I’m what you would call an extroverted introvert. Meaning, I am outgoing and talkative to those I am comfortable and close with, but quiet and somewhat standoffish to those I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t want to engage with people I don’t know closely, it’s just hard for me and requires me putting myself out there in a way I am not always comfortable with. I often joke that my mom’s lessons in “Stranger Danger” really left a lasting impression on me. Needless to say, I have never been the girl to make small talk with strangers while in line at the store. I’ve always been more of a get what I need, give you a smile, say thank you and keep going kind of girl. Well, as with pretty much everything else in my life, once I had my twins that all seemed to change whether I was ready for it or not.
Now most parents can relate to the occasional stranger smiling, waving and saying what an adorable baby you have sitting up there in the shopping cart. I experienced this when my now five-year-old was a chubby, little baby with an adorable gummy smile. A wave here and there, a smile and coo to her, maybe even someone grabbing her sweet cheeks. I would smile back, say thank you and quickly push my cart away because, well, strangers. Fast forward a few years, the birth of my twins, and every trip out of the house now seems to draw attention. Even just this past week, while eating at a restaurant, my oldest said, “Why does it feel like everyone’s looking at us?” Um, well because they are. Two babies in high chairs stuffing their little faces with sweet potatoes that end up all over the floor while their big sister says loudly, “Chew! Good job!” over and over just seems to catch a lot of eyes (and ears).
At first, the extra attention that the twins garnered was overwhelming. Getting up the courage to take two infants out of the house is process all on its own. Completing most tasks while out, often feels like a miracle, so I was always racing forward. But people just love to talk to twins! If I had a dollar now for every time someone has said me while starting into a conversation: “You have your hands full”, “Twins?” “Fraternal?” “Did you have fertility drugs?” “Wow, you’re done now right?” I would surely be a millionaire. This usual stream of comments would come and I would rush through the conversation, always being polite but also always moving forward. Just as I had been when out with my oldest, I rarely took the time to ever actually stop and truly engage.
But even as I tried to make my moves forward, strangers started telling me stories that were deeply personal and these conversations began to stick with me. Like the woman at Nordstrom who approached me and said that she had been battling infertility for years and just that morning she had asked God to give her a sign that she should keep fighting. She said the sight of my twins smiling happily at her from their stroller, was the sign she had been waiting for. Or the older woman at Target who explained that her twins were now grown and her only regret was she never really spent time with each of them on their own, she felt like she somehow failed them by only seeing them as a pair and not individual people. And the man who approached me at breakfast and said he was a firefighter and recently had a call in which the mother handed him a child from her car, he didn’t say anymore in detail except that he had not been able to sleep since it happened. The look in his eyes told me all I needed to know. He said seeing my three kids that morning brought tears to his eyes and he needed that moment to clear his head. He thanked me before walking away. His words felt like a punch to the stomach as I felt both this strangers pain at the loss he witnessed and his joy at the sight of my children. I couldn’t stop thinking about the weight he must have been carrying and I hoped that somehow it felt lighter after our brief talk.
These moments, and many more over the course of this last year, have taught me that it’s okay to stop and engage sometimes. More importantly, it’s okay to stop and listen. Often people just need a listening ear and maybe it’s easier to open up to someone carrying around little faces eager to take in the world. Now, I would be lying if I said I have completely changed into a total extrovert who thrives on daily conversations with strangers. That’s probably not who I will ever be, but I have slowed down, stopping rushing my way forward and the change of pace has been worth it.