I don’t want people to call my kid “shy.”
For months, I’ve been expecting someone to describe him this way. I knew it was coming. I knew it because his personality is similar to mine: reserved, cautious, thoughtful. And I know how those qualities can appear to someone who doesn’t share them – it looks like shyness.
A very kind, well-meaning nurse at his allergist’s office last week was the first one to utter the word. “Oh, you’re shy, huh?” She it said sweetly as Ryan backed away from her stethoscope.
I sometimes talk about how Ryan is cautious. While being so cautious might be a little quirky for a kid who isn’t even 2 years old, I certainly don’t view it as a negative quality. I see it as sort of studious. Mature, even.
But “shy”? “Shy” bugs me.
Shy has a negative connotation. It’s a flaw. An endearing flaw, maybe, but still a flaw. At the very least, it’s a social disadvantage.
I grew up thinking I was shy. People used that word to describe me often enough when I was little that at some point, I began using it myself. But now that I’m at a point in my life where I feel like I really know myself, I can be more objective and say: I am not shy.
What I am is an introvert. There is a difference. I observe and think and consider before I join a conversation. As much as I love my family and friends, I need quiet time to myself to relax and unwind.
But I was also a reporter for several years and can’t possibly count the number of times I walked up to a perfect stranger and said something like, “Hi, I’m Meghan from *publication.* These gas prices are crazy, no? Tell me, how the heck are you dealing with it? Carpooling more? Frankly, carpooling isn’t an option for me…”
Do I prefer to start conversations like that with strangers all the time? No, I do not prefer it. But I do not fear it, and it does not give me anxiety.
When the nurse called Ryan shy, I wanted to say “No, he’s just wary of people in doctors’ offices because he’s encountered a lot of pain and discomfort in spaces just like this in his short life. I’m sure he’ll warm up to you when he’s ready and trusts that you won’t hurt him.”
I wanted to say that, but I didn’t. Instead, I bit my tongue and smiled. My reasoning in the moment was that he was still too young to understand what she said, so there was no need to make her feel uncomfortable with my correction.
But now I think I should have said it. Because some point soon, he will understand and I don’t want someone else defining who Ryan is by putting their own descriptions on behaviors they might be misinterpreting. I don’t want him to act shy because he’s been told he is shy and figures it must be true. Nor do I want him to think that the label of shyness is an easy excuse to keep to himself. Life is all about communication and social interaction, and whether or not it comes naturally is irrelevant – it has to be mastered.
It probably seems like a small thing. But I think the way we label our children – or passively allow others to label them – affects the way they define themselves at an early age.
So from now on, anyone who calls him “shy” will be corrected.