Sunday, April 10, 2011

Raising the Gregarious Child






gre·gar·i·ous
/griˈge(ə)rēəs/Adjective

(of a person) Fond of company; sociable.

Last week I went with a friend and our girls to see a puppet show at the library. I spent 42 of the 45 minutes apologizing as my child crawled through a maze of adults and kids sitting on little cushions, enjoying the Tale of Peter Rabbit. It would have been fine if she would have only been meandering around, but she was on a mission to meet and greet as many people as possible, stealing snacks and going through a few purses along the way. It was exhausting and frustrating (and in retrospect very funny). Despite how many moms said, "oh, she's fine" it was still embarrassing. At one point she had her hand in a little boy's snack trap, helping herself to his goldfish, and then the next second she was rifling through another mom's diaper bag and pulling out a sippy cup. I am sure she was excited to wash down her pilfered snack with a little ill-gotten milk. I felt terrible after she treated a tiny infant (we are talking maybe 6 weeks old) to a wild ride of forceful rocking in his car seat. I am sure his mom was thankful she had taken the few extra seconds to click him in, otherwise he would have been catapulted out. During the 7 seconds Alice was still I glanced jealousy at the other kids, all sitting still and watching the show or playing quietly in their mom's laps. Then she was off again, leaving a tired mommy in her wake. The other mom I was with leaned over and asked me, "what did you do to make Alice so comfortable in public, so confident?" It got me to thinking about her personality and if it is our doing that she is so outgoing, or did she come preprogrammed with the gene that causes her to mix it up so easily. I can only guess that it is mostly just Alice being Alice, with an extra bonus from the environment we have created for her.

I think we all are born with certain personality traits that are unchangeable and innate. I am a talker. My parents claim that I started at my first sentence and never stopped. Fortunately I come from a long line of talkers on both sides, so my family enforced this trait with good communication and lively discussions.
I think Alice came out of the womb with the ability and desire to socialize. I think by taking her everywhere with us and also by getting her into preschool and music class, we fed her natural desire to enjoy the company of others. The little lady thrives on being around people. When we through a store she talks to every person who goes by her and if they don't respond to her effervescent smiles and chattering, she is not pleased. She then turns up the volume in an effort to get them to look her way. When they do finally look at her (and they almost always do), she gives them a big toothy grin and offers them a bite of whatever slobber covered snack she is working on (yes, I bribe her to sit in the cart and not act like a wild animal caught in a trap). The child uses every opportunity possible to get others attention and entertain them with her various tricks. Many a stranger has been the recipient of one of her highness's blown kisses or a wave. At restaurants she can hardly eat for wanting to watch what is going on at the other tables. If she has her back to the restaurant, she spends half the meal attempting to turn around in her seat to make sure she is not missing anything.  She demands attentions from others and is truly pleased when she gets it. It makes me a little nervous for what she will be like when she actually has words to get people's attention. Yikes.

Don't get me wrong, she has a little stranger anxiety, and she is very attached to us. She occasionally hides her face or turns away when someone talks to her, but I think that is a coy move to get them begging. She does not love when we leave, and there is some crying, but usually nothing too terrible. Once she gets comfortable (which normally takes approximately 13 seconds) she is off crawling around, checking things out. She treats music class as her 30 minutes of free expression and I am pretty sure she thinks we are all there in a circle to watch her wiggle around and clap. Her teachers at preschool tell me even though she is the only crawler in the class, she is not afraid to get in the midst and play with all the kids. Sweet lady is always interested in other kids and what they are they doing, whether we are in our house with friends over or in a park and there are people she has never seen before. She watches them with a  look on her face that I can only describe as, "I think those are my friends over there."

The little bit of the social baby I think we can take credit for is the part that has evolved from rolling with the punches with mom and dad. We take her everywhere and have basically forced her to be in new situations ever since she was born. We decided before she even arrived that we would continue to enjoy our life, going and doing, the only thing that would change was that we would have a baby in tow. We have kept that vow, within reason. Of course as ignorant almost-parents, we had no concept of naps, feedings, and baby crap that must be hauled around. But I think on the whole we have done a great job of keeping our vow to not become shut-ins once she arrived in our life. Before she was one she had been to countless restaurants, two music festivals, hiking, and on lots of vacations and weekends away. I am proud that she is versatile and I hope she stays that way. I can count on one hand the times that I think she was truly over stimulated as a baby, because she is just not that kind of kid. (However, the over stimulation excuse works wonders to get out of anything with a new baby. Just a little free advice for you all.)

I can only imagine as Alice gets older, she will continue on her quest to befriend every person in the free world. I also can only assume at some point in the not so distant future we will have the first of many conversations about what exactly a stranger is and why it is not a good idea to get too close. Despite my worry that she will wander away with anyone who smiles at her, I am proud that she has an independent streak and is not afraid to go and explore the world around her. I like that she is a people person, because I feel like it will make her life a little easier. Even though it is keeping me busy now, and probably for the foreseeable future, I think her desire to be on the move and seeing everyone and everything around her is a quality that will serve her well for many years to come. I just have to remind myself of that the next time I have to apologize to a mom at story time when I accidentally step on her hand while trying to prevent my child from stealing another kid's cookie.

about 9 mos old at Music on the Moutain

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