Somewhere is the fine line between living authentically, with truth and honesty as hallmarks of your character…and detailed oversharing. Oversharing is where your revelations are met with something other than, “oh, thank you for being brave and sharing what we’re all thinking.”
Oversharing gets awkward smiles and nods while the other person makes non-committal noises running up and down the scale like a kid on a piano.
Anyway, I’m trying to find that line. In the spirit of authenticity and hopefully not oversharing, I have some thoughts on embarrassment. Let’s start with things that DON’T embarrass me.
I love attention. I like to tell stories at parties and stand up in front of captive audiences and dye my hair pink and write my thoughts to share on the great black void of the internet. I like to be cheered for in races and talked about when I’m not around. I assume it’s good, but I’m fine either way.
When I was 15, my family went on a vacation to Washington, D.C. We drove our American-made minivan all the way from Atlanta, which is a long boring drive where the scenery consists primarily of pine trees and gravel cut-throughs to the other side of the freeway that only cops can use. It is how I learned to drive on the Interstate.
At the time, you could still drive down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House and, one day, we did just that. Except my mom tried to merge into a Presidential motorcade coming out of the White House and Secret Service agents cut us off with their Suburban and drew their weapons and screamed at us.
My brother and I hit the floor of the minivan and carried on about how embarrassing it would be to be part of the headline “Idiot Family from GA Killed by Secret Service.”
But it’s actually one of my favorite childhood stories and if we are friends in real life you already knew about it because I also love to tell it.
On that same trip, we got separated from our parents (meaning we wandered off and didn’t care where they were) so they had us paged. In the Smithsonian. I’ve had my name called over the loudspeakers of the Smithsonian. At the time we walked around talking loudly about how embarrassing it would be if we were THOSE kids, but mostly we giggled and laughed and were completely unrepentant when we found our parents.
My dad later had an altercation with the guard at the National Archives because he couldn’t get past the metal detectors. We left him at the gate saying “I just want to see the Constitution” in an accent that made everyone we’ve ever spoken to while on vacation ask if he’s from Texas. He’s not. Just imagine the southern sheriff character in any movie you’ve ever seen, put that in a deep bass, and that’s my dad. My 15-year-old self also thought this scene was hilarious.
This trip was only a week long, but maybe it exemplifies why attention just doesn’t ever bother me…good, bad, police action, I’m fine with it all.
My family had a male stripper perform his whipped-cream-and-banana-centric act for a bride-to-be at the table next to us in a restaurant in Scotland. He was dressed as a policeman so that one sort of covered all the bases. Another one of my favorite memories.
Slapstick Comedy (Even when it happens to me)
I once flashed an entire ballet class and their parents when caring for a ballerina, a toddler, and a breast-feeding baby suddenly went very wrong. Ballerina dropped Toddler on the head, I jumped up, Baby fell off breast, naked me was everywhere. Not embarrassing.
I had to get steroid shots in my tail bone because I broke it while pregnant. I made the x-ray technician laugh (umm…how, exactly, are you going to get a picture of this), and the nurse who told me “we’re just going to put this wash cloth in your bottom.”
To which I replied, “Why wouldn’t you?”
She hadn’t stopped laughing when the gas kicked in and I got very fuzzy and, although I remember being concerned about her concentration level, I was not embarrassed.
I drop stuff, I fall down, I slip. It’s mostly just funny.
I might be broken inside.
So, what DOES embarrass me? Really stupid things that are embarrassing to admit and deep seated fears of inadequacy. Sigh.
I Am a Poor Speller
I had to look up how to spell embarrassment. It has two Rs and two Ss. I just now realized that. Today. After I wrote it “embarrasment” on my kid’s paper while correcting his misspelling. I knew it wasn’t right, but I couldn’t remember why. So I googled it.
I have to sound out rest-ah-YOU-rant in order to remember the “u” in restaurant and I have been doing that since 1984.
On the plus side, my embarrassment over the inability to spell the word got me thinking about other things that embarrass me and that might make you laugh today, so there’s that.
I Have Read a LOT of Romance Novels
I don’t even have an excuse. They all have the same plot, varying degrees of unrealistic sex scenes, and take about 5 hours to read. They are like candy for brains. I think I may actually be dumber for having read them. Maybe that’s why I can’t spell.
I am Bad at Food
I am fully aware of how and when people are supposed to eat, but I don’t do it. I forget to eat lunch about half the time and then eat ridiculous amounts of cookies at 4 o’clock. I know that I would be healthier if I ate non-processed food, or at least food that is not cookies, but I don’t.
This is why I am chubby. I know what the problem is and I do not fix it.
I wanted to be the kind of mom that ground wheat, joined a local vegetable co-op, and knew how to shop at the farmer’s market, but not so much that I actually did any of those things.
I Yell at My Kids
I tell my kids that they have embarrassed me when they get in fights in the checkout line in stores. I already feel judged for being a woman in yoga pants dragging four kids around a store so when they draw attention to themselves by pinching and shoving and general “grab-assing” as my friend Leslie calls it, I yell at them.
But not in public. I wait until we are in the car and then I hurl shame and anger and frustration at their little heads. Because I suck.
It’s not usually actual yelling…more of a raised angry voice, but the feeling behind it is the same. I have lost it and they know and I know and yet…
I always feel embarrassed and guilty after I lose my patience with them. Nothing matters to me more than they do. And still I lose my mind when they use the whiny voice one too many times, or they challenge me on some instruction after I have been patient all day.
When they were really little we used to joke about them running out of good before they ran out of day…we had to race them to bed before the wheels came off. I think my patience works like that. If only it lasted just one more hour.
I Don’t Have a Regular Job (and I don’t really want one)
When I quit teaching I never intended to stay out of the work force for as long as I have. I always thought I’d go back to it at some point. But then I didn’t and life moved on and I stay home and homeschool and that’s all very weird to me.
I find myself embarrassed to meet people or nervous, especially when the other mom has a powerful or respected career…I’m not anything. I don’t do anything she doesn’t do as a mom (see: bad at food), AND she goes to work.
While on one of our 50 States trips we went to go visit a high school friend of Jay’s whose wife is a doctor. Suddenly, from my point of view, I was going to take my raggedy, tired self and my raggedy, tired kids to the home of an amazing physician I’ve never met. Ugh. I am going to be the sad boring stay-at-home mom who is just embarrassing.
The reality was that I had a lovely time and although, yes, she is beautiful and successful, I was not all that embarrassing to Jay and we had good conversation and our kids were fine and nothing bad happened. But, still. I was scared–because I don’t have a job.
In the last year or so I’ve added on the realization that I don’t really want a traditional job, either.
I have a friend/acquaintance-that-I’ve-stalked who is a successful author and speaker. Last summer I asked her some advice about writing and publishing and basically used our loose relationship for personal gain. She was gracious and kind and didn’t seem to mind at all. I assume it’s because I’m funny and/or she’s a better person than me.
At one point she asked me what my goal was…did I want this to be my career or what?
I said, “I know this isn’t very women’s-lib of me, but…I don’t actually need a career. I mean, I like working, but I don’t need to replace an income.”
She said, “I don’t think that’s bad. I think that’s awesome.”
Over the last several months, as I’ve finished writing a book and started on another one, I realized that I think it’s pretty awesome, too. I’m having a hard time finding opportunities to write and learn more about how to do something I’ve never really studied or learned, but I’d have a lot less time to try if I were still teaching.
And if I ever actually sell anything or get my name on something that someone else paid to publish, I will not have the same sense of embarrassment. But for right now, those are all just hopes and vague dreams and clouds of thought and I am embarrassed by them and my 40-year-old self with nothing to show for a lifetime of professional effort.
And I may never have anything to show for any of it.
That’s the heart of what truly embarrasses us, I think. No one wants to be seen as a fraud, a failure, a person of no consequence. Our embarrassments poke at our insecurities and the flaws in what we find our identities in.
I get embarrassed by things that make me feel dumb–not because I struggled in school, but rather the opposite. It was something that was such a source of confidence to me that if I’m not really very smart, even as a whole grown human, I am revealed as that fraud. As that failure.
If I fail at the identities I’m sure of (‘mom’ing, for instance), then who or what am I?
My unfortunate conclusion, to what I hope is just an honest rant and not an overshare, is that my embarrassments are oddly guaranteed to keep me continually embarrassed by them.
I’m not embarrassed when things get awkward in a conversation or social situation, so I have more confidence, so I take more risks, so I get better at those things.
But I try to avoid things that embarrass me (like failed career change attempts), so I never get a chance to succeed, so I don’t get better, so I’m more likely to fail, and stay embarrassed.
What if I didn’t? What if you didn’t? What if we took the things that embarrass us the most, the real things, and just tried NOT to be embarrassed by the screw ups and the failures and the well-that-didn’t-go-as-planned moments?
I think, I hope (largely because I just shared a lot about it), that we could become braver. And more bold. And less embarrassed.
Have a good weekend.