sideways rabbit

Friday, February 3, 2012

He's Not Shy, He's Just Not That Into You

My son is a bit of a snob.

No surface preferences or privileges betray this. He's not a five-year-old "foodie" who goes for kale over crackers and mango lassies over chocolate milk. Not that there's anything wrong with that: We know plenty of such pint-sized epicureans in Asheville. He hasn't been to Disneyworld, although I am hoping to introduce him someday soon to Dollywood, our own mountain theme park. And he definitely doesn't have a passport. (It only took me about 15 seconds to recall at least four of his little acquaintances who had visited Europe by their third birthday. Not that there's anything wrong with that, either.)

We are a proud working-class family of small means. If we ever make it abroad, it may not happen until Beau is a strapping young man steering his aging parents down the Rue de la Paix by their arthritic elbows.

And yet there it is -- he's a bit of a snob. We first noticed this tendency when he was just five months old, in Sam's Club. He was perched inside his little bucket carrier deep inside one of those mondo-sized carts, and we passed a demo man hawking paring knives in an exceptionally loud, grating voice.

"Look at him!" said my husband, meaning the baby. If an infant can sneer, Beau was doing it. His eyebrows were arched like the Gothic roof of The Duomo, his mouth pursed in silent disbelief. He looked like a kewpie-cheeked incarnation of Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy.

A few years later, an early preschool teacher called him "aloof," a spot-on assessment I tucked into my heart with a knowing chuckle.

His frosty demeanor is usually construed as shyness. So many only children are shy: it only makes sense. Then again, my twin sister and I could have made the list of Shyest Children in Human History, if such records were compiled. It wasn't a charming shyness. It was constant fear, constant tears, a self-consciousness that manifested into a morbid disinclination to meet anyone or try anything new.

Beau's not shy in the same way. To be sure, he dislikes strangers, especially the annoying kind who bring too much desperate vitality to the table. "Hey, buddy! I wish I was your age again. You have the life! Give me five. Harder. Come on. You can do it. What's wrong? I won't bite!!!" Ask him one of the old, tired questions -- "So, what do you want to be when you grow up?" -- and he will give a practiced shrug that would be downright rude, were it not so leisurely.

I wish I'd had that self-assured shrug in my repertoire when I was growing up. Who says we have to answer all these pushy people wanting us to conform to their hollow, clownish posture? I was 30 by the time I learned to compose my face in a neutral, pleasant expression so that strangers would quit roaring "SMILE!" at me on the street. All those times I was pegged by the Smile Nazis, I'd never been particularly sad to begin with. I was just being myself, thinking to myself. A trifle gloomy, but all right. I was born with a sad face -- I can't help it.

I'm grateful that, so far, Beau's perceived aloofness isn't holding him back too badly in the social department. (Given the chance to ease into a mode of affection, he will give his all. He has certain friends he adores, like the one we met yesterday at the nature center, who was very good-natured about the fact that Beau was gleefully rubbing his head against him like a cat. At home, he's so close to his daddy they're like complementary ingredients in a burrito.)

It's even served him well, in some cases. Like when he was waiting for his turn in his first karate exhibition and, while he should have been nervous and high-strung, instead sat stock-still and assumed a look of such boredom I could have sworn he was preserving his chi.

I should probably talk to him about not appearing so darn haughty when a certain kind of person pelts him with their forward questions and demands for vivacity. But first, I'm taking a lesson.


  1. Beautiful. Reminds me of the time a hazard of competitive alternative moms cloaked their competitive alternative checklist with saccharine concern that Nick was finally speaking. The wish- I -could- have- said-it-retort smoldered in my cowardly heart, "No, it's just the first time he had spoken to you. Dazzling flights of sentence structure welcome the dawn in stunning syntax every morning from this golden boy!"

  2. Sweet Nick!! Thank you for sharing that.
    Beau was a late talker, too. So were my sister and me, for that matter. My dad recently told me the doctor told him and my mother to "brace themselves" for a diagnosis of "mild mental retardation" in our case, first when we wouldn't talk, then again when we couldn't do basic gym-class stuff by kindergarten. But by first grade when they discovered we could read on a junior-high level the doctors stopped saying that. Three decades later one would hope there'd be more tolerance for kids who were "different." But I think they're just more apt to have a new label put on them.