My beautiful wife Adrianne and I have four kids — a 16-year-old, a 13-year-old, and two 10’s — and I love them all to pieces. I’d step in front of a truck for any one of them.
Sometimes, though, I want to eat them.
Introversion and parenting don’t always mix very well. As an introverted person (special note to children everywhere: parents are indeed people) I crave a little peace and quiet in my day, either to re-energize or to remain energized in the first place. As an introverted parent I get fake fart noises at breakfast and blaring Weird Al songs after lunch and whining about [fill in the blank] in the middle of the day and random-fact-sharing competitions after dinner that do absolutely zilch for the quality of the kids’ kitchen cleaning, to say nothing of my psyche. Makes me feel like The Grinch: “Oh, the noise, noise, noise!”
As an introverted person I long for some time alone, some blissful solitude, to think and regroup and just be. As an introverted parent I am almost always surrounded by anywhere between one and four needy birds, cheeping in unison with their mouths wide open as they beg for an attention worm.
As an introverted person I dream of focusing on one thing, one activity, one human being at a time. As an introverted parent I can’t spend 20 seconds on the phone without a kid interrupting my conversation with some global crisis — like “he’s/she’s touching me!” or “somebody stole my Legos!” (“somebody” is responsible for a lot of crime in our house) or “I can’t find my [fill in the blank]!” All voiced with obligatory desperation and exclamation points, naturally.
As an introverted person I pray to have to say something only once and be done with it for all time. As an introverted parent I have to repeat myself constantly — repeatedly repeating my repeats and recycling endlessly through apparently complex instructions like “you gotta blow your nose when you’re stuffed up” and “the guinea pig cage isn’t self-cleaning” and “you’re not required to ransack your entire dresser drawer, like you’re an overzealous cop executing a search warrant, just to get the shirt you want at the bottom.”
AAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHH! Let the feasting begin!
But wait a minute. Not so fast.
A few years ago when my even-more-introverted-than-I-am dad was still alive, I asked him how it had come to pass that he and my mother had been abducted by space aliens and replaced with look-alikes who were most certainly not act-alikes. It was obvious to me that something had happened to my real parents, because the two old impostors standing in front of me were routinely giving our kids ice cream for breakfast and picking up all their garbage for them and tossing $100 bills into their birthday cards.
“Cripes, Dad, you never did this stuff for us when we were kids!” I crabbed at him one day. “What the hell happened to you and Mom when you became grandparents?! Who stole my mommy and daddy?! What is going on?!”
I was expecting a complicated, lengthy response. But instead, in true introvert form, my dad answered with one word and one word only.
I had to think about his reply for a few seconds; it didn’t register right away. But then it clicked.
“Oh my god, Dad,” I whispered. “All the crap the kids do that I’m always telling you about: We did that same stuff to you and Mom … didn’t we.”
“What do you think?” he asked, not needing to wait for my lame answer.
He was right, of course. We were equally horrible as kids — or at least my three siblings were! But somehow I had convinced myself that when my poor introverted dad had come home from a long day at work and had sought out a little uninterrupted quiet in his garage or had issued a seemingly simple instruction, we had responded “Yes, Fathah” in an English accent — and had then darted off not only to cook dinner, but to clean our rooms and take baths and brush our teeth without being told. We had given him exactly what he’d needed, when he’d needed it, without fail or delay. We had saved his introverted soul.
Not so much.
The Circle of Life says that what goes around comes around. So instead of devouring my kids when I’m frustrated with them, I will simply set aside a few C-notes that I can give to their kids someday … along with some Pixie Sticks for the kids’ lunches.
In the meantime, I’ll feed myself solitude and reflection time and focus — introvert food — whenever and wherever I can. And I’ll keep in mind the wisdom my wife, a first-grade teacher, often shares with me:
“They’re just kids, Pete.”
And they are. They’re not trying to drive their introverted dad (or their introverted mom) nuts. They’re just living. Being. Doing their thing. They’re only human. Just like me.
Especially when I was a kid.