Orchid Children and the Power of Quiet

My brother and I were sitting in my living room one day, discussing his little cherub.

By the age of 3, he was already a great conversationalist, and by age 7 had lists of families he wanted to invite for Sunday brunch.  My nephew’s Sundays involve more socialising than I do in a month, and that is to say nothing of his after school activities.

Luckily for him, this child is no introvert, because suddenly my brother blurted out:

“I would hate to have a quiet kid,” he laughs, “Imagine that, sitting there, reading all his little books and doing all his homework – I couldn’t think of anything worse!”

Right at that moment, the chasm between my brother and I couldn’t have been wider.  I mean, he basically just described my entire childhood, so I’m tipping I wasn’t his ideal kind of sis….

Fast forward a couple of years, and imagine my delight when, in the middle of some Amazon research, I click on a cover entitled Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

This may be old news already – it was Amazon’s best book of the month in January this year.  But the book is profound enough for me to want to share it anyway…

All these years, while I was whining about being misunderstood, Susan Cain was going to the trouble of researching and writing an eloquent paper on the plight of us quieter types.

This is not an objective review.  As Hallie Sawyer points out in her post on reviews vs recommendations, that would involve a degree of impartiality when, actually, I’d already decided the book was great based on its cover.  Having now read it, permit me to make a bold recommendation:

Everyone in the ‘Western’ world should read this book.

The stunning thing about it is the clear and intricate story Susan Cain weaves through an array of otherwise complex studies.  It includes:

  • An historical analysis of the “extrovert ideal” in America, revealing ways in which it may have failed introverts and, by extension, their society.
  • A look at the distinction between shyness, sensitivity and introversion, allowing for a wide variance on the introvert/extrovert continuum.
  • A helpful questionnaire for those who don’t know where they sit (if you answered ‘True’ to all questions as I did, you are one of the unlucky ones).

But two chapters stand out for me.

One is her analysis of cultural differences in extroversion.  While trying to avoid fixed lines between East and West, Susan finally explained to me some reasons why I’ve always found myself gravitating towards people of ‘other cultures’.

Apparently, it’s not just about cultural cringe 🙂

More revealing still is the chapter that explores the role of biology and environment in forming temperament.  It highlights profound differences in the way extroverts and introverts process ‘stimuli’.

This means, amazingly enough, there is actual science behind the fact that I’m not into Friday night bar crawls!

The great news is it’s not the end of the world for those of us born with more ‘reactive’ or ‘introverted’ temperaments.

We are “more like orchids: they wilt easily, but under the right conditions can grow strong and magnificent”.

The place Susan arrives at is a beautiful balance between nature and nurture – and a highly empowering statement.

For me personally, it is all the more empowering for the way that we are left with the feeling that being a little quieter, or slower, or less social than others is not a crime.  In fact, we’re needed just the way we are.

Yes, Susan Cain is critical of a cultural imbalance towards extroversion.  But she’s not the enemy of extroverts (and nor am I, in case you’re wondering).  We simply would not survive without the buzz of our near and dearest extroverts.

And therein lies the key to the power of this book.  What we are left with is a refreshing guide for harmonious relationships, making clear the onus is on both us ‘types’ to make it work.

Thankfully, this also includes tips for parents with my brother’s ‘worst nightmare’ type of child.  So should Karma ever bring him an orchid child, instead of just smiling smugly, I can at least buy him a copy of Susan Cain’s book 😉

For those of you who are – or know – an orchid child, maybe this resonates?  Feel free to share some stories, or tips on how to help them bloom…

A Fairytale for Grown-ups

I’m so excited this week I don’t know where to start.  But it feels like there’s a buzz in the air – is this just me?

Earlier this week I read a post, again by The Man of the Minivan, which detailed a funny – but much more cynical view – of kids’ stories than the one I’m about to tell.  How a child’s book, read through an adult’s eyes, suddenly becomes a story about…politics?

Personally, I love the way that kids’ stories are able to whittle down the complex issues to their barest, human bones.

And that is exactly what this modern fairy tale does.  Just don’t expect a fluffy ride – it’s called Brave for a reason, right? 🙂

It is the perfect answer to my quandary last week, when I stumbled upon a Grimm tale about fear and bravery.  I’ll try not to include too many spoilers.

Merida is the gorgeous, spirited Princess from the Scottish ruling clan of four.  Presented with a bow and arrow for her birthday as a child, she grows into a fiery teen who breaks all rules of Princessly decorum.  What’s a girl to do when she’s the apple of her father’s burly eye?

The clincher comes when Merida learns of her planned betrothal to the winner of the Highland Games, where the three eldest sons of the other clans compete to win her hand.

From here, the story unfolds as a battle of wills between mother and daughter, duty and independence, tradition and progress.  And it’s one selfish little tantrum that she throws!

It might be hard to believe that a Princess of that time would be quite so rebellious.  But we are talking fiction, here, and the joy is living vicariously through characters much braver and more selfish than we could hope to be.  (Plus, one only has to take a look at the husbands-to-be to take that ride!)

Merida’s rebellion takes a dark turn involving a will-o’-the-wisp, a wicked witch and a (quite literal) return to the wild.  The only way through is the hardest of all – to mend that familial rift.

There’s lots of little fun things along the way – like her impish triplet brothers whom she bribes to do her will.  The warm, loving and otherwise clueless men of the clan who are too busy fighting and drinking to know what’s going on.  The buxom maid.  The rest – you’ll have to watch to see.

I love this movie.  It is PG rated, but it’s not for the faint hearted.  So beware of your grown-up sensitivities and if you’re scared of your child’s emancipation, maybe stick with Cinderalla 🙂

If not, you could learn a thing or two.

Bravery is a balance.  While it can call for might, it sometimes also requires a more humble kind of resoluteness.  It is the hardest thing in the world to do, because it means negotiation and a compromise.

The happily ever after is suspended for a much more grown-up take on hope.  And what I really dig is that neither Merida nor her mother come out of this unchanged.

In the end, they learn from each other.  The child teaches her mother the value of breaking tradition, and the daughter learns the value of the legends that have gone before.  The solution – surprise, surprise – benefits the entire kingdom somewhere along the lines of ‘make love, not war’.

In a world of uncertainty, where tradition seems somehow to fail us, it gives us hope.

As Merida says:

“Legends teach us things.  But we are young.  Our stories haven’t yet been told…”

There are lots of political lessons to be taken away from this, too, if you want to go there.  For example, the fact that the lead character is a red head caught in a political crossfire (anyone seen our PM lately?) is not lost on me.  But that’s a whole other sad story.

They might be the rarest of them all, but I think it’s fair to say, in this instance, the reds have it.

Have you seen the movie?  What are your thoughts?  Is it just another kids’ story, or are there worthy lessons to be learned?

The Best Man in My Life

What a rollercoaster ride this blogging business is!  Having dived in headfirst last week, I got to Monday and suddenly realized a few things:

–       I have to do this every week

–       I have no idea what to say to the thousand (Twitter) voices in my head

–       I need to get out of bed earlier!

Then I saw Coleen Patrick’s new blog and nearly had a tear.  Leaning into the Leap is a beautiful and inspiring lesson about the things we don’t want to do (or think we can’t), and the lessons we can learn from dogs.  It was so simple, and so profound, that I simply had to share it – here, on Twitter – everywhere.

On an entirely different note, it’s the little things that keep us going, right?  The biggest buzz for a newbie is getting a Like on your page within half on hour of putting it out there!

Ellayourbella was my first Like!  I’ve seen her around a few times now, and have no idea how she finds us newbie’s, but the best surprise of all was her blog.  An uncensored, wicked-funny romp through “My Discarded Men” – with some solid advice for single women (and men) on the dating scene (did I mention Uncensored?).

Anyway, for very different reasons, this blog is dedicated to Coleen and Ella – for keeping me going 🙂

Relationships are funny things.  The superficial ones you always know you have to work at and so, in an odd way, you don’t take them for granted.  But then there are those other ones that stick around, so long a forgotten limb – until they’re (nearly) gone.

You’d think sixteen years might make me pay attention.  But next thing I’m sitting in the therapist’s chair and she states, as if it’s nothing, “Well, he’s probably the most consistent relationship in your life up until now!”

And that was the moment that I woke up to the fact that the best man in my life was of the fur persuasion!

Meet Pepi

I met Pepi when I was eighteen years old.  As is usually the case with these things, it wasn’t like I went looking for him.  It was my flatmate at the time who wanted a man pup – but when I saw his brother, it was love at first sight.

I didn’t realize then that he was probably too young to be brought home, so little surprise now that he has a Mommy complex.

But who could blame me?  The morning after the first night – he loved me more, not less!  Before long, he was the only one with a toe fetish that was impossible to resist 🙂

When I think about it now, he has always had a lot going for him on the man stakes:

–       easy to clean up after

–       relentlessly positive and chirpy

–       fiercely loyal and protective of his girl

–       able to be physically controlled restrained in volatile situations of his own making

And that’s not all.

He always notices my sense of style!  The day I shaved off all my hair, he was particularly incensed.  Whether it was because he didn’t like it, or didn’t recognize me, either way his outrage was well founded, showing he’s a man of taste.

But best of all he loves me most in my daggiest of states (Aussie slang for ‘unfashionable, untidy and dirty’).  Okay, that is probably self-serving on his part, as it means (luckily for the rest of the world) that I’m not leaving home.  Still, it’s nice to be loved for who you are.

Which brings me to the present and the reason for my visit to the Doc.  I can’t leave home anymore.  The last time I did, after four days away, he had started on his own Advanced Vetcare Directive of Nil by Mouth.

The time before that, when I left him for a day with a friend at a retirement village, he cried so hard all day the neighbours worried he’d be next.

It turns out sweet sixteen is not so sweet for the little fella, especially when I’m not around.

I’m left with two choices.  One is – forever.  The other is – ‘inconvenient’, but it is a second chance.

It requires medication for his mind, pain relief for his bones, a walk every day before breakfast, home cooked meals and treats and Me – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I think about the times I lived alone with him, huddled in front of a bar heater in the gloomy Melbourne winter, watching Xena while he gnawed my shoe.  He was there.  He was always there.  And once he’s gone, he’s gone.  At least now he has no doubt that he’s the Best Man in My Life.

What about you?  Do you have loved ones of the fur persuasion?  Do they know they’re loved?  What would you do if you had a second chance?