I am an only child, and the eldest of many cousins, much younger than I. Both as a child, and as an adult, I was a loud introvert. (Fact: I wasn’t too sure what an introvert was until recently. This flowchart summarizes life as an introvert quite nicely.) The whole concept of an indoor voice is one I only started to understand in CEGEP, and one that I still only have a tenuous grasp on.
I was also socially very inept, as a child, despite my mother’s best attempts to tame and domesticate me, by enrolling me in group play-date activities, and lessons of every variety (swimming, drawing, gymnastics, and whatever it is little young people do).
Unfortunately, despite my mother’s efforts, when I started kindergarten, I suffered a social shock from which I have not totally recovered.
One day, my kindergarten class was walking through the elementary school hallways in almost orderly rows of twos, the way schools usually organize the young groups of animals. I accepted this arbitrary structure, because the teacher told me it was the rule, and I had a healthy respect for her, since I understood that if I didn’t listen to her, she might tell my mother, and my mother transcended all forms of authority, and in my childish mind was a cross between a Queen and a Tyrant (who gave great cuddles): she was the Law.
To my shock, that day, walking in twos, I realised that not everyone understood the structure. Namely, the boy in the row in front of me was dragging his feet so much, a big gap had formed between him and the row ahead of him. So, to be helpful, to help him realize he was falling behind, I gave him a very gentle shove in the back, so he would move forward.
In horror, I watched as he turned to me, and yelled “YOU PUSHED ME! I WILL TELL TEACHER!!!”
By the time Teacher had arrived on the scene, I was already crying too hard to protest my innocence, and my 5 year-old vocabulary wasn’t up to the task of explaining that I had genuinely not known the rule of “no hitting/pushing, regardless of motive; respect everyone’s personal bubble, and use your words!” As a single child, I had never before been in a situation where someone tried to hit or push me, and I had never had any violent tendencies… I had never had the occasion to learn that lesson. I was very sorry to have broken the rule, but felt some consideration should be granted to my ignorance and good intentions, especially since I had not caused any damage, other than, perhaps, a momentary shock to the kid.
I also was unable to verbalize why I felt hurt by the kid, who never gave me the chance to explain, and worse, assumed the worst in me, when he had no prior reason to do so.
I got in trouble, had to apologize to the young punk who refused to realise that I hadn’t intended on hurting him, and got a lecture from my mother.
Fast forward 25 years, and I still find myself in situations that baffle me as much socially; I do my best, with honest intentions, only to be met with anger and resentment, and refusals to talk the issue through. Check-mate!
And like my 5-year-old self, I stand there hurt, and I ask myself “What did I do wrong? Why don’t they like me?”. Only now, I don’t have my mother around to give me all the answers.
Sometimes being a grown-up sucks.