Growing up, we were a house divided…2 introverts and 2 extraverts. My brother and my father are clear introverts. They need their “me time.” My dad would wake up before anyone in the house, go downstairs, make coffee and read the paper. He’d let the dog out. He’d carry fire wood. He’d organize a list of chores to accomplish for the day. He’d plan dinner. All in quiet. All in his head. All by himself. And when my dad woke us up on weekend mornings for soccer games or to cut the grass, he’d already had two hours of think time and planning time, and he was energized.
My brother is funny and animated. He is the life of the party when he’s telling stories. He can be serious and thoughtful when you have a problem. He’s calm and organized in a crisis. But he can’t be any of those things when he doesn’t have his “me time.” The eternal joke in our house was that my brother was always cleaning his room. Ask my dad about it to this day and he’ll tell you, “When I’d ask the boys to clean their rooms, Matt would be done in 30 minutes so he could go off and do something else. Joey would spend 6 hours in there and it wouldn’t look any different.” For my brother, cleaning his room was time he could close the door, be alone and recharge. The room was always a cluttered mess. And I suppose that’s exactly why he kept it that way. It was the perfect excuse to escape and be alone whenever he needed to be.
My mom and I are different. We need people and noise and energy around us. Too much “me time” can be like a prison sentence. I remember my mom’s constant questions from the bottom of the stairs to my brother and me on the second floor, “What are you doing up there?” or as we’d come in and out of the front door, “Where are you going?” or, “Where have you been?” To a teenager it was a constant barrage of prying questions into my unexciting life that I nonetheless wanted to keep private. To my mom, it was trying to interact and talk and energize.
My dad has a plan. When he opens his mouth to tell you how you should do something, he’s thought it through. Not my mom. It was constant stream of thought. Thinking out loud. Figuring it out as she went.
And my mom the extravert, would take an hour to wash the dishes and clean the kitchen, while we sat at the kitchen table and did our homework. She’d ask us questions, give us help, or just talk to us. She’d make microwave popcorn, pour it into a big bowl, and we’d play cards or make each other laugh at the kitchen table. My brother would tell stories. My mom would ask us about school and our friends.
When no one was there to talk to, she called relatives or neighbors and she could talk on the phone for an hour, easily. She’d walk outside at night to let the dog out and spend 45 minutes chatting with people passing by on the street. All the while, my dad was quietly watching tv, and my brother probably cleaning his room.
My mom was always chatty. And though at times it drove me crazy, looking back on it, I understand it. One of the biggest changes over the last year, is that my mom really doesn’t talk anymore. Sometimes it’s because she forgets the words for things. But it’s more than that. She doesn’t initiate a conversation. She doesn’t ask about your day. She doesn’t tell you about her day. There’s no problem in her life to talk through. No big story to hear for the hundredth time. It’s just hellos and good-byes, sometimes a please and a thank you, sometimes an I love you, and lots and lots of parroting back of what other people are saying to her.
I will always love my introverted dad and my introverted brother. They’ve taught me so much about how to love and respect someone with different needs. How to give other people “me time” when they need it.
And, I really miss my extroverted mom, the annoyingly talkative mom. And thank goodness for growing up in a house divided…because it taught my mom and me how to sit in a room and be quiet together when that’s all you can do.