Thursday, September 23, 2010

No Script Required

I recently thought about Outer Life, a once-active blog I used to visit back in the blogging heyday of the mid-2000s. The author's posts were always well-written and insightful. Most important, he often spoke my own thoughts; it was as if I was reading the words of the introverted, crowd-hating male me.

Of course, his life had taken a different course than mine: he'd had children. I didn't identify as much with him when he wrote about fatherhood. I still admired his writing, of course, and I still marveled at how alike we seemed to be, but I didn't "get" the whole parenthood thing.

Last night, out of the blue, I thought about Outer Life. The blog is on my Google Reader, so I knew it hadn't been updated in a while. But I missed the author’s writing, so I went back to the blog this morning and read a few of the old posts.

I love this one about children being "human shields" for introverted parents in social situations. Once again, I'm grinning, nodding, and saying things like, "Yes! Exactly! That's exactly how it is! I love you, Mr. Outer Life writer, you veritable mirror of me!"

I never intended on Scout being a human shield, but she has proven to be such a perfect one. Charming, sweet, and friendly, she’s made it unnecessary for me to do anything in social situations anymore. I need only sit with her on my lap. I smile and nod at the people who stop to admire her, and that is enough. Life, in the social realm at least, has suddenly become very easy.

(Funny, most of my social circle these days consists of people who also have children Scout's age--i.e., people under 30. Which means that the usually fun conversations about the 80s, when we all dyed our hair-sprayed, 80s-mullet-style hair purple and rocked out to Def Leppard and screamed until our throats were raw at Duran Duran concerts, don't happen. And if they do, I'll get the eyebrow raise.)

(Yes, I've gotten the eyebrow raise. It's then that I steer the conversation back to safer topics, such as The Cute Things Our Babies Do and The Finer Points of Pat-a-Cake.)

The thing I've always hated about social situations is that I feel like an actor onstage with no lines. Give me my lines, and I'm fine. Put me in front of a classroom with my script, and I'll do great. Heck, put me in front of an auditorium full of people, and I can be as polished, witty, and interesting as any practiced speaker. That's because I know my lines.

And believe you me, I've worked very hard at learning lines for different social situations. I've become quite good at "being social"—good enough, at least, that most people have a hard time believing that I'm the shy, crowd-hating introvert that I am. I know that those skills will atrophy in these years that Scout is my human shield, and that, like the Outer Life author, I'll have a difficult time once Scout is old enough to run off with the other kids, leaving me awkward and mumbling with the adults.

I can already tell that I'm losing my hard-earned touch, in those few situations where I'm among adults and Scout is with her father, or her sitter, or the sweet little old lady at church who's holding her.

But I'll worry about that later. For now, I welcome the fact that social situations are not the stress-inducing experiences they were before Scout was born. I'm gladly bowing out of the responsibility to make small talk in favor of floating at the periphery of the phenomenon that is my delightful nine-month-old child. I'm happy to retreat to quiet rooms to nurse her, and to leave the party early because the baby needs her rest.

It's a good life. I think I'll enjoy the next four or five years of it.

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