, even unexpected directions. He's smart and patient and lovely, she says. Almost much too patient and smart for a child his age. He's like the opposite of hyperactive.

Hypoactive? I think.

I wonder if shy is a bad trait or a good one. I felt emboldened recently at the spate of articles and books talking about shyness being a good trait. We are a family of shy. And shy is something everyone thinks you need to get over to be successful. It seems good to me to talk when you feel moved to talk, instead of filling empty space with noise. Thor sits in meditation. He giggles incessantly, and plays with his sister like he is four. Later, I look up selective mutism. Social Anxiety Disorder pops up. Shyness. Psychiatrist. Special classes. Therapy.

The nights have grown more pleasant. Almost cool, and I open the door to my studio. The wind chimes ring. The mosquitoes smell the warmth and buzz around me as I read about all the things I should be doing with Thor. He is two and I am reading about SSRIs. It feels so wrong. I caused this with my anxiety during his pregnancy, the thought immediately pops into my head. I've been waiting to find out how I messed up Thor, and here it is. I am convinced of it. It covers me like a wet, scratchy blanket. I can't escape it. It is heavy and uncomfortable and larger than our house. I will never escape accusation and blame. I am the causer of psychiatric disorders! He is too attached! BAD MOTHER! BAD! And as I start that line of thinking, I stop. I take in a long, cleansing breath, and let that abuse float out my studio door with the mosquitoes. It doesn't help me parent him better to believe it is my fault.

My baby Thor is sweet and lovely. He needs to sleep with his feet over someone, like he is the King of Siam. He wants to be fanned and fed grapes and he likes to dance to music about the moon and goddesses. He likes to grab my face in both his hands, and stare into my eyes and then kiss me on the mouth. He is quiet and shy and afraid sometimes and I realize I have been approaching him all wrong. There is nothing wrong with him. Instead of losing patience, I need to reassure him that shyness can be a successful way of being. I need to stop making excuses or explaining all this. I want him comfortable so others can see the loving, confident, creative, amazing child I am privileged to mother everyday. What I created is a child who trusts me, who practices discernment in social situations, and fears strangers asking what is wrong with him. I understand where he is coming from.

Let people wonder, ask, gawk. Let them call me controlling, or too attached. Let them think I am a bad mother. I can handle that. What Thor needs is to know nothing is expected of him but his security. All he needs to do is feel safe, and then nature will do the rest. So my job now is not to get him to talk, but to get him to relax.

Find it in my skirts, my son. Find it on my lap. Then grow strong. Grab your hammer. Change the world.


  1. You know, that is one of my least favorite things about our American culture- that shyness and slow to warm upness, and introversion are all considered negative qualities instead of just the way some people are. I am a big giant introvert and I was quite shy as a child. Elizabeth often is too. She does not like new people or too many people. I am always holding her little head as it hides behind my legs and saying "she's just feeling a little shy this morning" as people try to talk her out of her shyness instead of just leaving her alone.

  2. It doesn't help me parent him better to believe it is my fault.

    Bingo. I have a lot- probably too much- to say about this. But for now I'll just say you are attuned to your son. He tells you what he needs. You provide it. That's how the things that your sweet boy is working on will get better. And that's also how you have made such a beautiful space for his sweet, giggly, loving self just as he is. If you're going to take the blame for the shyness, then please also give yourself the credit for the wonder that is Thor.

  3. As I read through this I was waiting for the point at which you would say, 'I caused this. My anxiety after Lucy's death caused this.' Not because I think it's true, but because it is exactly what I would've thought in the same situation. "All he needs to do is feel safe." I think all parenting boils down to this and safe is mostly love and he sounds like he is full of love.

  4. F everyone and their expectations. He is who is is and that's the way he was meant to be. You don't know what beautiful thoughts are in his head and how he will find a way to express them, but he will when he is ready. Keep on surrounding him with love and security so he can feel safe to grow the way he needs to. Your son sounds like an exceptional person and there is no telling how wonderful his thoughts will be when they find a way out of his head, wheather through speaking or music or writing or whatever. It is not your job to make him normal but to protect him from those who think he has a problem because he doesn't fit a mold. Albert Einstein's mother was told he was mentally deficient because he was different. I guess they were wrong and her support to allow him to grow his way and to do exceptional things. Protect your little flame from the wind and see what beautiful fire emerges.

  5. Angie, My Sid is a true intovert (like his Daddy), and people just don't "get him". He didn't speak until he was three, but then he spoke in whole sentences.
    It's only been in the past two years that I am no longer his best friend, the only one he wanted to play with, other than his siblings.
    I tried taking him to baby gym, and he would only play with me. at circle time he would turn to me when the teacher asked if he had any news and sy "Why is she talking to me? Make her stop."
    when he started school, they put him in a special group to learn socialisation after he refused to take part in the base line testing...he was bemused by it, I was furious.
    He's a special little guy, bright and intelligent, and he observes, he speaks when he has something to say, and oh boy, he usually does. He blows my mind with his understanding.
    I love that boy, and I get so damn furious when people just don't get him, think he must have a problem or needs to come out of his shell.
    My boy is not shy, he's introverted and introverts have a lot to offer.
    I'm waffling on, but this post about your beautiful Thor makes me think of Sid. maybe I'm way off, forgive me if I am.

  6. Oh, and can I just add that Ernest, my rainbow couldn't be more different, and I blame myself for him being so different because I think I messed him up while pregnant and grieving...whatever we blame ourselves!

  7. This was so hard to read... Bobby and Thor have a lot in common. Quiet, intelligent children. It's hard, so hard, when the world doesnt understand.

  8. Angie, I was a hide-behind-my-mother's-skirt kinda child, hung onto her when people talked to me and barely made eye contact. My twin did do most of the talking for me for a long time and I turned out okay. Shyness isn't a defect, it's just who we are. He'll be okay. You know that though. Sending love.

  9. Humans are probably the scariest things most of us come in contact with, and being afraid of them is entirely reasonable. The way you are prioritizing Thor's security and comfort and surrounding him with love seems exactly right to me.

    Having read your words and seen the photographs of Thor here for a while, it is hard to imagine anyone looking at him and not just be blown away by how amazing and beautiful and full of light he is. I wish people had better eyes, or more discerning hearts.

  10. This is so beautiful and so exactly what's in my heart.
    "Find my skirts."

  11. Angie, I have two wonderful books to recommend to you on the beauty of sensitivity and introversion. The one I read recently is called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, and the other is a bit of a bible for parents of highly sensitive children like your little Thor, called The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron. I think you'd get a lot out of them, and they will definitely reassure you that Thor has a gift not a deficit in his way of being in the world. I was a child like that, and I felt so understood in reading those books!

  12. I was a painfully shy child who 'overcame' my shyness at about 16 years old. My older daughter, now nine, is also shy. She still doesn't like to talk to strangers and more often than not, just won't. But in school, she understands that the rule is you speak if spoken to. She's smart, sweet, kind and loving. She is like her mom, an introvert who needs to process the situation before commenting.

    Like Thor, she just needs to feel safe. And with me, she does. I'm good with that kind of mothering.

  13. I was going to recommend the same book that Ms J has mentioned, Quiet by Susan Cain. She also has a lovely talk up on TED.

    And I'm with Erica, other people are one of the scariest things you are likely to come up against and there is nothing wrong with being cautious. I was very quiet as an older child and I still feel shy sometimes.

    Like Jeanette, I blame myself for both. I blame myself that Jessica seems to have no fear whatsoever and just marches up to anybody and introduces herself and that Reuben is more cautious and reserved.

    But you're right - it doesn't help to blame myself.

    Also I happen to think that there is nothing in the world wrong with being shy, there is nothing in the world wrong with being like Jessica, or Reuben, or Thor. There are all so sweet and lovely. Just as they are.

    And I wonder why I bother to comment when I've just cobbled something together out of everyone else's! Sorry x

  14. My mom has always said that bright children are slow to warm up to new people and unfamiliar situations (of course, my mom had two children who were slow to warm up to that stuff--haha). My brother was also a late talker, and difficult to understand at first. He was four before anyone outside our family could really make out what he is saying (he's now returned from three years of living in South Korea and is entering a PhD program at Carnegie Mellon, so it didn't slow him down much later in life). He just wanted to size up every situation carefully and enter it on his own terms (for example, he refused to sing the alphabet song until he understood what the words meant and could recognize all the letters visually). My mom's good friend just read a book called _Being An Introvert in an Extrovert's World_ and said she wished she'd read it years ago because it would have helped her not feel bad about her natural inclinations. I think it's easy to see a child who seems to be healthy but yet not meeting some kind of arbitrary expectation and assume that it's a parental issue (or even easier for us as parents to assume this is true--I think this already as I read anxiously about upcoming milestones for babies!). But I believe your instincts are exactly right. All Thor needs is to feel safe and secure, and when he's ready, he'll be as brave and unstoppable as he wants to be.

  15. When I was four or five, my mother would approach the park - and I would stop her.

    "Can we go to another park, Mom? One with less people?"

    Which is still the kind of park I prefer. Maybe one person I can truly, deeply talk with - or no people. Stillness.

    Forty-two, and long since stopped apologizing for introversion, which people either "get"...or never will,


  16. I had a gigantic comment on this post that got eaten by my phone on friday...grrr.

    Here's the essence of it. Clearly you're doing a good job of attuning yourself to Thor and Beezus. I think that they'll feel supported and loved fully throughout their lives. It's the other part of this parenting gig that is so tough--dealing with the way other people interact with your kids. Such a challenge. And, like Dani said above--I could talk about this for days and days (despite the fact that I'm a socially awkward introvert).

    I think it's a good idea to read up on the latest studies and thinking among OTs and speech therapists and other educational interventionists. You want to be fluent in the language so that you're better equipped to advocate for Thor if you think other (well-meaning) people are taking things too far.

    I don't think that we need to swing wildly back in the direction of letting kids fend for themselves but I think that we have to find a way to let kids own their preferences and be comfortable with themselves exactly as they are. I mean, you know all of this. I'm just cheering you on.


What do you think?