Last week we went to see my parents back up t’north. It was just lovely to be welcomed back into the warmth of the familial bosom, and I am not going to lie, it was even better to have someone else clean the high chair (the high chair is officially my nemesis, constantly crusted in the concrete that is dried Weetabix). But what wasn’t so good about being with the ‘rentals was that they couldn’t pick Bella up and cuddle her any more. In the six weeks since they last saw her she’s developed full on stranger danger and separation anxiety. My parents aren’t complete strangers, but they live so far away that they are definitely on the “stranger spectrum.” So every time they tried to lift her she would look back at me with confusion brimming in her eyes and then switch to full on red-browed squall within moments. This is sad for them, as they just want to shower her with affection, especially my Dad, who turns from gruff northern gent into PUDDLE OF GOO whenever Bella smiles.
I have found separation anxiety really hard to deal with over the last couple of months even though I know it is JUST A PHASE and I know it won’t last forever. Part of this is frustration that it’s so traumatic to hand her over to other people, when she used to be so happy to be passed like a parcel around a group of big cooing adult faces. People don’t seem to be very understanding of this behaviour in a baby. Some take it as a challenge. It’s like when you go out with a playa and you think you will be THE one to change him. “He just hasn’t met the right girl,” you say as he tries it on with every Lycra clad vagina in the immediate vicinity. People also think they will be THE one to change Bella, THE one she won’t cry on, so they keep on trying to pick her up. And trying. It turns into the oh-so-fun game of who can make my baby cry the most. Or they back off so fast they trip over their own feet, with a look of horror in their eyes, like she is a wild mustang to be feared, and ask me if she’s always been this difficult and clingy.
The separation anxiety has also made me start to ask what kind of person Bella will become, and wonder if she will be introverted or shy. Now, there is NOTHING wrong with this, nothing at all, but I am nervous because I used to be introverted and found it very difficult. “WHAT?” I hear those who know me cry. “Introverted! YOU? You could talk wallpaper off the wall.” And that is true now, but this wasn’t always the case.
When I was at school I was a figure of fun. Why? Well, because kids can be mean and I gave them plenty of fodder, a) I was aggressively tall and skinny, all elbows and knees, with snooker player spectacles (prompting the nickname “stick insect”), b) I had a MULLET and I only washed it once a week if it was lucky (prompting the nickname “chip pan head” and c) I was introverted…and introverted was always said as if it was a VERY BAD THING. At one point my teachers even had a quiet word with my parents about this. So it always seemed to me that my self-contained way of dealing with the world was just wrong, and that I should be trying harder to pass myself off as an extrovert. All this pressure was dumped on a poor adolescent riddled in hormones who looked like a cross between Billy Ray Cyrus and Timmy Mallet.
Over time I learned to adapt and change how I interacted with the world (and lost the mullet), but the idea that being quiet is a stigma has stayed with me. Even now I find it hard to leave my entire personality spread eagled on the table at first meet. So with this pedigree I worry about Bella. I keep descending down my own private ‘what if’ rabbit hole. What if she can’t talk to anyone at school, has no mates, and spends her time locked in her room listening to mournful EMO music, with too much eyeliner on, wearing waistcoats with small mirrors sewn onto them (flashback alert)? What if she LIKES REM?? What if she ends up getting called Big Bella? I mean she’s going to be tall with us as parents. You can’t fight genes. What if she never leaves her own bed,not even for custard creams, having to be winched out aged 30 as I look on wringing my hands, clutching my pearls and wailing “if only…”
Before I reach for the gin (read as I reach for the gin), I need to have a strong talk with myself. Why does it matter, so what if she is quiet? Apparently over a third of the population are introverts. Not only that, we need introverts. They are some of the most creative and powerful people driving society forwards, and that’s a whole different blog post in itself. Whatever Bella ends up becoming, all I can do is support her and love her. I will save her from strangers until she is cool with them again. And I pledge now to never make her feel wanting or guilty for how she is. Unless she is listening to REM, then judgement will be passed and words will be had.
(PS. Try reading Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’)