Saturday, June 1, 2019

How different are you from where you began? by Jenn McKinlay

FIRST THINGS FIRST: Our winner for Jill Orr's giveaway copy of The Good Byline is Karen from Ohio! Email your address to jennmck at yahoo dot com and I'll forward your info to Jill. Congrats!

Jenn McKinlay: So, Hooligan 1 graduated the other night. It was a pretty big deal, mostly, because it was a photo finish as we do love the drama in this house! I'm not sure if my tears were more excitement and pride or straight up relief. Probably, a bit of both.


The Graduate and his squad!

I asked Hooligan 1 if it was okay for me to blog about his scholastic journey, and I'm putting it on the record that he gave me his consent. Okay, it was really more of an "I don't care". Close enough! I've always tried to respect the hooligans' privacy. I cringe when I see parents offering up their kids' lives for public consumption, because it feels wrong to invade their personal lives, especially during the teen years, but that's a whole other blog post. For this one, I have permission, so here it is.

Hooligan 1 came into the world reluctantly (i.e. a vacuum was employed) and he stayed pretty self contained (shy) until his comrade in arms arrived a year and half later, yes, that would be Hooligan 2! Insta best friends, who shared a room and lived in each other's hip pockets, their bond was unbreakable. This worked well for H1, as H2 did most of the talking for both of them, right up until it was time to start school. I can remember walking H1 to preschool, trying to sell him on the idea, saying, "It's gonna be so great, you're going to make friends--" My precocious three year old looked at me and said, "I don't need friends, I have Brother." Oh, boy.

                            Hooligan Bruhs!






H1 did not make friends easily. Because he had Brother, he didn't feel the need. Leaving H2 in preschool to go to elementary school  and be on his own was so traumatic, H1 taped a picture of me to the inside of his lunch box. No, not kidding. The days were long and H1 spent a lot of time on the side of the playground, looking for a friend and feeling lonely. It was tough for us all. When Brother joined him at school, it became easier. 

Thankfully, during the middle years, H1 slowly became more social. Friends came and went and came and went until a squad was finally formed. The same squad that would carry him through, since he and Brother were once again parted, as H1 moved on to high school. His academics resembled my own. Entertaining teachers were his favorites and he aced those classes. Boring teachers, well, it was a struggle. But the kid who'd always been quiet and introverted, sustained by his overabundance of imagination, slowly started to open up, going after what he wanted and learning how to bounce back up after a fail. It was a remarkable thing to watch but still he kept to himself and was fairly guarded unless with trusted friends.


Giving his final speech - like a boss!
And then the end of high school came into view, and the teen who'd always been a bit aloof, signed up for a live news class. The shell cracked wide open! A passion for film making was discovered and suddenly, his big head was popping up on the white board as he anchored the daily news. If someone could have told my poor mama heart that the lonely first grader who had no words would bloom into such a talking head twelfth grader, well, it would have spared me a truck load of angst. 

He has given me much to ponder. Up until now, I'd always believed that people don't really change that much in life, and I've always dealt with my characters this way. A quiet child was a self contained adult, a mean toddler was a nasty grownup, etc. I figured nurturing smoothed out the rough edges, but nature was the defining factor of a person's core personality (I say this as a person who has always been an extreme extrovert and can't imagine being any other way.) Who we are from the start is essentially who we'll always be, right? Right?! Erm...maybe not. After watching H1's metamorphosis -- seriously, a chrysalis to a butterfly -- I have to say, I'm rethinking. 

So, tell me Reds and Readers, are you pretty much who you were as a kid or have you changed significantly over the years?

75 comments:

  1. Congratulations to your son, Jenn . . . He sounds like a wonderful young man. What’s next for him?

    Nope, I haven’t changed much at all. The shy kid who read all the books in the school library grew up to be a shy adult who still reads as many books as she can . . . .

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    1. He’s going to the local film school in the fall and if the dream continues, he will follow it onward. It’s all rather thrilling to watch!

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    2. I believe Steven Spielberg was a similar type of student. I can't wait to see his name on the big screen. Congratulations to H1..

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  2. I LOVED reading this, Jenn! This got me thinking about my own kids, six years apart in age, fought all through their younger years and now truly besties. And my rocks. As for me, I think who I was is who I am. Or maybe that's wishful thinking.

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    1. Same. I don’t think I’ve changed either. Maybe I’m more extroverted or would that be verbally self involved? LOL!

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  3. What a great story, Jenn. Thanks for sharing.

    Honestly, I've never been good about evaluating myself on anything. I get so busy distracting myself with books and TV shows that I never even think about it. But I'll analyze character growth in a book no problem.

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    1. Ha! Book characters are much easier to analyze, no doubt. Zero growth never works for me.

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  4. I think about this all of the time. I was an extremely extroverted child, making friends with everyone in the neighborhood. My mom used to tell the story of me standing at our screen door and calling out to the "big kids" on their way to and from school, "Girl, come play with me!". Pathetic, no? I was the companion of all the old folks in the neighborhood, and struck up a conversation with everyone. My quiet, Midwestern mother thought I was from another planet. I was bold in school, outspoken, stood up for myself, was a magpie. You get the picture. Still, part of me was quiet on the inside...a reader...the girl who literally climbed trees to have some solitude. So now, as an adult who finds herself living in the country and loving it, who can go weeks without going to town unless forced to, I sometimes wonder: what happened to that little girl? It wasn't that I was outgoing because I thought all blonde girls were supposed to be--I was calling out to passerby and visiting with everyone at age 3 and 4, long before I had absorbed societal expectations. That was authentic, that enjoyment of other people's company. As is this need for solitude and contentment with my own thoughts and activities. I think what adulthood has given me is the acceptance of who I am; I don't feel the need to put on a bubbly exterior, and I am lucky that I am able to be only as sociable as I choose to be. I speak up and get involved and use my voice for the issues that matter to me--and I"m plenty loud on those occasions. And I do still love the company of older folks; in our old neighborhood, I relished the friendships of my 80- and 90- year old neighbors, so some things haven't changed that much.
    And Jenn, your son's story reminds me of my younger sister. My job used to be walking her to kindergarten to be sure she didn't run home at the first opportunity. She was so shy, school was torture for her. Because of that, I think, she really developed an aversion to reading for pleasure and for years avoided reading anything that wasn't required, despite all of the inducements of our parents, who were educators. Fast forward to high school, and this same timid girl was the shining comedic light of the drama club. Academically she found her areas of interest and went on to a top university where she taught.

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    1. Beth, that is fascinating! You and your sister are much like my boys. Our younger extrovert has been hit with a hyper blast of self consciousness shutting down his formerly out going ways. It’s so weird to watch the personality flips. As for the company of older people, I love seniors. Mostly, because they have the best stories.

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  5. Congrats to H1! Sounds like he found something he enjoys and didn't hold back. I'm sure he is headed toward even more great things.

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    1. Thank you! Despite his photo finish (curse you required Economics class!) he is so much more grounded than I was at his age. This is going to be fun to watch!

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  6. I will be thinking about this for a while. Mostly I am what I was, although I no longer climb trees. My kids and spouse the same; we just refine the original specimen. But I have worried about labeling kids and how much that causes them to stay in the rut we created (me, not you). She’s the funny one, she’s the bossy one, she’s the quiet one.... So glad your son found his true metier. Yup, going to think on this for a bit. Thank you.

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    1. Yes! My son told me he can’t wait to start college because he gets to scrape off the remnants his old persona and be someone new. We should all have that opportunity!

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  7. Congratulations to H1. I'm glad he found what makes him tick.
    I'm still the introverted child who preferred to sit at home reading her books.

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    1. Yup. I’m an extrovert who loves a lot of alone time. The best plans are cancelled plans! LOL!

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  8. This is a familiar story to me, Jenn. My #1 sounds nearly identical to yours (except not as tall and he bloomed a little later...). I was gobsmacked when he ran for and won a student council seat in ninth grade. He's brilliant and was an entirely unmotivated student in college, although he managed to finish in 4 years. Now? My introverted history geek has friends, a wonderful wife, a master's degree, several service-minded groups he's in, and a great job at Georgetown University managing databases and a group of employees. He just had to do it at his own pace! Me, I think I'm pretty much the same as I've always been.

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    1. What a wonderful journey, Edith! He sounds like he found his bliss which is all we really want for them.

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  9. I don't think I've changed much. Oh, I've gotten better at speaking to people in large gatherings - kinda - but that's from necessity. I'd still rather be with an intimate group of friends than in a large crowd.

    My kids, on the other hand, big change. The Girl was my quiet shy one...and her social life exploded when she got to high school and has continued to do so in college. Her attitude toward academics has not changed. She's my hard-charger.

    The Boy was the outgoing one who could talk to anyone...and now he is much quieter with a couple close friends in high school. And he's much like H1. If the class and teacher captivate him, he does well. If not, it's a struggle. This from a kid who used to get mad at himself if he scored a 9/10 on a quiz in elementary school.

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    1. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? All those labels get stuck on kids but they’re so temporary as they change and grow. Individuality is highly undervalued!

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  10. Congratulations to H1 and to Mom and Dad, too!
    I think I am the same as I ever was: shy and quiet.

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  11. Congratulations to H1.
    At sixty-one, I learned that I was in introvert ( had no idea before that ) . It put a new light on my whole life. I understood a lot of things of my youth: not shy, not timid, not coy, not stuck up, not half-hearted but introvert, ouf !
    Still am but life happened and I grew up and evolved and took my place.
    At the core, we are the same but experiences make us grow.

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    1. I believe you’re right. Experience is the key. The Hub is shy and I used to think he was aloof but as we became friends I realized there are people who don’t need to fill every void with chatter - amazing!

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  12. Congratulations to H1! and now another separation as he heads off to college?

    I'm basically the same kid: give me a book, a beach, and a dog, and I'm set for the day.

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    1. That sounds perfect, Margaret! Yes, off to film school - so the adventure continues!

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  13. I was an introverted child who was a good student and who spent hours and hours reading for pleasure. I had to put up with comments from teachers and others who wanted me to “stop being quiet”. Guess what? Being quiet and introverted has turned me into an excellent listener, and people seek me out to confide in. For a quiet person I really don’t like being home. I need a change of scenery every day. I still love reading, whether I’m at home or anywhere else. I love being around people; just don’t force me to talk to them! If I feel like it, I’ll say something! (If everyone was a performer, then who would be the audience?!)

    DebRo

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    1. I love that you are so confident in yourself, DebRo! That is the ultimate life achievement!

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  14. Wow, Jenn! Thank you for sharing and congratulations to H#1! I have pondered this very question and struggled with worries over two boys whose experience of school was utterly different. I think, though, that what we see as a 'change' was always there within each of us--it takes a spark, nurtured by caring adults, to coax--or sometimes explode--that spark of interest/joy/pathway that opens before us. H#1 was busy within--growing, stretching, reaching--and it was mostly interior--until all that was suddenly revealed when he found an exterior outlet. There will be no stopping him now! I wish him and you all the best!

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    1. Exactly - I believe it was inside of him just looking for an outlet! And thank you for your warm wishes!

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  15. Jenn, loved reading this. I remember that my after school babysitter who ran a day care center shared her memories of me as a kid. I remembered that none of the kids knew sign language. I was the only deaf kid there. Somehow we all managed to communicate! I still retained some speech (it was a few years after I lost my hearing). Marcia remembered that I was a leader and always inventing new games for other kids to play. She remembered that I got along well with other kids. It was a surprise because I never thought of myself as a leader. Though I did see myself as Independent.

    As an adult, I am pretty independent.

    Diana

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    1. I love that your independent streak has remained, Diana! Wonderful to have a sitter who saw your potential so early.

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  16. Jen, I love these pictures and my mom heart cracked open at "I don't need a friend, I have a brother." Many congratulations to H1 for successfully getting the ball across the goal line!

    I think the amount of change possible for a person's core personality depends on their life experiences and whether they choose to build upon them. Success in building friendships can lead to more attempts to make friends. Pushing yourself to be more outgoing and confident can, in fact, make you more outgoing and confident. And of course, you can't ever dismiss the power of passion. Someone discovering a pursuit that lights up every button can make amazing changes to pursue new goals.

    I'm teaching a class on writing characters later today; this has given me much to think upon!

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    1. I agree, Julia - life experiences do offer the opportunity to change and grow as does reading! Finding the pursuit that inspires seems to be the big challenge. So relieved he found one.

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  17. I'm pretty much the same as I've always been. I just got bigger and more fluent in profanity. I'm just me and feel no need to pretend to be anyone or anything I'm not.

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    1. “More fluent in profanity” LOL, Jay! So very true for me as well - and almost an art form when driving!

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  18. Please tell Beckett congratulations and THANK YOU for letting you share with us! As for the question, I think a certain amount of change is possible. When I was a psychology intern on the inpatient adolescent unit at Yale, our boss used to say that people are capable of 10% change. And that was with a lot of therapy and group therapy etc. So maybe our basic nature doesn't change so much, but tweaks are possible!

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    1. 10%? I had no idea. Thanks, Lucy! I’m adding that nugget to my character development knowledge.

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  19. What a wonderful post. Congratulations to H1 on graduation and on finding himself! I don't know that I have changed so much as learned better coping skills.

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    1. Ah, yes, coping skills are key navigational tools!

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  20. Jen...mom of an only child here, a son. Thank you so much for sharing H1's journey with us. I felt every word of your 18 year process. I'm delighted for you and your whole "squad."

    As to the topic of personal change, I think it depends. If you were fortunate to be raised in an environment that didn't put restrictions on who you are, I believe you stay on that trajectory. If you were raised in a situation that did not encourage (or ran counter to) those unique things that make a you who you are, those people push for change.
    I have a small drawings on my desk by the artist Marylou Falstreau. It's a picture of a woman dressed in wildly, riotous colors. The sentiment on the card reads, "One day she woke up and decided to color outside of the lines. And her heart breather a sigh of relief."
    For me, this says it all.

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    1. Oh, I love that! Sometimes scraping off the expectations of others is the most liberating thing a person can do.

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  21. Congratulations to H1 for finally finding his medium! What strikes me is that he really hasn't changed. When you are behind a camera, or behind a microphone, you are several steps back from face-to-face with living people. Yes, you're talking, but you don't have to look anyone in the eye, or deal with them answering back, and you have a lot more control over your immediate environment than you do out in the messy and unpredictable real world. So good for him! He's found a way to speak up without really having to step too far out of his cocoon.

    As for me, yes, I'm pretty much what I was as a kid--a brainy nerd with a good memory and a smart mouth. I don't have clusters of friends, but the friends I have are close. I still love to read, and need my alone time to recharge--classic introvert. In fact, sometimes I look around at my life, with my messy house, seven pets, and giant TBR pile, and realize that I'm living the life I dreamed of as a twelve-year-old. I can read whenever I want to, including at the table; sleep in if I feel like it; and have all the pets I ever longed for. Totally that same kid.

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    1. Brilliant, Gigi! I hadn’t thought of it this way but you’re right. It is more that he found the perfect medium for his creativity - it also happens to be one that makes it impossible for him to walk the hallways unrecognized, forcing him to be social (or at least polite)! I love that you have fully realized your twelve-year-old self!

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  22. This is the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen… Heartbreaking and hard filling at the same time. Congratulations!
    As for change, it makes me wonder whether we stay the same, essentially, but our surroundings change, and so how we are presents itself in a different way. In high school I was incredibly a loner, incredibly unpopular, and weird. Voted “most individual.” was a smart kid, a diligent and happy student, and an avid reader. These were not qualities that were universally admired or rewarded! And what rewards did come only serve to show how geeky I actually was. Competitive, and ambitious, and a workaholic.
    Now as a grown-up, those things make my life have some success. Because those qualities are somewhat more valuable.
    I guess what I thank it is… Surprisingly, I think I’m the same. But my world changed, and my place in it with it.
    And Jenn! If H1 wants an internship at a television station when he is on the way to being a junior in college :-) have him give me a call! I know some people. xxxx

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    1. Hank, I agree. My surroundings have changed over the years too.

      Diana

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    2. What a lovely and generous offer, Hank.

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    3. Wow Hank. That’s a more then generous offer

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    4. I’ll tell him, Hank! He’ll be thrilled!

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  23. I love this essay, Jenn, showing how much we walk in our kid's shoes, agonizing over defeats, triumphing over successes.
    I was a lonely child, living in the world of my imagination, longing for friends... Super smart and articulate in a village school where other kids teased me mercilessly. Things got better when I went to a highly academic prep school and in college I blossomed. That imagination has been a great help!

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    1. Rhys, were you an only child? Yes, imagination is a great help!

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    2. Yes, the highs and lows of parenting - exhausting!

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  24. Congratulations to H1! I have changed a little over the years. I have alway been, and still am, an introvert. I can be perfectly happy at home reading. When I was growing up, I was painfully shy. My sister, who was 2 1/2 years younger was the extroverted one, and she talked for me until I went to school. Although, I was a pretty good student in school (except for math!), I lived in fear that the teacher would call on me — even if I knew the answer. That changed a lot when I with my longest tenured job. I went to work for the local City government. There was a great deal of public contact, talking to people I didn’t know, talking in front of elected and appointed officials. I still am very quiet in large groups and around people I don’t know well. I’m fine around people I know, though.

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    1. Hub is like that, too. Quiet until he knows people and then the silence is over! LOL!

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  25. Thank you, for choosing me for Jill Orr's book! I am very excited.

    What a lovely story, Jenn, and two things strike me that reflect so well on you as a parent. First, that you sons were such good friends. Siblings are not always so, not even twins. The other is that H1 was given enough choice to find that one thing that suited him perfectly. Too often, I think, parents try to steer their kids' ships for them, instead of giving them the space to discover their own best talents. Pounding a square peg into a round hole never works.

    My entire family could be a casebook for personality reversals, including me. I was a shy kid who never said "boo", always reading books and trying to avoid conflict. Just last night we were out with high school friends of my husband's, including a group of women who have included me in their get-togethers now for a couple of years. Ten-year old Karen would have been astonished to see me joking and laughing, and causing others to laugh, last night, with people I've only known a few years. She would have refused to believe it would be her, 57 years later.

    The world is an amazing place, isn't it?

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    1. Yes, it is! Life is such a journey - I love that you came into your own!

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  26. One of the pleasures of coming late to the party is everyone has said it, and usually said it more coherently. A beautiful reflection on parenting Jenn, thank you. Bon Voyage to H1 on his new journey.

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  27. Nature vs nurture is an interesting question, especially for parents of adopted children.

    I liken it to jazz music: you're given a key to play in (nature) and then you riff on it according to your inclination and/or outside influences like other players (nurture).

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  28. This was such an enjoyable post! Congratulations to H1!

    My only child is 25 and going through what I think is a difficult period for many young people: no longer in that college setting that made it easy to casually hang out with people, and not yet having found his "tribe" for the real world. He has always been introverted, but this is the first time I would say he is lonely.

    Here was the first thing that popped into my head about myself: The Sunday School teacher in my pre-school classroom didn't assign me a part in the Christmas pageant until my mother asked because she thought I could not yet speak, having never heard me do so. And the most recent time I took the Meyers-Briggs personality assessment, I maxed out in the direction of extrovert.

    I would offer that I think the real me is somewhere in between those two assessments. I enjoy people, and I have many very positive learned behaviors around inclusion and engaging those around me and actively listening. But I also cherish my alone time and NEED to escape into a good book often. So while I superficially seem quite different, I don't think the person inside has changed so much. One just learns behaviors that serve well (or don't) perceptions change because of them.

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    1. Susan, you are spot on! I think we are all somewhere in the middle but our environments push us one way or the other. Sending good thoughts to your son as he navigates his new world!

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  29. Congratulations to H1! He is so lucky to know what direction he wants to go. I started as an introvert and I'll end as one. An observer might think differently though. I know in my early elementary school years I was comfortable with all these kids I'd grown up with. I wasn't shy to speak up in class. I even presented myself as a weather girl in fourth grade and presented the forecast with charts and maps. All my own idea. Oddly enough my first fourth grade teacher was a real Jekyll and Hyde. She encouraged me when she wasn't scaring the hell out of me and the rest of the class. But then we moved to another part of town, a new neighborhood and a new school. I never found that comfort level again. I prefer small groups and a handful of friends. That is my comfort zone and it isn't always easily attained.

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    1. Pat - I moved, too, as a kid. It was definitely a game changer but my talkative self was undeterred!

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  30. Growing up I was shy, and spending time in the library was heaven to me. I am still shy, but once you get to know me, I open up somewhat. I still love to read. Congratulations Jenn on H1's Graduation, and his future endeavors.

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    1. Thanks so much, Robyn! And, yes, books are a savior even for a talker like me!

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  31. Congratulations to your son on his graduation, Jenn. He sounds like he's going to do just fine in life. I can remember my son when he was in fourth grade and was to read one of his writing portfolio pieces aloud got big-time stage fright, and I feared he would be that way through school and life. Boy was I wrong. He soon found his voice, and his senior English teacher told me that Kevin would be a great lawyer because he loved arguing points aloud in class. He also loved being in plays in high school. So, you just can't tell too early on about that public speaking bug.

    I think I changed a lot from when I was in high school. I was so serious then and so focused on academics that I hadn't developed my sense of humor that much. Now, I love to laugh and consider a good sense of humor as one of the best attributes of a person.

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    1. Me, too! Humor is definitely a key quality in people for me! Otherwise what’s the point? LOL!

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  32. Congrats to H1!
    I'm still the shy one unless I'm with a close group of friends.

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  33. Congrats to H1! He sounds like an awesome young man.
    I have changed significantly. As a kid, I was timid, quiet, obedient, observant, always waiting for someone else to go first. No more, except for the observant part.

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  34. I was very shy in school and so spent a lot of time listening. When I started working, I heard co-workers talking about all kinds of things. One proudly said she only read the newspaper! Of course, I've been reading since 4 years old. I started saying whatever I wanted since it wasn't any worse than some of the BS I heard my whole life.

    Some of my teachers used to say that I wasn't living up to my potential which used to make me furious. How did they know what my potential was? I sure didn't! Our whole 9th grade class used to get lectured all the time that we didn't behave as well as the first accelerated section. We were the second section. I don't think they do that anymore.

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    1. Ugh - I hate that potential thing! Such a load of garbage. Glad you learned to speak up for yourself! Good for you!

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