Two weeks after her first birthday, I decided it was time K made friends. I registered us for a mommy and baby music class in Brooklyn – a carpeted sanctuary rife with sitars, tom-tom drums, and silk scarves used for impromptu Latin dancing. Then I went home and proceeded to plot ways I could extort a refund from the nice bearded man at the music studio.
I believe in the idea of mommy and baby music. But here’s the issue: the thought of sitting in a diner sharing coffee with strange moms after class – moms who probably have strong beliefs about breastfeeding – made me antsy. I have few close acquaintances, am a dismal small-talker, and haven’t made a new friend in 15 years – the definition of an introvert, according to Myers-Briggs. We are that misunderstood segment of society that retreats mentally, prefers intimate occasions to big soirees, renders group brainstorms at work impossible, and chooses writing about why we don’t want friends over sitting in a diner making them.
But my K is different. K is not a girl who is staying home on a Friday night to wash her hair.
The evidence that my husband was a Vegas showboy in some past life hits us at every milestone. The day she started walking, she led me straight into groups of people we didn’t know on the street. On car trips, my husband and I turn on the iPod and K begins fake coughing, persisting until we’re forced to concede that a person who fears the shower drain has manipulated us into speaking.
And then there’s the shtick.
Enter her room after a long nap and she’s leaning on the front rail of her crib like she just ordered an espresso at Café Rienzi. She smiles, lets you inch closer, and then – wham! – bodyslams herself down on the mattress, keeping her head plastered to the sheet long enough to give you a heart attack. In her world, exploration is superior to PDA. Kiss her and she’ll gaze off like she’s in a perfume advertisement. It’s like raising the love child of Jack Tripper and Brigitte Bardot.
Despite my reservations, I take K to our music class. All of the children, save the redhead who has already been scolded for smearing her chocolate donut on a drum, are curled up on their mothers’ laps. A four-year-old – four! – is napping with her head on her mother’s thighs. Bearded man straps an acoustic guitar around his neck and leads us in the welcome song.
And K is off. Bless his heart, bearded man has perfected a look that says: it’s developmentally appropriate that your daughter is dashing from the window to the radiator, the whole time shrieking, “What’s that? What’s that?” K pauses in front of Leah, an 11-month-old with a Page Boy haircut and the plump, spooky face of a Bisque doll, and decides they are going to be friends. To prove this, she reaches out and tries to remove Leah’s eyeballs. Just to ensure there is no ambiguity over her intentions, she pulls a tambourine out of Leah’s hand, laughs like they are having the grandest time, then drops her and charges over to the sleeping four-year-old to shake her arm out of its socket. It would be easy to cast K as a hellion if she weren’t so into people for artless reasons – they have pleasant voices that she wants to hear or because she is burning to meet a child so unorthodox she can sleep through impromptu Latin dance.
In high school and college I felt I could only have control over my own destiny when there was no chance of interference from others. I had my little routines – make a pot of coffee, write a bit, take the subway alone to Prince Street, mull around Housing Works, go back home, sew an appliqué on a T-shirt, go to sleep. I never felt anxious in a quiet room. But there were also times when I kicked myself for missing an event that two friends now shared forever between them. There were days I sat by myself at Alt Coffee and wondered what the person next to me was reading, but wouldn’t have known how to start a conversation that didn’t sound wooden.
I consider the possibility that K may never experience the hollow feeling that sometimes goes hand in hand with craving solitude, and I feel relieved. I imagine her strolling up to a group of strangers after an art exhibit and offering her critique without being asked to do so. With each new car ride demand or attempt to detach another child’s fingers from her hand, my husband and I struggle to find the appropriate reaction that will assure K that we don’t want to change her. We’re even softening on the idea that it might not be bad to join a group once in awhile.