In May FDW is hosting a new series on stories from people in all walks of life and their observations of children and what they make us. Click here for more on the series and a list of the contributors. This post was written by an old friend from high school (Go Rams!), Ryan Koch.
My second child, Chester, is going to change the world. He is outgoing, gregarious and a natural leader. He is confident and self-assured. He’s only eight, but I can promise you that he will be famous someday.
We moved last summer, which of course meant a new school and new classmates for the kids. Undaunted, Chester decided to run for the student council. Being new and not really knowing anyone, we tried to prepare him for the very real possibility that he might not win. “What will you do if you lose?” we asked.
“Huh?” he replied. It was obvious he hadn’t even thought that it might be a possibility. In his mind, it was, “Why shouldn’t I win?”
And of course he did win. By a landslide. That’s the kind of kid he is.
It’s easy for me to get along with Chester. Why? Because I, too, am an extrovert. In fact, I am an extreme extrovert. It is easy for me to talk to strangers and make new friends. I thrive on change and new people. I have never met a microphone that I didn’t like. Never.
And all of this background is just to underscore that when it comes to raising my daughter Audrey, I am completely befuddled.
It’s not just the difference between raising boys and girls. Audrey is the exact opposite of me. Not only is Audrey is an extreme introvert, she is my opposite in every other way as well. I am linear, she is non-sequential. I am more concerned with the rules, she is more concerned with interpersonal relationships. I play the notes on the page, she improvises.
In Harry Potter terms, I am Minerva McGonagall and she is Luna Lovegood.
(At the risk of killing the dead horse, for those familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicators, I am an ESTJ and Audrey is an INFP – again, the exact opposite. If you’re not familiar with the MBTI, here’s a quick overview. Basically she sees and views and interacts with the world entirely differently than I do.)
When she was younger, and occasionally now as well, this difference in worldview caused me no end of frustration. Audrey would ask us to invite friends over for a playdate, and then sneak off to play by herself in her room – with the door closed – while her friends were in the living room. Or when taking tests, Audrey would spend so much time deciding which question to answer next (heaven forbid she go in order!), that she often ran out of time. Not to mention the stubborn refusal to stand with the Sunday School (the entire Sunday School mind you) to sing a song for the mothers on Mothers’ Day.
It’s been much more difficult for me to get along with her.
When thinking about my two oldest, I often reflect on the definition of charity given by Paul – specifically that “charity seeketh not her own” (1 Cor. 13:5). For the longest time I always assumed that it referred to selfishness – Charity seeketh not things for her own gain. But I gradually learned that there may be an alternate meaning – Charity seeketh not things that are like her. And really, that may be a better definition of the pure love of Christ anyway. And that’s what Audrey’s teaching me.
Over the ten years of my daughter’s life, Audrey is helping me learn that in order to parent her well, I have to give up “my own” and pretty much need to do the exact opposite of what my natural instincts tell me to do. Letting Audrey have a little space to be alone does wonders (although why anyone would want that is beyond me!). Giving her a blank notebook that she can fill with whatever she wants is one of the most appreciated presents. Spending one-on-one time with her – even just being in the same space as her without direct interaction – makes her feel loved far beyond taking her to a crowded zoo or park. I have also come to realize that her powers of empathy are far beyond mine. She doesn’t seek her own. She is far more concerned about other people and making them feel comfortable and welcome. Her teachers will always have the new kids sit next to Audrey because they know that she will watch out for and care for them. Not long ago, we had an adult guest (not of our faith) that we invited to a church function and Audrey, much to our surprise, was the one that really made sure he knew what was going on and could feel at ease.
Audrey loves. Wholly and completely. And although she may express that love differently than I would (I want you to have my favorite paperclip, Dad!), she is a good, warm, thoughtful child.
I still have a way to go before I’ll be her perfect dad, but as I understand her more and more, I’m more confident that I’ll get there.
For now, I’ll content myself with the fact that I recognize that she is wonderful and unique and loving and caring and that she, too, will change the world….
Ryan Koch is the current director of the Public and International Affairs Office of the Church Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York City. In this capacity, Ryan is responsible for liaising with religious organizations in New York, as well as overseeing LDS Church outreach to the diplomatic communities in New York City and at the United Nations.
The son of an Air Force Pilot, Ryan considers himself a native of nowhere, and has lived at as many addresses as he is years old, including ten different U.S. states as well as Austria, Sweden, Ukraine and the Philippines. Ryan and his wife Laura are the parents of four splendid children. You can find him on Twitter here.