Or at least, he tries.
He can’t say for sure why he does it. But at some deep level in my soul I think I understand, because he is so much like me. He’s self-conscious, and he’s trying to be humble. Always, one or both of those things comes into play.
I remember being a kid who craved encouragement. I longed to be reassured that I was good enough, that I was worth spending time and energy on. And so I try to let him know that even though he’s “the good kid” in the house, the one we know we can count on and don’t really have to worry about, that still I notice him, still I treasure moments and expressions and the gifts that make him unique.
Sometimes I tease him. He always swallows his smiles then.
Praise makes it happen, too. Last night his piano teacher told him she’s never assigned a student this young to learn his black-key scales. He looked at the floor and squirmed, and hid his smile. He did it again when we got back to the car and I called him on it.
When I interviewed author Lisa Popcak a couple of weeks ago, she talked about how the later years of parenthood are a great adventure, because you and your child get to discover together who they are and who they are called to be. I see that manifesting most clearly in Alex, here on the cusp of ten. He’s an old soul, quietly driven to seek, to learn, to ponder, to grow. But the juxtaposition of that old soul upon a child whose current craze is Lego Star Wars and Star Wars origami just makes me smile. He’s all about figuring out how to fold index cards into new shapes (“Awe-SOME!” he shouted from the back seat on the way to Iowa. “I just made a TIE FIGHTER!”), and he still plays ULD (Ultimate Light Saber Duels) with the unselfconsciousness of early childhood.
He’s an introvert, naturally cautious about baring his soul. But once he’s in familiar, or shall I say trusted, company, he’s got the same capacity for giddy craziness that my sisters and I, at least at the best of times, shared around the supper table, shouting and laughing until I cried. I always point to playing the lead in the play my junior year of high school for changing my life. That was when I learned to shout in public. Before that, peer interactions were painful. In many ways they remained painful afterward, too (wait…did I put that in the past tense?), but that was a watershed moment.
Every child is sensitive in some way, but because Alex’s sensitivities are so familiar to me, they evoke a tenderness in me that the other kids’ don’t. I would like to help him crack through that shell a little earlier than I did. I would like to help him achieve that final virtue he identified on his shield: self-confidence. To help him see the beautiful soul I see, and not be afraid to show it to others.
To help him have the courage not to hide his smiles.