I’m quite a reserved person around most people. When those people aren’t looking, though, I am an unabashed, all-singing, all-dancing spectacle. I don’t know if the same is true for other outwardly reserved people. I’ve come to believe it is not, based on what I have heard, even though intuitively it feels like it should be.
My son is an all-singing, all-dancing spectacle. But, often, around other people, he’s gone quiet. At nursery, in particular, he was not at all the same person as he was at home. I worried that my reservation around people – my ineptitude with small talk, my politeness overbearing my warmth, my stance of one foot in and one foot out when stopped in the street – had rubbed off on him. I worried he’d already caught my reserved-person-ness, and that is not something I want to burden another all-singing, all-dancing spectacle with.
When lockdown was decreed, my concern was heightened. Now he wasn’t getting the socialisation he was previously getting, away from me. Now, not only was I his overwhelmingly primary influence, but it was also mainly just me and him, and some occasional strangers we had to stay away from. I tried not to entertain the visions of him refusing to make eye contact with anyone outside of the home by the end of all this.
But something different happened. He doesn’t go quiet around strangers anymore. An old man went by and asked if he’d found anything good in the dirt he was sifting though, and instead of looking down with a shy smile, he said he’d found some rocks, and they had a fairly extended conversation where they exchanged names and opinions about worms, cleared up some questions about his trike, and talked about how old and decrepit I am.
Now, he’s even started soliciting conversation with strangers. He shouts hello to other children he likes the look of. He talks very loudly about the huskies we see so their owners feel obliged to stop. We passed an old lady in the street the other day, he said hello, and when she replied, he asked her if she’d been shopping. He was climbing a tree in the park today and when a young girl walked past with her dog he shouted to her “look at meeeee!”. We had a short conversation with my neighbours earlier, and when they went inside he kept repeating ‘see you later!’ louder and louder until they replied.
Something has changed, and I don’t know if it’s something I did right, or if this is a developmental thing, or if he’s just so starved for human interaction that he’s had to take it upon himself.
But now I think it’s time to start worrying about what my version of ‘don’t talk to strangers’ needs to be.