My mom came with me to school one day. I love my mother dearly but she is loud and outspoken.* Actually, I admire her for that. It was early morning and my class was sort of lined up, sort of still playing. At home I had no problem speaking my mind but as I got closer to my classmates I clammed up.
I wished my mother would leave. I knew she would never understand why I just couldn't talk to the people at school. Shyness doesn't just make you afraid to say what you think; it erases your thoughts so that you don't have anything to say.
One of my classmates, Ceri**, small for her age, with short brown hair, glasses, and a face full of freckles, cheerfully greeted me as I approached. "Hi Jennifer!"
I smiled at her.
"Aren't you going to say hi to your friend?" Mom boomed.
"I smiled at her," I replied softly.
"You can't talk?" My Mom got louder, if that was possible.
"Jennifer hardly ever says anything," Ceri piped in helpfully.
I cringed, terrified my mother would make a big deal out of it. She didn't. At least she didn't say anything. The look on her face was one of shock, worry, and disappointment. Later, I would hear her talking (loudly) to my Dad about the incident. I'm pretty sure she also talked to my teachers about it that day, too.
I knew that their "help" would only give me more attention and make it worse. But I didn't want to disappoint my mother. And I definitely didn't want to be shy. So I decided I wasn't going to be. I forced myself to talk to people. If I couldn't think what to say, instead of staying silent, I would say something totally out there. This sometimes gave me the reputation of being an airhead, but at least I wasn't the girl who "hardly ever says anything."
Over the years I made out-going Jen my dominant personality. I don't have to fake being her; I am her. I'm comfortable in the skin of out-going Jen. She's funny and people like her. Deep down, though, I'm still shy. Shyness rears its ugly head often when:
- I have to call someone on the telephone that I don't know.
- I'm at a job interview***
- I try to small talk with people who are older than me. Like at a wine and cheese party.
- I'm in any situation where being a little goofy feels inappropriate
- In a large group situation.
*Some time later my mother would take me to a bra store and mortify me, while I was in the changeroom, by exclaiming loudly to a sales person "my daughter is self-conscious about her large breasts!"
**I don't actually remember if it was Ceri who played this pivotal role in my life, but I like to think it was. About eight years later, Ceri died of cancer. We weren't that close (we'd gone to different high schools) and I didn't go to her funeral. If I believed in angels I would say that there is one, small for her age, with short brown hair, glasses, and a face full of freckles, who looks out for me.
***I forgive myself for that one. Who doesn't get nervous in interviews? Wonder Woman that's who.