I had a difficult time making friends. I was painfully shy and at times it felt physically painful to even attempt interacting with others.
My teachers complained I wasn’t social enough when they saw me walking around the outskirts of the recess yard.
Their complaint implied that there was something wrong with me.
When I go now, to pick my son up from third grade, I still feel uneasy, as I stand there on the blacktop, waiting for him to emerge from the cavernous, brick fortress.
My kids like to spend a while playing on the playground after he gets out. It’s good for them, so I oblige.
My four-year-old, who is not yet in school, skips about making friends with just about anyone she can run or slide or swing with, and it doesn’t seem to trouble her if they run off to play elsewhere. She doesn’t take it personally at all, but just finds something new to do, or someone new to race with.
My son has his school cohorts with whom he tussles and frolics to the point where I’m almost concerned one of them will get hurt. I’m assured by other parents that this is just the way boys play on the playground after six hours of sitting in their chairs. So I leave it at that.
I watch a lot of the moms chat with one another. Sometimes I see someone I know and will utter a few words about the upcoming field trip, or how challenging this particular teacher seems. Sometimes we talk about our children’s extra curricular activities.
But mostly, I stand off to the side, feeling like I don’t really fit in.
I’m still shy.
It is not in my nature to approach people and I haven’t a clue how to make small talk.
Sometimes I still feel like that awkward, gangly girl I was when I was nine or ten, or twelve, or fifteen.
Sometimes my stomach rolls and I want to run and hide behind a tree so no one can see how nervously I glance around, knowing I don’t fit in.
But mostly, I talk to that girl I used to be.
It is really a special thing to get to meet her again on the same playground where I once stood, lonely and confused about social customs.
It’s alright, I tell her. Do you. You’re just fine. It’s okay to be quiet. It’s perfectly fine to not want to waste your energy on small talk. You’re gonna do just great. You’ll see. It’s all going to be okay. There is nothing wrong with you.