The year I turned seven my mom made a beautiful Doll Cake for my birthday party. She stuck a Barbie-type doll torso into a dome cake which she decorated with frosting rosettes.
I ran and laughed together with my friends in my Backyard Birthday Party. Later we sat around the dining table, all eyes admiring the cake in its center, until someone (probably my mom) starting singing, “Happy Birthday.”
“Stop,” I whispered, then again with more force.
The girls kept right on singing while I crawled under the table and cried.
I’m sure I had a piece of cake, but I don’t remember it. The overriding memory from that party is feeling awkward as the center of attention.
That was long before “introvert” entered my vocabulary and became part of my self-understanding. One of my many introvert dilemmas continues to be how to receive love, which requires being seen, when focused attention sometimes feels uncomfortable.
Some who know me could read this and scoff. They’ve seen me speak publicly, and I look so comfortable.
Yes, and no.
You don’t see the hours and hours I put into crafting Every Single Word. You don’t see me reading my manuscript under my breath time and again until I have it just about memorized. You don’t see me visualizing all going well, and the prayer that undergirds each step. You don’t see the hours of solitude that precede and follow the speaking event.
And then, when I speak publicly I have Something to Share, and guaranteed I’m not there if I don’t. I will never volunteer for improv night or karaoke. “Extemporaneous” will never describe me.
After returning from our honeymoon, some of my co-workers who had been unable to attend the wedding joined me to watch our wedding video. One boldly asked, “What is that look on your face? I’ve never seen it.”
She was right: I smiled, overjoyed to be walking down the aisle to my Love. But the pressure of All Eyes on Me while I walked down the Longest Aisle Ever, well, it warped my smile. Apparently I have my own unique “everyone is looking at me” smile. Great…
Some who know me could read this and scoff. They’ve seen me at parties, and I look so comfortable.
Yes, and no.
I love a good party! I love the decorations, food and drink, the company. At least, I love talking To You, yes, You, Standing Right Here. If/when we run out of things to talk about, I will choke down panic. Small talk, and even worse, maneuvering from person to person remain skills I haven’t mastered, and my constant prayer is that I don’t look as awkward as I feel. Safely at home later, I will crash. I will then wake in the Wee Hours to mull over Every Word of Every Conversation until daylight creeps under the window shades. It will take me at least a day to recover.
A Party is one thing; My Party is altogether different. Some days, though, being loved really is about receiving it whether or not people plan with your quirks in mind. This birthday I had a morning meeting. One friend stood to hug me as another friend set out cake and people began to sing. I whispered under my breath, “As a little girl I crawled under the table when people sang to me.” She held her arm around me and whispered, “So did my daughter,” and squeezed a little tighter.
Safe in her embrace, I smiled. If anyone took a picture, I’m sure I could show you my “everyone is looking at me” smile. And I enjoyed the cake.