Recently, our entire family was invited to a friend's graduation party. I knew there was one of us who wouldn't want to go.
Our youngest son, Colin, avoids crowds, large or small. He takes his time getting to know people. Once he becomes your friend, he's loyal, attentive and conversant. Before that, he might as well be one of Madame Tussauds' wax figures for all the interaction you'll get.
One does not simply approach Colin and get instant clap-you-on-the-back chumminess. But closeness will come with time. If he can surreptitiously check you out first, that's good too.
We all went to the party, over Colin's protests, on my insistence that he would indeed go, and be friendly, and have cake. In return, I'd make sure the visit lasted fewer than 40 minutes.
Our chatty hostess greeted us at the door. A set of grandparents and various aunts, uncles, cousins and brothers amicably introduced themselves and made polite conversation. I was soon caught up in an exchange with the graduate's aunt about college campus visits.
I looked over at one point and saw Colin backed into a corner, trying to be small as possible. He grasped a plate in both hands, on which rested a giant, untouched piece of chocolate cake.
As promised, after 40 minutes, I made overtures to leave. Our hostess wrapped her arm around Colin, pried him from the corner and whispered conspiratorially into his ear.
I could see him leaning away from her. I hoped she didn't notice.
Really, if I'd had my druthers, and it wasn't, well, a weird thing to do, I'd have prepped our hostess and her whole friendly family beforehand with tips about my introverted kid:
1. He is not timid, shy or stuck up. Given time -- and really, only time -- he'll warm up. When the two of you do connect, he will smile and it will light up his face. He will tell you stories and ask you questions and laugh at your jokes. And it will feel like a gift.
2. He's not a hugger, at least not he knows you well. For Colin, bodily contact of any kind (other than the perfunctory handshake) is uncomfortable right at first.
3. He doesn't mean to be disrespectful. He may not look at you directly, but he's not surly. Eye contact can feel intrusive to him, and his avoidance of it at first may mean he doesn't know you well enough to know it's OK with you.
4. By the time we arrived at your party, he was already stressed, and it's my fault. Being late is a chronic problem of mine, and it puts Colin on his heels in social situations. Entering a room where people are already gathered and talking makes him feel like an outsider.
Being the cause of an awkward hush in conversation is the stuff of nightmares.
When I'm really on my game, we arrive at social functions early so he can interact with people as they arrive, warming up as a larger group forms. All I can say is I'm working on my ability to be prompt.
5. I'm not allowed to brag about him in public or on Facebook, which is a shame, because I think he's awesome. He'd rather never be the topic of conversation, although he has given permission for this blog.
6. He misses very little. He may not participate in the conversation, or even look like he's listening, but he'll remember everything you say, as well as any respect you show his initial need for space.
7. Once you have his trust, it's yours, unequivocally, for life. He will tell everyone what a great person you are.
8. He knows the qualities of extroverts are valued, and he's working at developing a few of his own every day.
These are things I wished I could have told our hostess, as I saw Colin leaning away from her embrace. They're the words I'd like to paint on the bubble in which I'd encase him before sending him into the world, or on a sandwich board I'd make him wear.
In lieu of either bubble or sandwich board option, we've taken to reminding him constantly about the need to interact with others, that eye contact signifies respect, a light touch shows compassion and a smile is always welcome.
We don't want Colin to change. We value his strength, integrity, intelligence and love of the written word. Building a level of comfort in social settings will make it easier for him to attend public functions without seeking the nearest corner in which to retreat.
Beth Markley blogs at www.manicmumbling.com