There is an age-old pact between parents and children whereby parents embarrass their children while the little buggers try to kill us. I’m very comfortable embarrassing myself. This is good as my children are exceptionally good at trying to drive me into an early grave.
My tween constantly – and with great conviction – tells me that I’m a horror to behold. I am too soft, too loud, not funny, etc., etc., etc. When my beloved firstborn is particularly vociferous in her critique, I reflect on the Mark Twain quote, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” And then I pray that I’ll have the wisdom and strength to guide this force of nature into reaching at least some of her potential.
For this I pray – often with Chardonnay.
My younger son is different. He is a gentler soul whose tears flow freely, usually when he is tired and he thinks about future losses. And embarrassments.
“I’m not comfortable with that,” my son offered in his defense after refusing to perform at his Day Camp’s Costume Day (in reality, ‘Costume Hour’. See here for more about this fiasco).
“Oh, honey,” I comforted him, wiping away his tears. “I embarrass myself all of the time,” I continued, stroking aside the tangle of hair that crept over his eyes in his grief, “like at exercise class.”
“I know. But everyone knows you’re uncoordinated,” he responded.
Well, at least he’s comfortable with someone’s humiliation.
Our teary conversation continued. I reminded my earnest little guy to breathe when he became overwrought and sent him off to Dreamland with kisses and reassurances — of my love, and my intention to continue shuffling along this mortal coil for a few more years at least. And a deeper understanding of the morning’s adamant refusal to don a costume for camp today.
Okay, maybe his father was right –yes, it does hurt to admit that — maybe our gentle little guy was not ready for the potential social and emotional ribbing of a dance performance in front of his fellow campers on Costume Day. But why not?
My kids are blessed. They have two parents who adore them – and each other… on most days. They attend a school and a church that is a true community – one dedicated to their growth and betterment. And we have money to spend on extracurricular activities, tutors and mind-expanding vacations. We have the tools to make them robust and resilient– in theory at least… if we use our tools correctly. But how?
How can I get my kids ready? How will I teach them to deal with embarrassment and disappointment? Life delivers plenty of each to all who walk on this earth so I view this as a critical skill to teach my tykes. How will I teach them to take advantage of their privilege by testing their limits? No, I’m not talking about the stereotypical limit-testing pitfalls like drugs, alcohol, failing grades and the like that give parents palpitations. I mean their real limits –the ones within themselves. How can I raise the math whiz who enters a poetry contest – and falls flat her derrière when the poem is panned? Then after the tears and self-flagellation, picks herself up again. Isn’t that the real goal of parenting? To make it safe enough for kids to challenge themselves to the point of embarrassment and then give them the tools to work through their disappointment and move on to the next thing? Our family has the resources – but how, oh dear Lord, how can I encourage my children to be resilient enough to handle embarrassment and disappointment.
Darned if I know – when is cocktail hour again?
But there is a glimmer that this village within which we’re raising our children is giving them a step up on this challenge. Thank heavens someone is.
In May, at one of our school’s bi-weekly chapels, my kid had to stand in front of the entire school and read off four facts about an animal he’d studied as part of a goodbye celebration for a beloved administrator. When I complimented my younger son at dinner that night he nodded casually and my daughter commented, “All he did was read some stuff from a card.” Yes, all my eight year-old did was read words he’d written in front of 200-plus people on a Monday morning.
Yes, children, there is a God. All is not lost. I’m back to driving like a grandmother again on Sunset Blvd. versus the enraged mom of yesterday. (Again, see here for more about this fiasco). And while I’m still pretty clueless and concerned, I am a tiny bit hopeful. And relieved.
“Do you want to walk on the other side?” I asked, holding my son’s hand with my left, tremorous appendage as we walked to get an after school snack.
“Nah. I’m good,” my wee one said. “I was freaked out at first but now I’m used to it [the tremor].” We crossed the street and went into the yogurt shop.
And as I thought about the kid’s comfort with speaking in front of the whole school, his comfortable grasp of my left hand and the open smile with which he greets the day…. I think he might just have a chance at being a high-functioning adult after all. I don’t have all of the answers, and there is no prescription in any book I’ve read that makes me sing “Halleluiah!” But there is modeling of the desired behavior – of muddling through each day, falling flat on my can – literally and figuratively (seriously, it is hard to tell where my natural klutziness ends and my Parkinson’s begins) and then getting up again to tackle the next item on my ‘to do’ list.
Frozen yogurt never, ever tasted so good.