Driving home this evening, I heard a piece on NPR about a book club for young readers. Both books for the month had a common theme of immigration, loneliness, bullying. It reminded me of my years growing up in Bombay.
Lonely, friendless – who, me? If you know me in real life, I doubt you would ever think of me as a shy, sensitive or lonely kid. But I think that about describes me. I was too shy to speak with other kids my age, so I spoke with older people. And they thought that I was one smart girl, so well-spoken, so intelligent. Intelligent and well-spoken, I was. Smart, I don't know. I was (and continue to be) quite naive in many ways. Unfortunately, all that smartness and articulateness led other kids to believe that I was a snob. I was half-aware of this presumption but I didn't know how to change it. I tried to reach out, be friendly and I thought I had a few friends. But at the back of my mind, I knew that I had none. Oh, I was one of the school toppers (ranked 3rd). I don't think anyone was more surprised than I. I thought the other kids were way smarter, studied harder… But maybe I was smarter or luckier. Anyway, I graduated with great marks, went to junior college.
There, I met a great bunch of kids. We hung out together, had great conversations, fell in and out of love with each other, became good friends… and continue to be good friends. One of them who also happened to be from my school told me, many years later, that for the longest time, he used to think that I was a snob. Up until he met me in college and came to know me better. I remember wondering, what did I do (or not do) to merit such a description? The guy had had zero interaction with me, yet he seemed to have a clear idea of the kind of person I was.
This long-winded (and slightly pathetic) story is not to establish my lonely and friendless childhood (there, that sounds even worse!) but to explain that kids have it tough also.
I know that most people characterize childhood as a period of innocence and freedom. Yes, it is a time for fun, mischief, play and friendship. However, it may not be so for every kid. I was nervous playing sports. Since I had hardly any friends, I never went out to play. I sat at home and read instead. See how I became the smartest cookie in the class? The one who got great marks in English, whose grammar was impeccable and wrote the best essays? All those years of reading did that. But this also meant that I couldn't catch a ball. Or ride a bicycle, for the longest time. That made me nervous during PT class.
Anyway, I am alright now. Actually, I am GREAT. If you have been a long-time reader of this journal of mine, then you know that I have come up a winding path, learning a lot along the way. I am happier now than I can ever recall, I feel fulfilled and contented, and I know that I have many gifts to share. And I know that my experience as a smart little kid in Bombay will help me to show other little kids that you can be smart and talented and have friends too. That it's okay to be a little shy. That there is no need to be nervous about playing sports. That books can be great friends. That there are other nice kids out there waiting for you to go play with them.
Before you think that this is an issue only faced by smart girls, let me assure you that it isn't. If you are a class topper, I think others automatically assume that you must be terribly vain and hardly interested in fun activities, regardless of gender. I really didn't study that hard, and when I did, I got the results. And you know that type of student who studies hard but doesn't ever say so? People thought that I was that kind. There you have it… such a silly situation, no?