I grew up as an introvert in a house full of extroverts. I loved my family, and they loved me, but sometimes we just didn't understand each other. My parents had very public jobs and my sister had tons of friends. They attended endless social events, invited people over for dinner often, opened the house to guests (some of whom we'd never even met), talked to friends and strangers wherever we went, and were just plan outgoing, in every sense of the word. And all I wanted to do was go somewhere quiet and curl up with a book. I found the constant socialization exhausting and overwheming, and confusing. I just operated on a totally different system than they did.
My Dad's family was, if anything, even more outgoing and social than he was. My grandpa talked to everyone he met. He was a terrific story teller and had the timing and attention to exaggeration to make any event sound funnier than it really was. He remembered everyone he's ever met and was forever telling stories about "this old boy" he'd met 60 years ago. My Uncle Gary also told stories and talked to everyone he met. He had a way of listening to people with such interest and attention that you came away feeling special. But he applied these conversational skills with everyone, which meant that he often abandoned his companions at restaurants to go chat with someone else.
As I grew to adulthood, I came to appreciate my extroverted family more. The endless social outpourings still tired me, but I understood what a positive thing they could be. It was also easier to deal with the extroverts when I did not have to live with one. I married someone even more introverted than I am. Our quiet lives expanded, but didn't change all that much, when Katherine came home. Her personality was a lot like ours and all three of us were content to do our socializing in small bits.
And then Rachel arrived... It was clear from the very first days that we met that Rachel is the ultimate Social Butterfly. She loves being around people. She loves talking. She loves meeting new friends. She loves to work a crowd. People make her happy. The more people, the better! She is always happy to go somewhere, anywhere, because she might have a chance to see other people. She knows everyone and everyone likes her. She is an Extrovert, with a capital E.
And while she can be exasperating and, at time, downright exhausting, I see how good Rachel has been for the rest of us. She insists that we get out and socialize. And she has made all of us more social. I am now more likely to talk to people when I see them, instead of just waving and smiling. Katherine approaches familiar adults on her own and strikes us conversations with them, something she never used to do. Rachel's inviting personality has led to kids from all over the neighborhood showing up to play in our yard. Rachel forces us to participate, instead of just observe and we needed that.
We live in a fairly small town, but when I am alone, I can often run errands or go to the grocery store without seeing anyone I know. That does not happen when I have Rachel with me. Every time I go out in public with her, someone waves or comes up and calls her by name. Often it is someone I do not know. But Rachel does. She met them at school or daycare or Granny's exercise class or somewhere. It has occured to me that I have lived her for a total of 16 years and Rachel for just over 3 years, but she knows more people than I do!
I have long joked that Rachel thinks strangers are just friends she hasn't met yet. And it's true. A few weeks ago, Steve took Rae along to run some errands. He was at the doctor's office picking up some papers and saw Rachel approach a family in the waiting room. As they left, Steve asked Rachel if she knew the family. "No," she replied, "I just went over to meet them."
I think most parents joke about the parts of their children's personalities that they have "inherited" from one relative or another. Adoptive parents do this too, even though there is no genetic link to our children. It's just a part of seeing yourself in your child, both good and bad. Katherine has my nerdy, bookworm qualities and Steve's tendency to overthink situations. Rachel, it is clear, "inherited" my father's and uncle's and grandfather's personality. They operate on the same system. She is every bit as social and chatty and unappologetically outgoing as they were. And now that Grandpa and Gary are gone, it brings joy to see them live on in her.
We were out eating at a resaurant in town the other night. After Rachel finished eating, she went off to greet various people she knew who were also dining there. As we watched her make her rounds, my mom gestured toward Rae and said, "Gary syndrome". It made me smile. Rachel was off talking and listening and making people feel good about themselves. Just like Gary or Grandpa or my dad, and not at all like me. I am so glad that she is mine. Social Butterfly and all.