A few weeks ago my friend Chuck told me that I was the most anti-social, social person he knew. I know what he means.
I love people. I have lots of friends. I love talking to my friends. I love helping people and talking to them. I actually make my living writing about parties. But, I hate groups. I hate belonging to groups, I hate being expected to show up to group events. I love hosting parties in part because I can spend most of the time in the kitchen taking care of things, instead of in the living room interacting with a large group of people (not that you should take this as an excuse to cut me from your guest list. I may not love groups, but I hate being excluded from them).
I spent the past four years on the board of the preschool where Chuck and I send our kids. In fact, I’ve been the social chair of the board for three years. I like all of the parents on the board individually (OK, some I could do without), I believe in the mission of the board, the meetings were useful and organized (sort of) and both brownies and wine were served. Still once a month I found myself gritting my teeth as I got in the car to go the meetings. It was not the meetings themselves, it was the IDEA of the meetings, that I would have to go and sit in a group and work with a group, that I had a responsibility to the team to show up.
I am what I understand to be the definition of an introvert. I am not shy, I am not afraid of people. But, I have so much internal stimulation that groups of people make me crazy. Too much external stimulation makes me want to retreat to a quiet space. The same is true of my daughter. The difference is though, my daughter LOVES joining groups.
Girl Scouts, school choir, t-ball and soccer, if there’s a group she’ll join it (especially if she gets a uniform, another thing I hate). I’ve always been leery of my daughter’s love of groups, with good reason. When she was three we tried a group music class. She sat on a couch outside the circle. I sat in the circle surrounded by happy moms and kids, clapping my hands like a Faulknerian idiot. It felt like a waste of money and it didn’t help when another mom asked me, “What kind of disorder does your daughter have?”
I still worry when I see my girl in groups. After the school choir concert I see the other girls laughing and playing while she holds her father’s hand to get a much-deserved cookie. On the t-ball bench, she sits quietly watching the game, while the other girls on the team stand behind her laughing, dancing and yelling cheers for their teammates. She creates her own private, quiet space in the middle of the noisy group. It makes me want to cry. It makes me want to scoop her up and run from the room, to get her out of there before someone asks her, “What’s your disorder?”
But, when we get home from the t-ball game, she teaches the rest of the family the cheers and the dance moves that go with them. That’s why I don’t try to discourage her from joining groups and teams. I know that for one or two hours that week this girl who has such trouble dealing with groups, has still gotten to be “part of the team.”
The closest thing I had to a group activity as a child was Suzuki Group violin classes. It’s no wonder given my natural inclinations and my lack of practice, I didn’t really develop the skills to handle groups.
But as crazy as it makes me, my daughter is getting that chance. Loving adults, all of whom are more socially adept than I am, have taken time out of their lives to be Girl Scout leaders, choir teachers and sports’ coaches. In addition to teaching sports or singing skills, they’re teaching kids how to interact with each other, how to treat each other, they’re teaching my child something I can’t, how to be a team player.