Vincent Pugliese realized that while he’s working to make his son Nolan more confident, Nolan also teaches Vincent to be more patient as a dad.
The soft, hesitant footsteps couldn’t possibly be from you. But the rest of us were already downstairs. When Nolan comes down the stairs, it’s usually in a fast and excited manner. The steps began to slowly creek louder while I waited in the bright living room to see who would be making an appearance.
The red mask peeked out from behind the yellow wall. After another step, I saw the Spider-Man’s right arm reach for the wooden railing. You didn’t expect me to be there as you turned to see my smile. Your grin back to me was heartwarming because that wouldn’t have always been the case. You received your first Spider-Man outfit a few years ago but refused to wear it in front of anyone. You carried it everywhere but didn’t have it in you yet to wear it. One afternoon, when you were playing a bit too quietly in your room, I opened the door to find a fully dressed Spider-Man. You dove into your bed, pulling the costume off in embarrassment.
Back then, you would grunt and run away even with positive affirmation. But we are watching your creative side begin to gain the upper hand. Nolan, your creativity and big heart are pushing you to overcome your shyness.
I give you tons of credit. You might not know this by how much I jabber on now, but I was an extremely shy kid. Your grandmother loves to tell a story about me when I was a little younger that you are. She was taking me and my brother, your Uncle Steve, to a birthday party. Steve ran towards the house as we got out of the car.
“Where are you going?” my mom asked to my older brother.
“I’m going to play with my friends!” he called out.
“You don’t know anyone yet. What friends?” she questioned.
“The friends I’m going to make!” he yelled excitedly as he ran inside of the house.
During that same party, my mom didn’t know where I was. She went looking around and finally located me alone under a tree. While all of the kids were playing games and eating cupcakes, I sat by myself holding a wind up toy that played ‘Happy Birthday’. I was singing the song to myself over and over.
As one shy kid to another, I pay special attention to what you have been doing lately. I wrote in another letter to you about your Lego attributes and how detailed and forward thinking you are in the way you interact there. But I want you to know how much more there is than that.
As I write in the office, I’m staring at a wall full of drawings that you have made. One is a re-creation of a soccer game we played in the yard together. One is a portrait of our family, a stick figure drawing showing mom preparing dinner, me playing guitar, Andrew reading and you and Dylan bouncing on the couch. You document our family with drawings the way your mom and I do with photographs. To handle the volume of work you are producing, mom went out and bought mini mailboxes for each bedroom for you to deliver your mail.
So Spider-Man stealthily moving down the staircase is not a rare sight anymore. But it’s not always him. Sometimes it’s a construction worker. Or a Ninja. Or a fully dressed Pittsburgh Steeler, complete with the jersey, pants and helmet. Or an Army man ready for battle. And it’s awesome to watch.
At seven, you are bigger on expressing yourself with costumes and art than with your words. And at times it frustrates me. I don’t say it in front of you, but I’ve made lighthearted jokes that your three-year-old brother has said more words in his life than you have so far in seven years. That has as much to do with how much Dylan loves to talk as it does with your quietness. But I need to be careful.
You see, I remember what it was like to be shy. The most frustrating part of being shy was when people told me not to be a shy. I wasn’t trying to be shy, I just wasn’t comfortable enough to express myself yet. One of the most difficult parts of being a parent is understanding that each child is different than the other. There isn’t a one size fits all manual for communication.
But I want you to know that you are not the only one learning here. Every step of this is new to us as well. A seven-year-old Nolan is different than seven-year-old Andrew was. And a seven-year-old Dylan is going to be different than seven-year-old Nolan. I’m learning to let you go at your own pace and it’s beginning to pay off. So when you walk downstairs confidently as Spiderman instead of running away, I see you taking the next step towards being who you are.
As you grow, I know I need to grow with you. I need to get better. There are still too many days where your brief answers get to me. Too many times when I push for more words when you don’t yet have them to give. Too many times when I don’t just let you be yourself.
If you haven’t figured it out already, I can be stubborn. And pigheaded. And right. Even when I’m not right. So while I’m trying to figure out why you do certain things, I’m trying to figure myself out as well. When I was a kid, I looked at my dad like he should know everything. He’s the dad, right? He should have all of the answers. But I see the pictures of him with me from back then I realize that he didn’t know everything. He didn’t have all of the answers. He was just a young guy trying to figure it out. Just like I am today.
Trust me on this, though. Bear with me and we’ll figure this out together. How ’bout this? I’ll help you develop your confidence and you help me develop my patience. Deal?
And If your growth from age five to age seven is any indication, your shyness will be a thing of the past before we know it. It took me years to work through my uncomfortableness as a kid. Some days I still struggle with it. I smile watching you now because I see your personality beginning to break through your hesitation. I want you to know that you have nothing to be shy about. I want you to know that the sooner that you learn to not care what others think of you, the sooner you will be free to be exactly who you are.
– Photo courtesy of Vincent Pugliese