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Tara Mandarano Headshot

My Daughter Taught Me It's OK To Be An Introvert

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Thirty-six years. That's how long it's taken me to discover it's OK to be a soft-spoken introvert in a loud-mouthed world. I've always felt like an imposter and an interloper. The life-changing event that changed my perspective happened in 2013: I gave birth to a baby girl who shared my sensitive temperament and quiet nature.

My daughter is an observer, just like her mama. She tends to hang back in social situations until she feels comfortable enough to participate. Sometimes it takes her up to an hour to warm up on a playdate.

I see so much of myself in her; it's both heart-warming and heartbreaking. I don't want her to suffer socially like I did growing up, but I've realized I can't keep her in a bubble, either. Sometimes when I'm with her, my memory casts back to my own childhood, and I remember a fleeting instant in time when I was free to be myself without shame.

***

I am four years old and queen of the world. Shy and freckled with a blunt bowl haircut, I'm obsessed with toy cars. I spend many pleasant, solitary hours lining them up around the house in different formations. 

I wear my golden paper crown from Burger King while I do puzzles by myself in the corner. If I want to play toy trains with my friend for an hour and not utter a word, it's fine. The word introversion is not in my lexicon yet. There are no extrovert expectations of me. As a result, I am free.

When I start school, I emerge slowly and carefully from my shell. Terrified of talking to the other kids, I find it hard to make friends. The thought of raising my hand in class and drawing attention to myself make me sick with dread.

When the phrase "self-confidence" begins popping up on my report cards, it's apparent I am missing a crucial trait I need to succeed. Every year I see it, it's a dirty black blot on the sea of shining As.

As I grow into a teenager and an adult, I peer at myself critically in the mirror. Someone lacking stares back at me. I don't remember that I was once a queen, and I completely forget that I ever wore that golden paper crown.

New words like "anxiety" creep into my vocabulary. I blush easily in social situations and get nervous speaking in front of big groups. I internalize the idea that these are bad things that need to be fixed, so I pretend to be someone else in order to fit in. The world is one big extrovert club -- and I just want in.

I try to stamp out my quiet, contemplative nature, but it isn't easy. I spend enormous amounts of energy hiding my authentic self, only to feel it rise back up to the surface. Through it all, I struggle and fail to accept myself and the way I'm made. 

I try to contort myself into an extrovert, but it doesn't work. I'm sick of pretending that I'm a fan of parties and group activities. I'd much rather spend my time reading and writing. Sometimes I just need to escape to an empty room and recharge on my own.

***

During introspective moments, I remember being the child who hadn't conformed to the cult of extroversion yet. Back then I could be myself, take on the world on my own terms and still feel heard.

Then one day something remarkable happens: I catch a glimpse of the little girl I used to be in another little girl. My daughter has come along to don her own golden paper crown. The more I get to know her, the more my heart understands.

There's nothing wrong with being an introvert.

She sticks close to me and takes a while to warm up to strangers. Sensitive and watchful, she shows me the beauty in being solitary and thoughtful. As she grows up, I'll teach her that being quiet is not something shameful. When I see myself reflected in her eyes, I know I've come full circle.

Follow Tara's story as she writes about finding the poetic moments in the chaos of everyday parenting.

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