We are home from an amazing long week of Christmas visits, with four full sets of different family circles getting to coo over and handle Zoe and meet her and play with her. And she was amazing! As sociable and friendly at the last party as at the first, she smiled at everyone and was happy to be held and bounced or to show off her almost-crawling skills for HOURS. I personally begin to fade pretty quickly at a big gathering when I don’t know people well, but Zoe remained the life of the party over and over, and for surprisingly long periods.
What I noticed was this, though. Every time she came back into my arms, whether after 15 minutes or an hour and a half, she’d get a little squirmy and a little fussy and want to feed just a little bit. Sometimes she’d nap. And I began to realize that I was the safe haven for her that made the rest of her social energy possible. Her public face was consistently delightful, but when she came back to me she could let the private face through and admit that she wanted the comfort of nursing or that she was tired and needed a break.
To me that makes perfect emotional sense. I am less adept socially than I am professionally, but if I’m holding an oboe and performing or teaching, I’m very enthusiastic, and I am closely keyed into the person or people I’m interacting with. While performing I consider it my job to be entirely extroverted. The act of performance is about giving the music away to the audience, and it is my job to translate the composer’s intentions and to sell the piece I’m playing. So everything about me is aimed outward during performance, and I am intentionally generous with my affect and communicative with both my colleagues and my audience. I can speak very comfortably in public by the same mechanism. And of course when I teach I am keyed into the needs of the student and working constantly to inspire as well as to inform.
I feel very comfortable in those roles, and my oboe-self is a genuine one, but when I get into my car or back home again that outward-oriented energy fades to be replaced by the private face. I am definitely an introvert at heart, and restore my energy by having alone time or at-home time with my family. I don’t want to make it sound like my professional persona is a fake one – that’s not how it feels to me – but the kind of energy it takes is not indefinitely sustainable without the rejuvenation of solitude. I certainly have a public face and a private one, and it is fascinating to see that so clearly in my five-month-old daughter as well.