Stranger Danger!

(pictured- me, in an uncomfortable dress, sitting uncomfortably next to my Au Pair, at an uncomfortable Christmas Eve party, 1998) 

I was a pretty shy kid. I didn’t like to talk to “that lady my mom knew for centuries” that would tell me “You probably don’t remember me!” (You’re right, I don’t) and “I knew you when you were this small,” lowering her flexed hand down toward the floor (like I was ever standing when I was an infant.)

I’m sure most kids were like that, though. But I was super extra shy. I still kind of am. I think it was a good thing, though, like if some man came down the street in a white van and told me there was candy or ice cream or a pony in the van, while I would desperately want to eat candy and ice cream while riding a pony, I’d be too shy to even acknowledge he had spoken to me.

However, I was kinda shamed for being so shy. Don’t you hate that? Even now as an adult, it’s the worst thing to hear: “SPEAK UP,” or, “Wow, that’s the most I’ve ever heard you speak!!”

I actually heard this at a funeral once. A FUNERAL! It was my great-uncles funeral, and while I wasn’t that close to him, I ended up reading a poem in front of everyone. Nobody else wanted to do it! So somehow, I got roped into it and I was too polite to say no. (Polite and shy mixed together turns someone into a complete push-over). So I did. When I was done, my cousin said to my sister that it was the most he had ever heard me speak.

This annoyed me. It turns out, I talk a whole lot. Just maybe not to you.

Anyway, there was one specific time as a kid that I thought I was being really smart and careful, but apparently it had turned out I was just being anti-social. My best friend Rachel and I had our favorite pool to swim in for hours at a time. It was our favorite because it was out of town, so our normal annoying school friends didn’t bother us there. They also had this guy flipping the best burgers we’ve ever had, and during adult swim, we’d stuff ourselves with cheeseburgers and Spongebob ice cream bars.

Often times, Rachel sought out this man at the pool. This sounds weird. That’s because it was. There was this man in the pool- a big man- tall, round, red headed and bearded, kinda like a viking. And this strange man, who came without his own children, would play with the kids in the pool.

????

I found this weird and creepy and just wrong. Rachel, however, absolutely loved it. She’d seek him out for splash fights and for games of Marco Polo, and I never had any of it. I tried, I did. And it was just weird. He had this strange relationship with Rachel, my little blond haired, blue eyed friend, and in the back of my little-kid mind, I knew this was no good.

But, Rachel’s mother was fully aware of this guy. In fact, she encouraged the relationship between Rachel and this stranger! She had also told my parents that I was jealous that Rachel had another friend, and that’s why I’d refuse to engage in such disgusting play-time.

Yes, I was very jealous of Rachel’s 36-year-old friend who hung around a public pool all day.

The whole pool community, in fact, seemed to accept this guy. Maybe they knew something I didn’t. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong. Maybe it wasn’t a man after all. Maybe it was a therapy dog.

The point is, do not come at me because I’m shy. Do not chastise children for being shy. Don’t make them feel like they’re doing something wrong, or they’re “jealous” or “anti-social”. And when they finally do speak up, listen, and don’t gawk in amazement that they have the capacity to open their mouths and say stuff. They can talk. They can probably speak better than you can. Maybe you weren’t important enough to hear what they had to say anyway.

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