Confessions of a quiet kid

Growing up without using your words


Photo by Bethany Arnold

Many kids grow up wanting to make friends can’t because they are too “quiet” to talk to their peers.

Story by Stephanie Jumper, feature editor

“She talked during class with a friend while I was teaching,” my elementary teacher lowered her voice in disbelief of the words coming from her own mouth. 

My mother let out a sigh and rested her hand on my shoulder upon hearing the news. They engaged a few more adjectives regarding my behavior, ranging from “well behaved” to “lacking social skills,” all while I lifted my head to watch two adults talk about me like I wasn’t hiding behind my mom’s leg.

I squeezed my mother’s hand and stared at the floor in shame. My tiny, trembling fingers stealthily swiped a few tears away and sealed my eyes shut to stop any more from falling. 

I felt the waterworks revert to the back of my eyes, and I gained the courage to make eye contact with my mom. Although I was able to read books for a solid three years at that point, I couldn’t begin to read the look on her face. She darted back and forth from meeting my eyes to the teacher’s, to my eyes again, all with a faint grin and raised eyebrows. 

I didn’t think a single word could describe the emotion her face conveyed. Shock? Relief? Exhaustion?

None of the above. 

As soon as the teacher was out of sight, a full fledged smile inched across her face, and rather than reprimand me for my lack of respect, she only had one thing to say:

“You made a friend today? I’m so proud of you!”

That unsettling smile was her way of concealing her joy from her painfully shy daughter speaking at school that day. While this wasn’t the typical reaction from your mother of a misbehaving eight-year-old, even getting a few words out of me in class was a treacherous feat. 

If someone were to describe me at that age, and admittedly at my current age as well, quiet is a word I’m certain would come to mind. 

With this word comes assumptions. Assumptions about my thoughts, strengths and weaknesses that stuff me into a box I never asked to be placed in. Despite my staggering height of 5 foot nothing, some spaces even I can’t fit in comfortably.

Some assumptions came from kids who labeled me as depressed. They couldn’t comprehend why someone wouldn’t want to speak every word that came out of their brains until there isn’t any oxygen left. I envied these types of kids in elementary school. 

I envied their natural speaking abilities. The way they could skip around the playground, chip into conversations and immediately form friendships.

I watched in amazement as my classmates conversed with as much ease as breathing. 

“How are you today?”

“I’m alright. What about you?”

It felt wrong to call conversations like that small talk; it was not a small activity for me. It was an energy-draining, anxiety-inducing event that warranted every bit of caffeine in my bloodstream. The only thing small about them was how minuscule I felt when mustering my words together in hopes of making new friends.

My mom scoured bookstores, the internet and her brain to find some solution to my less-than-stellar social skills. She made several suggestions for how I could find a playground pal, the one I found most helpful being:

“I’ll bring pizza to your school and you can share it with people.”

On days she did this, classmates lined up for a slice of pepperoni and a conversation with me. These friendships ended as soon as we left the cafeteria. After each slice was munched on, my thirty minutes of fame and friendships were up. 

Since these days, I’d like to think I have a better grasp of maintaining a conversation. To the amazement of anyone who has known me for more than a week, I am occasionally able to speak to people who speak to me.

I’m still everything short of a social butterfly. I’m still more like a stiffly squirming caterpillar digging its head in the dirt to avoid the gaze of others. However, word by word, and awkward conversations started by awkward conversation starters, I can eventually speak to certain people without circling into a cocoon in fear.

So, after several years of trial and error, I can finally say, “Yes, Mom, I did make a friend today in class, and I’m also proud of me.”