That’s what really made life hard.
It was my thoughts and reactions to my shyness and reluctance to interact with others that really got me down. I felt like a failure on a very basic level. I could not even have a conversation with a stranger or sometimes even someone I knew — sometimes even my own family members! I watched other kids happy and at ease, chatting up anyone who would listen, playing and living life in the moment, and that made me feel worse and retreat even further. I did not know how to be free and just be me.
Over time I grew out of this crippling shyness, but it took a LONG time and a lot of work. I still consider myself an introvert, but I no longer fear others the way I did for so long. But even though I’m not that shy little girl anymore, sometimes I see things or remember things that bring her right back to me. Like a punch in the gut, those insecure and uncomfortable feelings that I experienced for so long will wash over me, taking my breath away.
That hasn’t happened in a while, but yesterday it happened TWICE.
First, I was at my neighborhood pool, and there was a group of girls playing a game. They were adorable, and all having the time of their lives. Then another girl came around and obviously wanted to join the game, but she didn’t know how. She stood there, awkward and timid, as the other girls carried on their game. She finally got up the nerve to ask if she could join, but no one heard her. Then she got up the nerve to jump right in, but the other girls were so caught up in their game that they hardly even noticed her.
I felt so strongly for that girl, I wanted to run over and shake the other girls by the shoulders and scream “Let her play! She just wants to be part of your game! Stop ignoring her! Be nice to her!”
Of course, that probably would have embarrassed her terribly, not to mention totally freaked her (and her parents) out because she had no idea who I was. I looked over at her parents to see if they were witnessing this horrible scenario — they were oblivious. I just sat there, remembering myself in so many similar situations as a kid. I remembered how I reacted in those moments, how I felt. I thought about how I wish I could have behaved differently back then. I wondered how I will handle moments like these if they happen to my own children. Will I jump in to save them? Will I trust them to handle the situation in their own way? Will I encourage them to speak up or tell them it’s perfectly ok to be shy and quiet? I guess I will do what feels right in the moment, hopefully making sure they know that no matter what, they are perfectly fine just as they are.
Later in the day, I was watching The Babysitters Club on Netflix. My husband commented that maybe I’m a little too old for that show, but I reminded him it was no different than him watching endless hours of animated movies and cartoons from his childhood. As a shy kid, my absolute favorite thing to do was read. I read every single Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley book like my life depended on it. Those girls were my best friends, and you better believe I’m going to watch now to see how they’re brought to life on screen.
The episode “Mary Anne Saves the Day” was the one that got me. I could relate so strongly to her character. I could feel her shyness and her need to please others, but even moreso, I could feel her insecurity over being that way. She wanted to be different, but was terrified to put herself out there. Bless her. I cried like a baby as I watched (I’m also eight months preggo, so that may have had something to do with all the tears).
But it was so refreshing to see how the show handled her personality. They neutralized her shyness, treating it as perfectly normal and natural and nothing to be ashamed of. They also highlighted her many great qualities as far more important aspects of her character. They showed the fierce and strong side of her that is so common among quiet people but so often goes unnoticed. Bravo, Netflix!
I wouldn’t change my experience as a shy kid. I believe there’s a reason that I experienced shyness and shame and learned to navigate and overcome the emotions that come with that. It made me more empathetic, sensitive, and tuned into the feelings of others. It made me the person I am today. But I do know now that my shyness was a perfectly normal and natural way to be as a kid, and the shame I attached to it was completely self-inflicted and unnecessary.