Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The princess in the shopping cart

E's shyness is a profound thing. I spoke recently with her pediatrician about it and the question he sent me home to think about was, "does it interfere with regular childhood activities?" In a hundred ways, I can think of an easy example that will frame that answer as 'yes.'

There was, for example, the birthday party I took her to this weekend. There were six kids there total, and an adult facilitator, and a few parents, all of whom she has known for years. Because the party was in a location she'd never seen before and because of the one strange adult, she had a stomach ache and wanted to turn away at the entrance. She wouldn't talk to the adult and whispered messages in my ear for me to repeat aloud. She didn't smile until it was over. (But then she said it was wonderful.)

Strangers can paralyze her but every so often, somebody will catch her eye and she will comport this poised persona whom I love to observe. She'll catch the attention of drivers in cars next to us at red lights and wave sponteneously. She befriends younger kids instantly and with grace. But mostly, she sees unfamiliar faces looking upon her and tries to hide behind me.

Did I ever tell you that we taught her to shake hands at 18 months? Relatives who came to town wanted to kiss her, to hug her, to show her in the most normal ways how happy they were to see her. The interactions overwhelmed her and we all suffered in the tension of the first hour of any visit. She might be the only toddler granddaughter in history to have greeted her family with a hearty Nice to see you!

It was disarming, and in being so, it was a hiding place in plain sight.

The other day there was a six-year-old. We were looking for chocolate chips; she was waiting for her mother to decide between the white rice and the brown rice. She wore a T-shirt and jeans and the kind of worn-out sandals that show the ending of summer upon them. She also wore a tulle tutu, a gaudy crystal necklace and a plastic, gold tiara.

Unbidden by anyone except the voice of conviction in her mind, E approached her. She didn't skitter or hesitate. She walked toward the unknown girl and her stranger-danger mother. She looked at her directly and spoke clearly:

Excuse me. I like your crown.

The girl regally acknowledged E's compliment with a serious nod befitting a royal holding grocery-store court. E never saw her nod, though, because she was already walking back to me.

She didn't say anything to me, but she looked at me to see that I had noticed.

She smiled broadly.

And in return, so did I. Pin It