Yes, people. It’s true. I was shy child.
People who have only known me as an adult have a very hard time believing this. But it’s true.
In fact, when I was small I was so shy that I would wrap myself around my mother’s leg and hide my face if anyone tried to talk to me.
Being shy was a huge mental load. If you’ve never been crippling shy, it may be hard to understand the absolute terror and panic of someone talking to you, looking at you, noticing you.
Because all you really want in most public situations is to be completely invisible. The fact that you’re not is enough to cause a full-fledged anxiety attack.
Then, in the eighth grade, I made a split-second decision that changed my life. I was walking down the hall on the first day of school on my way to gym class. I saw a girl who had just been in my English class and who was also on my bus. I thought that it seemed stupid that I sort of knew her and now we were going to just walk down the hall like we didn’t know each other.
I realized then that being shy just didn’t work for me.
I had had enough.
I walked over to her and said, “You going to the gym now, too? I’ll walk with you.”
And that is how I began one of the most important, deep and lasting friendships of my entire life. (Nicole: Holla!)
Looking back, it’s funny to me that I decided in a split second to just be done with a major condition I’d battled my whole life.
I don’t think shyness ever goes away 100%. I think it’s always in there. It’s just a question of whether you give it power or not.
I’m often surprised at when it creeps up … because it still does sometimes.
Like a few weeks ago. Megan brought home the form for the school talent show. For two years, she has been saying she wanted to be in it. In her mind, this is her year to show her talent in … what, exactly?
The kid is super creative — in a visually artistic way. She draws, paints and makes books and posters constantly. But that’s not the kind of stuff you can do in a talent show.
“What do you want to do?” I asked.
“How about a tap dance?” she said.
“Well, you haven’t taken tap lessons in two years. Your shoes are too small. I don’t think we’ll be able to get you prepared in time. What about playing a song on the piano?” I asked. She recently started lessons.
She looked at me like I was an idiot. “I don’t think so, mommy.”
“Why don’t you write a poem and read it?”
OK, even I knew that was lame and Megan wasted no time confirming it.
By that point, I was secretly hoping that she’d decide not to do it. While I really, really wanted to support her, I also really, really, didn’t want her to embarrass herself in front of her whole school.
The shy child in me was freaking the fuck out.
“Why don’t I just sing a song?” she asked.
Hmmm. A song. She can sing along with plenty of songs in the car and she sounds pretty good, I thought. Maybe that would work. I emailed the music teacher.
Problem: We had to provide the karaoke-version of the song. No voice track.
She would be on her own. My little girl. On stage. Alone. No voice to sing along with. Just her.
Terror. Complete and total terror.
A thousand terrible, embarrassing scenarios played out in my mind. I pictured her frozen on stage, a deer in headlights, unable to move or squeak out a note.
Oh, shit again.
Then I took a deep breath. I had to realize that this panic was mine. I had to realize that she is a very different sort of second-grader than I was. I had to let her take the chance.
Even though I was terrified for her.
I said, “OK, if you’re going to do this, you have to practice. Every day. We have to to work together to make sure you know all the words and when to start singing and when to stop.”
She and I do not always work well together, as she tends to think I’m a total moron much of the time. I predicted torture: meltdowns, tears, slamming doors, etc., etc. and et-farking-cetera. The potential for ugliness was big.
First we started off with her sitting in a chair holding the lyrics sheet. Over time, we worked out cues in the background music to tip her off to start the next verse, chorus, etc.
She was pretty good — right out of the gate, in fact.
Then last week I said, “It’s time for you to stand up and do this. Think about how you might want to move. You can stand still if you want to or you can try to dance a little. You’re going to need to pretend you’re holding a microphone. I’m going to watch you so you can get used to people watching you do this.”
I was pretty sure she was just going to stand still and occassionally gesture a little bit.
She looked right at me and sang and danced all over the kitchen. She was so confident.
I was floored. Yes, I’m her mom but I couldn’t have done that in front of ANYONE at that age.
Today is her big audition. She has to sing in front of her class. I feel good about it. I know that she’s prepared. It has been killing me thinking that she was going to be nervous, though.
She got up this morning and sat on the couch, still half asleep. Then she perked up and said, “I’m excited to show everyone my song today. I’m a little bit nervous, too, but mostly excited.”
She has worked hard. She deserves to feel good about what she does today.
They say our children are our biggest teachers. I’m amazed — constantly — when my kids step up to plates that I would’ve run from.
Right now I’m learning — again — to put aside the fear and anxiety, to pat that little shy girl inside me on the head and tell her it’s time.
It’s time to sing so the world can hear.
(Damn, that was a schmaltzy ending. Excuse me now while I go write some greeting cards …)