By outside appearances she is quiet, pensive, sensitive, and shy. If you were to meet her, you may think she lacks self esteem. New situations and new people make her anxious and so she tries to shrink herself down, “hiding” behind her more outgoing little sister, avoiding eye contact, and nervously twisting her shirt or scarf or hands.

I see so much of myself in her, physically and emotionally. My introverted first-born and I were born with the same old souls. We see and feel more than most. Empathy flows through our bodies like blood. It can make you want to hide. It can make you want to help. It can make you run screaming into the safety and solitude of a good book.

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I remember when I used to push her in that little buzzy bee swing.

There are so many times over the last 13 and a half years that I’ve thought I had her figured out. And then she surprises me, defying all labels.

During her first week in middle school, she got hit in the head (accidentally) by a basketball in gym class. Everyone laughed. She was embarrassed (and I’m sure it hurt, too). She picked up the basketball and whipped it at the boy who threw it.

It was an accident, so her anger wasn’t really appropriate, but I also thought: Well, you just sent an important and clear message that you will not be a victim. Bully my girl at your own peril. She’s sweet and kind, but she’s got a temper. If you rattle her cage, she’ll bite (another trait we share).

She surprised me again last year when she said she wanted to try out for the high school musical. It didn’t “fit.”  I couldn’t reconcile the fact that my shy girl, who wouldn’t even go into a convenience store to buy something alone, would want to go up on stage in front of everyone in silly clothes and sing and dance.

She was cast, and she was wonderful, nary a glimpse of the awkwardness she often exhibits off stage.

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She auditioned again this year, but she wasn’t cast, so she decided — out of the clear blue — to try out for the volleyball team.

Again, she surprised me. This was a girl who has resisted every single sport and athletic activity I have tried to introduce her to for the last decade. I’m not sure why volleyball appealed to her. Maybe it was because her friends were trying out, or maybe because it was her idea and not mine.

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On the court, she had the opportunity to display the competitor that I only recently realized existed in her. Another contradiction for a girl who seemingly lacks confidence.

Tonight, at her school’s spring concert, she’ll sing a solo in front of an auditorium jam-packed with parents and classmates.

Often overshadowed by her more loquacious, outgoing, and charismatic little sister, I cherish these moments Kelly chooses to shine.

And I’m grateful to bear witness to the growth of this intriguing woman and the lessons she has to teach me about labeling, assumptions, and the beauty of individuality.

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About Just Write “What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”