Vanilla, Please

“Vanilla, please.”

That was all I had to say, accompanied with a dollar bill in an outstretched hand. Two words. A simple exchange. Yet I could not do it.

I wasn’t always shy. I remember riding on my dad’s shoulders as a toddler, waving and saying, “Hi” to everyone I passed. I remember visiting the cockpit in the airplane and flirting with the pilot in that way that little kids have. I was three.

But soon after, shyness washed over me and cloaked me in fear. I would hide behind my mom’s leg even while in the company of known people. I would protest about talking to my grandparents on the phone as though I was delivering some great speech to thousands of followers. Instead of making conversation, I would simply recite the alphabet since it calmed my nerves.

The shyness slowly grew until it reached an apex in my eighth year. It was bad. One afternoon, I asked my mom to call my best friend to see if she could spend the night.

Lisa and Friend

She said no. Not my friend, but my mom. It was the best thing she could have done. She knew that if she enabled the behavior, I would be paralyzed through life; hamstringed by my fears. It was a tough lesson for me to learn. That afternoon, my eight-year-old body was on the floor, crying and screaming in protest. I was way too old for a temper tantrum, but that didn’t halt my attempts at creating a record-breaking fit.

The fears were imagined. All I had to do was pick up the phone, dial a number I had memorized, and say to my friend’s parents or brother, “Hi. this is Lisa. May I speak to  – .” So simple. I knew the family. It was only a few words. It was such an easy request and one that could only receive a positive response. It was so simple, yet I made it into something insurmountable.

I don’t remember if I ever summoned the courage to call that day. But I eventually did. I learned how to work through that irrational shyness and speak up for myself. I realized that I could choose to let the fear overwhelm me or I could turn the tables and overwhelm the fear instead.

As adults, we don’t have mom following behind us, forcing us to face those difficult lessons. We have to be our own parent, holding ourselves accountable and refraining from enabling dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors. Your issue may not be shyness. Perhaps you allow yourself to be lazy or engage in excessive procrastination. Maybe you make excuses that prevent you from growing. Or, possibly you permit anger to drive you. Regardless of your personal struggle, think of how you would respond if you were your own parent. Would you allow the behavior to continue? Or, would you stop enabling the actions, thus encouraging a new way of being?

As for the vanilla exchange? It had a happy ending. I decided I wanted some ice cream from a booth at the Kerrville Folk Festival where I had my choice of two flavors pre-served in plastic cups: vanilla or chocolate. When I asked my mom to buy me the ice cream, she responded by giving me the money but she required that I complete the transaction alone. After an entire day sweltering in the intense Texas sun, I finally approached the booth, quietly uttered my two words, held out my sweaty dollar bill and walked away with a cup of creamy and delicious ice cream.

The booths at Kerrville. Scary, aren't they? :)
The booths at Kerrville. Scary, aren’t they? 🙂

I gained more than just a cold treat that day. I learned that I couldn’t expect others to come to my rescue. I learned that I needed to practice being assertive in order to have my needs (okay, wants in this case) met. I realized that my shyness was irrational and that others were not even aware of it. I gained confidence in my ability to face my fears. I am thankful for those lessons every time I face a classroom full of kids, speak in front of adults, engage in conversations with strangers and make media appearances. If it wasn’t for a mom who refused to buy the vanilla ice cream, I might still be hiding behind her leg.

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14 thoughts on “Vanilla, Please

  1. Fear is such a difficult thing to overcome. I had been extroverted all of my life, always the life of the party, friends with everyone, always up for an adventure. Then when I was 27 I got sick, very sick, it took Dr’s 7 months to figure out what was wrong with me, 7 months to figure out that I just needed to take one little pill everyday to keep me alive, then I got sick again and after a few months added another pill to make my heart beat right, a side effect of the main disease. During the time when I was sick I developed panic attack disorder, I got it bad. I had panic attacks everyday for over a year, therapy and more medication helped them lessen in frequency. My biggest fear was that I was going to die. It took me the better part of 8 years to realize that I am going to die anyway, there is no averting it, it’s going to happen. I just don’t know when. I have a normal life expectancy, but my illness made me afraid to ride on the interstate, fly in a plane, hike where phones don’t work, basically to do anything even remotely risky. My life was ruled by fear. With lots of therapy I was able to overcome my fears and faced every single one of them, I was fine every time. I even hiked this past summer in CA. After my husbands affair disclosure I started having panic attacks again, but for other reasons. It seems like once they are a part of your life they never really go away for good. They are less now but for the first year I battled with them a lot.

    Thanks for posting this. I love a good reminder that we must face our fears in order to live a full life.

    1. It’s interesting how much a single experience can program us to respond in a certain way. Kudos to you for working on your fears:) It sounds like you’re doing a great job reprogramming your mind and body to respond in a different way.

  2. It seems the older we get, the more irrational our fears become. Good to be aware as a first step at over-coming. I love your blog! Keep writing.
    Life is good.

  3. I know exactly what you are talking about – I was a shy child too, who hated to pick up the phone and ring anybody, even my best friend. Not so much in primary school, but in highschool. I remember the 16 year old version of your 8 year old tantrum when my mother said that I had to ring the government department and organise my own student payment. Talk to someone i didn’t know on official business? Noooooo! We have good mothers, thank goodness, she persisted and as I have gotten older, people look at me queerly when i saw that i was a very shy child 😉

  4. As a kid I refused to talk to waitresses. My dad would always order for me. I remember waitresses looking at me “What can I get for you, sweetie?” and I would instantly look at my dad. It’s a story I tell people to say I’m still an introvert but no longer struggle with shyness. I don’t have any problems with public speaking. BUT maybe I’m not as over my shyness as I like to think. There are still occasions when I feel that irrational terror of not wanting to ask someone for something even though it is perfectly reasonable and even expected. I spent two weeks with a leaking sink before I worked up the courage to call my landlord and ask him to fix it.

    “I learned that I couldn’t expect others to come to my rescue. I learned that I needed to practice being assertive in order to have my needs (okay, wants in this case) met.” – It still requires a bit of kicking and screaming at times but when I realize no one else is going to do it for me, I can usually pick myself up and get through it.

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