I was 6 going on 7 in second grade at Immaculate Conception school in a tiny little town in Southern Illinois. With a late-May birthday, I was one of the younger children in my class throughout middle school. I was shy, hyper-aware of everyone around me, and easily distracted by other people and their thoughts about me. I was a born introvert.
My teacher in second grade, Mrs. Stechmesser (a thin, light-complected woman with jet black hair perpetually styled in a tidy bob), had a favorite habit of rewarding the class with candy to get us to behave. She kept a glass jar filled to the brim with Jolly Ranchers displayed on her rectangular pine desk.
While Jolly Ranchers were indeed my all-time favorite candy, I always seemed to be on my best behavior in any class through out my childhood. I knew some classmates misread this as a classic “teacher’s pet,” and yes, while I also possessed the annoying habit of being a bona-fide people-pleaser, I mainly attributed my stock-pile of Jolly Ranchers to my quiet, introverted nature.
I can remember following my fellow second-graders into the classroom after each recess. They would be hot and red-faced, loud and hyper from the outdoor activity, and not too keen on returning to their quiet school work. I, on the other hand, would walk quickly to my desk, sit down carefully, and as Mrs. Stechmesser instructed, lay my head down on my arms and close my eyes. She expected the whole class to eventually do the same and would of course reward those who remembered with candy. For her it was a quick and easy method to calm down a room of 25 kids without having to raise her voice, and it was quite effective. However, I always seemed to be the first to win this game after each recess.
And it wasn’t intentional. I excelled at being quiet.
I loved closing my eyes and escaping the noise and clutter of that chaotic room and getting a few moments to collect my thoughts while I patiently waited for my fellow classmates to relax. I couldn’t help but be the first one in that room to block out the world and all its distractions…and what was so funny to me, was that the LAST thing I wanted to gain from that exercise was to be called out in front of an entire audience of 25 rowdy classmates while accepting my candy reward.
I remember at the time (yes even at 6 years old) how painful it felt and how my ears burned walking up to that jar of candy on Mrs. Stechmesser’s desk in front of the entire room whose attention was now 100% focused on me. After selecting a brightly colored plastic-wrapped square of sugar, I would scuttle back to my seat and stare straight ahead until my classmates eventually lost interest and the moment would pass.
Anti-social, not all the time.