Perpetual Embarrassment

Young kids are known to offer up their most embarrassing behaviours, often at the precise moment to inject the maximum amount of awkwardness into whatever situation the parent is trying to avoid.  Whether it’s a child screaming in the candy aisle or a toddler belly down in the toy store pounding fists and feet, many parents have sympathetically witnessed others involved in this type of struggle, and most have excruciatingly experienced it themselves.

As kids get older, they become acutely aware of the power of embarrassment and it is at this point that a switch occurs.  Suddenly, parents – and the way they inhale and expel air – become cause for the offspring to intolerably and continuously shudder from complete and utter embarrassment.

Although I see glimpses of what is yet to come, at ages 12 and eight, my kids aren’t too far into the perpetually embarrassed stage.   But I have been preparing for its onset by observing and learning from other parents how to manage the chagrin of kids when they are forced to exist in the same vicinity as their parents.

I once witnessed a humorous spectacle during which a mortified teenager was the unwitting recipient of his dad’s intentionally embarrassing behaviour.  Campers had boarded the bus at the beginning of a two week session, and parents were waiting to wave their last goodbyes when the bus would depart.

The hugs and kisses had been accepted by the kids as unavoidable.  It seemed unspoken amoung them that nobody would be teased about their mommy and daddy kissing them good-bye, since all potential teasers were also being affectionately embraced.

As waiting parents mused about this aspect of adolescence, one dad approached to the bus, and said to the waiting parents with a delighted, mischievous grin, “Watch this!”

He boarded the bus with outstretched arms and enthusiastically and loudly told his 13-year-old son that he loved him dearly and would miss him terribly.  We didn’t need to actually see Bobby, to know that he was sinking deeper and deeper into his seat.  (We also suspected that Bobby was accustomed to such behavior from his father, and would therefore recover quickly from his humiliation.)

A friend of mine who is anticipating the spring wedding of her eldest daughter shared a story with me about the first time she was to meet the groom to be.  The daughter had asked her mom to pick her and the boyfriend up from an outing… but, there were conditions.  Mom was to drive the newer of their two cars, and she was to choose especially nice clothes to wear.

The mom couldn’t resist and purposely drove the obviously older car, and wore her comfortable and practical weekend clothes.

Another friend, when arriving a bit early to pick up her teen-aged daughter from a dance, patiently waited and watched until the event ended.  As they drove home, the daughter kindly and tactfully told her mom that it was OK that she had come into the dance rather than waiting in the car.  But next time, if she could refrain from dancing, swaying, or otherwise visibly enjoying the music, that would be best.

Not long ago while playing a game with my nine-year-old daughter, I over-imitated a victory dance she had performed after winning a previous round.  She was very amused by my display and laughed wholeheartedly for some time.  I enjoyed the unabashed moment as she laughed at me, and I laughed at her laughing at me.

When she began to calm down, she breathlessly told me between giggles, “Mom, you can NEVER do that in public!”