Friday, 10 August 2007

Embarrassing Kids -- it's a Gift

My kids are easy to embarrass. In fact, I can usually do it without even trying.

Some years back, our family visited the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. We all found this fascinating and greatly enjoyed our hike to the cave dwellings and the excellent tour we were given. We stood with a crowd of over a dozen people and gazed at the ancestral homes of the Pueblo people carved into the sheltered alcoves of canyon walls.

At the end of our tour, our guide asked us if we had any questions. People wanted to know what the Pueblo dwellers ate, what they wore, where they buried their dead, what artifacts had been found, etc. I too had a question that I was burning to ask, so I raised my hand. "Just out of interest," I asked innocently, "where were their toilets?" I could feel my eldest, who was standing next to me, freeze.

The guide seemed to think that this was a perfectly reasonable question and he dealt with it accordingly. The concensus, he said, was that the Pueblo residents most likely gathered their waste in vessels and threw it over the side of the cliff. We all agreed that this was a perfectly handy way of dealing with the problem of waste disposal, and while there were obviously a few disadvantages to this system, it had the added virtue of helping to fertilize certain crops planted below. I thanked the guide, and we walked back to our car.

Our eldest maintained a shocked silence all the way back to the parking lot. When we had been on the road for some minutes, my husband finally noticed how quiet she was and asked if anything was wrong. There was, it turned out. Mom had embarrassed her.

"How could you?" she hissed at me.

"How could I what?"

"You know!"

"But I don't!"

"How could you ask about toilets?" she demanded, in hushed tones.

"Yeah!" agreed her sister. "It was really embarrassing! Everybody stared at us!"

All I could do was turn and stare at them in wonder. Both of my kids have frequently indulged in gratuitous scatological humor. I have been forced to listen to jokes about doo-doo and pee-pee and worse; I have heard them laughing their heads off at things that make me blush just to remember. And yet by asking a perfectly reasonable question about toilets, I unwittingly managed to embarrass them and offend their delicate sensibilities. To this day they swear that they cringe when they remember my gaffe.

Really, there are times I cannot wait to become a grandparent.


Carole said...

This is so the truth. Absolutely the truth. Undeniably the truth. And you are right. There is no hope but to live long enough to watch their children be unmercifully embarrassed by them.

Brian said...

I would say ,Mary, that you have found a perfect way to keep your children mute.

I myself of course have been a perfect parent in that I have never embarrassed my children . Well, at least , I refuse to acknowledge that fact . I am quite proud to have annoyed , offended and all equivalent synonyms -- but embarrass ? Moi? Nevaire !

The person I most embarrass is my wife .


Kim Ayres said...

It's the one thing I miss about the old dented Lada I used to drive about. I loved the way the kids would all duck down in the back whenever we drove past someone they might know, mortified that they might be seen in that car.

irreverentmama said...

My youngest gave me a fridge magnet at Christmas that says,


I was, I do, and I'm completely unrepentant. They know that if they get snitty with me instead of taking it quietly, I will only do it with even greater glee next time.

Teenagers are soooo staid.

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- I am trying to keep a careful record of all the ways I have embarrassed my kids and vice versa so that someday when they come whining to me about their own children, I will be able to show them. Oh, how sweet it will be.

Brian -- If only!

My husband and I embarrass each other frequently, but most of the time it is our children who find us profoundly embarrassing. My husband loves doing this, and makes a conscious effort to do silly things to embarrass them. I am a real natural and can do it without any effort whatsoever.

Kim -- I don't need a Lada to make my kids duck and cringe, but what a great idea! My kids claim that the way I walk and talk -- shuffling modestly and speaking in a mealy-mouthed fashion respectively -- is enough to make them want to run and hide.

Irreverent Mama -- Good for you, and that is the right spirit! In fact, I am rather proud of this skill myself, but it is fun to pretend that I am wholly unaware of what I am doing. I find that this stirs them into a blushing fury all the faster.