Taking the school bus in Kindergarten was an interesting experience.
When you’re that age, you quickly realize that the sooner you sit down on a large moving vehicle, the less likely you are to lose your balance and fall into the nearest kid’s lap (likely an intimidating 5th grader, if you were particularly unlucky). It wasn’t long before I decided to sit in the exact same seat each day, only a few rows back from the driver.
For the first few stops, my seat hosted only me. On the third stop after mine, a tall, dark-haired fifth-grader boarded. For a reason I never understood, he always sat next to me. Although he didn’t speak a word to me, he gave me a friendly smile each morning.
One stop after his, another boy boarded. I would come to learn that this new boy was the first boy’s friend. He had red hair, freckles, was chubby, and he was exceptionally loud. He’d sit in the row in front of us and frequently turn around to talk to the dark haired boy in an animated fashion, arms flailing for added gusto. His manner overwhelmed me, but as long as the dark haired boy remained by my side, I felt safe.
One day, the dark-haired boy didn’t board. I sat alone in my seat, wondering where my friend might be. When the red-haired boy eventually boarded, his face lit up with glee as he realized his friend wasn’t riding. With a laugh, he plopped himself down beside me and proudly declared that he was stealing his friend’s seat.
Unsurprisingly, I started crying. The red-haired boy looked at me in shock. I could tell he felt bad. He apologized, got up, and moved to his usual row in front of me. He looked back tentatively to see if I had stopped crying. I had, but I was also giving him a look that clearly stated don’t try that again. Eyes wide, he faced himself back toward the front where his other friends began to ask him what on earth he’d done to upset me.
I was surprised by the mixture of feelings that hit me in that moment. It was a combination of guilt, shame, and righteous indignation (a mixture of feelings I would become very familiar with over time).
I felt guilty that I made the boy feel hurt and confused simply because I wanted to sit with my friend instead. I felt shame for having very odd needs (always sitting by the same person) and asking for them in an unusual way (crying and dirty looks). And I also felt angry that the boy had put me in such a position, that he had trespassed on our territory, and that he somehow thought his mannerisms were even remotely acceptable on a school bus with sensitive kids like me on it.
It wouldn’t be until adulthood that I would learn this odd concoction of emotions is a common experience of a deeply emotional, sensitive person, including the way I reacted to the boy.
Lesson (still being) Learned:
As a sensitive soul, I have an odd assortment of needs that I frequently feel in conflict with. When faced with such a situation, it’s common for me to allow this confusion to cause me to be overly defensive about my needs (and subsequently give a lot of mean stares). I can easily justify this hurtful behavior with the excuse that I am simply protecting myself in the only way I know how. But I do know a better way, it just takes a lot of effort, and honestly, a lot of bravery.
Directly speaking up for our needs is necessary to live an authentic and happy life, regardless of how weird we think they are. By respecting our own needs, it’s easier to ask others to respect them as well. In that way, we can come to this situation with a more open demeanor: one where our facial expressions, words, and body language all convey: I have a need, but I respect yours too. And in that light, we stand the best chance of getting our needs truly met.