“Mom, I said a joke at school today and nobody at my table laughed,” Abby said during supper one evening. “I was so embarrassed that none of my friends laughed.” She was barely able to keep from crying. “Maybe they don’t like me!”
“Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. Sometimes people might not always laugh at the same jokes that we do or understand a joke. But I’m sure the kids in your class like you,” I told her. “And it is OK to feel embarrassed, everyone does at one time or another. It is a normal part of life.” She looked at me with her lips quivering and it almost broke my heart.
Kids can be very cruel, and she is just getting to the age where she is figuring this out. I’m sure her classmates weren’t trying to be mean or make fun of her, but she is very sensitive and interpreted their response to her joke that way. Knowing how much being embarrassed can hurt, my heart goes out to her.
I tried to explain to her that feeling embarrassed or humiliated is a normal feeling that everyone experiences.
That conversation got me thinking about some of the most embarrassing times in my life. Thinking about a lot of these moments still makes me cringe.
In second grade I had a teacher that didn’t like me very much. I remember her always finding some excuse to keep me inside at recess or saying something rude in front of my class. One of my most humiliating experiences happened in her class. I held up my hand multiple times because I needed to use the restroom but the teacher kept denying my request. I was wiggling around in my chair, trying so hard not to pee in my pants. Finally, I couldn’t hold it any longer and wet myself. Pee ran down my leg and onto the floor. I was mortified, especially when the kids around me began to notice. “I think the water fountain is leaking,” I said, barely able to stifle a sob. I was laughed at and my mom had to pick me up from school.
Another time in that same class, a bully who I have written about before, sat at the desk next to mine. He was seated next to the radiator and liked to melt his crayons on it. One day the teacher noticed and was angry. He immediately blamed it on me, which I denied. A few minutes later I had left my seat for some reason and when I returned he pulled my chair out from under me as I sat down. I landed on the floor and hurt my tailbone. He and the other kids laughed.
In fifth grade I had unexpectedly gotten my period and bleed heavily. I was so embarrassed and didn’t want to show my mom or grandma. I decided (with my incredible kid logic) that I needed to get rid of my ruined underwear. Why I didn’t just hide them underneath something in the trash, I don’t know, but I felt like I had to make them disappear. I ended up deciding to throw them on the roof of the house. Really intelligent, I know, but I was like 10 or 11 at the time and it seemed like a solution. The next time a windy day came around the underwear blew off of the roof and into the yard. My mom and grandma asked me about them, knowing they were mine. I wanted to crawl up and die. They thought that I had pooped my pants, instead of bleeding all over them, and had tried to destroy the evidence. They were kind of right.
In middle school, this same wonderful kid who pulled the chair out from behind me in elementary school humiliated me in front of our whole student body. A pep rally had just concluded and all the students were still seated in the gym bleachers. I had physically matured much quicker than many of my schoolmates and felt uncomfortable with my changing body. The bully apparently noticed my buxom bosom and very loudly told me I had humongous boobs and asked what size bra I wore. I turned red from head to toe.
Our school district registered students at the beginning of the school year in alphabetical order. Growing up my last name began with a ‘U’, so I was always one of the last students registered and one of the last to obtain a marching band uniform. This was unfortunate because in 7th grade I was stuck with a uniform that was two sizes too small. I made due with it for several months until we went to Music Contest and competed against other bands in our area. Our band was one of the first to play and we assembled on the stage waiting for the director to motion for us to sit. She turned around and we sat, but as I did so a very loud rrriiiiiiiiipppp sound was heard over the audio system. My pants had split. Everyone turned my way and I wanted to run off, but my pants had a gigantic hole in them. I had to beg a friend for a jacket to tie around my waist for the rest of the day to hide my underwear.
Once, at the swimming pool I climbed up the ladder to exit the pool and didn’t realize until it was too late that my top had fallen down and the whole pool had gotten a view of my boobs. Ugh, it still makes me cringe.
One Valentine’s Day in high school my friend and I were sitting in the front row of a basketball game. A cute senior chased the ball near us and after the referee blew his whistle the boy stopped in front of us and gave us a big grin. “Hey, did you two get the flowers I sent you?” he asked. “No, we haven’t been home yet,” we answered as he ran back to the game. Of course he was teasing and we didn’t realize it. I’m sure the whole locker room had a good laugh about that.
There are so many more stories that I could share, but those stick out in my mind as some of the worst. I won’t even touch on all the times my parents embarrassed my sister and I, my God, there are so many! Seriously, my dad was the worst.
I talked with my daughter later and made sure that she understood that even though sometimes we might feel embarrassed, we shouldn’t allow others’ actions define how we feel about ourselves. Each time we feel embarrassed or humiliated we should try to learn from the experience and continue on with self-confidence.
I know she is just shy of four years old and probably doesn’t really understand yet, even though she says she does. Her life ahead will be filled with embarrassing moments, as mine will undoubtedly continue to be, but I will be there to help her through it or lend an ear and listen to her troubles. That’s what a mom is for.