Thunder Bay, Ont. writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences.
I’ve written about our camping trip this summer, and my conversion from reluctant to enthusiastic tent-dweller. We spent a glorious week in August at a provincial park campground, the gloriousness of it all made possible in large part because of the constant, easy company of other families with kids.
Rowan and Isaac would wake up each morning, eat, and then run off with their posse of playmates. But each afternoon, Rowan would return to our campsite and curl up in the tent with a book. By himself. For hours.
For the first few days, I wondered if something was wrong: Why didn’t he want to play with the other kids? Was he being anti-social by skipping out on that game of beach baseball? Was he upset by something? Had he fought with another kid?
And then it hit me: my eight-year-old is an introvert.
I’m surprised I hadn’t thought of it sooner. I’m a classic introvert. There’s a reason (besides the compulsion to write all the time and my lack of most other marketable skills) I became a freelance writer: it means that I can spend almost all day, every workday, alone in my home office. I’m by no means shy — and neither is Rowan — but I need a lot of time on my own in order to function once I do emerge into the world of people. I love a good dinner party, but I’m exhausted by the end of one. I love stimulating conversation, but once I hit my stimulation saturation point, I’m done. This past summer, a friend and I led two 90-minute writing workshops. By the end of the second one, I was happy, but utterly spent, as though somebody had carved my heart out of my chest with a jagged spoon.
As it turns out, Rowan seems to feel the same way. If he’s surrounded by people, eventually he’ll need a break from them, some time alone with a book and his thoughts to recharge. He’s the kind of kid who can spend hours by himself in his room, reading or sorting out his Pokémon cards or setting up miniature games of soccer with his action figures. Contrast that to Isaac, who hates to be alone: while his older brother needs to tune out of the world with some downtime, Isaac is, well, around pretty much constantly. And when he’s around, he talks nonstop, or begs us to read to him or to let him watch a movie. He needs stimulation just as much as his older brother need some quiet time.
It’s funny just how much that realization — he’s an introvert! — has changed the way I think about Rowan. Now, when he takes himself off to his room, I don’t worry about him being anti-social — instead, I’m proud of him for taking steps to preserve his own mental health. Now that I recognize him as a fellow introvert, I’m more empathetic (or, at least, I hope I’m more empathetic) when he gets frustrated after too much stimulation. And I try harder to build in downtime to our roster of activities.
And sometimes, when he’s in his room, reading, I grab my own book and lie down next to him on his bed, and read with him. I did that on Saturday, and he looked up about 20 minutes in and said, “Oh, hi, Mom. I didn’t know you were there.”