Recently I took DG on a Where’s Wally hunt around Abingdon. This involved going into several shops, searching for a small cardboard cutout and getting a piece of paper signed or stamped. Therefore this also involved talking to lots of different people, making random conversation about their shops, asking for hints and asking for the form to be completed.
Later I also went back to two of the shops to buy presents, where again I chatted with the person/people in there, discussed different options, asked for things that weren’t pre-packaged to be made up and talked about random nothings.
So what’s so special about that you might be thinking? For me, it’s utterly amazing. To talk to people I don’t know, to make decisions on the hoof, to deal with an unknown situation whilst probably coming across as an average human being!
Let me take you back in time, a little over thirty years ago (almost 32 if you want to be precise). I’d just turned five and I’d just started school. At home, I had four older siblings and was a chatterbox. At school, I spoke not a single word. At home, I had an extensive vocabulary having been talked to on an adult level since a baby. At school, I spoke not a single word. At home, I read the books that came home to my parents and gradually learnt to read. At school, I spoke not a single word.
I don’t remember all the details but from discussions with my mum, the situation was something like this: After a year of not speaking at school, the school decided to mention it to my parents and got a child psychologist to speak to me. These adults decided that I needed to be sent out of school for two mornings a week for remedial education on the basis that, because I didn’t speak to them, they didn’t think I could learn anything. My parents trusted their decision.
In the meantime, at home, I had this extensive vocabulary, an amazing aptitude with maths and was reading and writing because despite not speaking I had picked up everything that was being taught. At “the unit” I attended two mornings a week from Y2 to Y5 (I think I dropped to one morning in Y4), I wondered why all the other kids were so dumb 😦
If I used the typewriter, that was borrowed from the next door secondary school class, and typed the alphabet in order (aged eight) it was pointed out as an amazing accomplishment. I felt bemused. I hated it there. I hated being out of normal classes. I have memories of ‘being cornered’ because they wanted to speak to me but I was like a wild animal, lashing out because I didn’t want to talk and felt cornered and afraid. At school I was different, I was an outsider, I did not fit in, I was not always in class with my peers so didn’t have as much time to build relationships.
At school, in order to prove that I was learning to read (because my parents knew I could), they got my mum to record me reading to her. Then played the tape in front of the entire class. I reacted badly. I screamed and thumped myself and had to be taken out of the class. I didn’t understand was my tape played in front of the entire class when all other children had their reading in a one to one sessions with the teacher? I hated the sound of my own voice. I hated myself.
Over the years I started to talk. I attached myself to one or two friends and I started to whisper to them and to teachers. Over the years I started speaking in a normal voice in small groups. By the time I left primary school I could speak in a one-to-one or small group situation. By the time I left secondary school, I could answer a question asked in a lesson in front of an entire class.
That scared and silent child is the person I am in my head. Not a thirty-seven year old mother of two who spoke her wedding vows in front of eighty people, who has held down highly technical jobs and given presentations in front of groups of 40+ people (twice :lol:), who chats on Twitter and in real life with a variety of people. No, that’s not me. Inside I’m screaming and flailing and thumping my head with my arms and concentrating so hard on keeping eye contact sometimes that I’m not really listening to what’s being said…
A lot of the time, that internal me is quiet and I really am normal – whatever that is. But if I’m sitting alone in a large group, not talking to people I do know, it’s not because I’m rude and aloof – it’s because I don’t understand why you’d want to talk to me so assume you don’t. After months of practice I will smile and talk to you whenever I see you, but if you’re busy that one time and don’t respond, I go back several steps. It’s not conscious and I’m not doing it on purpose. Inside I am just a frightened little child who doesn’t understand social interaction and is screaming in fear and frustration…