Life’s little humiliations
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
My friend, we’ll call her “Heather,” likes a comedy show we will call “George Lopez.” At the end of the show, the theme song plays, over a series of freeze-frame shots. The other night, Heather, who was lying on the bed enjoying the show, began jerking her arms and legs along with the freeze-frames.
Her 13-year-old son stared aghast. “Mom,” he said, “You’re embarrassing me, and there’s no one else even here!”
Embarrassment is my existence these days, with a teen and a pre-teen. The other day I was registering my 14-year-old for high school, and joking a little with the helpful course counselor, when I was suddenly, as if out of nowhere, beset by self-doubt, and glanced nervously at my son. Fortunately, I had not transgressed. Yet.
I saw it all coming two winters ago, when we drove to someone’s house to pick up a pair of hand-me-down skis off the porch. I had never been to Lizzie’s house, nor do I know the West End of Aspen, and I had some trouble. I stopped the car and asked a pedestrian for directions.
As we pulled away, my older son wailed, “Mom!”
“You sounded like a tourist!”
I what? I had asked for directions. I had said please and thank you. How bad could it have been?
Now the curse has encompassed his younger brother. Did you know that in the compound adjective full-face, which precedes the noun helmet (as in bike helmet), the accent is on the full?
I didn’t, and Roy told me in mortification. “Mom, it’s not full face. It’s full face. Don’t ever say it that way again.”
And we won’t even go into dating, which began last year, with my presence necessary to drive to the movies: “Mom, don’t talk. Don’t talk too much,” I was told. When I suggested that this would be unnatural, the speaker considered and said: “OK, you can just chime in every now and then.”
In a store parking lot, Roy says, “Mom, you’re always asking people if you can hold their babies. Every time you see a stranger! Can you please think more before you speak?” He adds, “You’re always talking to people, and braiding the hair of girls my age, or hauling on their ponytails!”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with holding people’s babies,” I say placidly.
“Strangers’ babies!” Roy protests. “There’s something wrong with that.”
Teddy, the older one, drops his head in his hands. “You’re like this creepy old lady who lives on the hill,” he says.
This past spring Teddy spent five days away from us parents, and he liked it. He attended a ski race in Vail with kids from 18 states, staying in Avon with teammates, while we commuted, cheering and helping.
When we phoned, he was quite busy. “I gotta go,” he’d say briskly.
Once he added, “Could you guys please not call so much?”
After the first day of races, we stopped by his room. He didn’t urge us to stay long. The second time, after 10 minutes, he asked conversationally, “When are you guys going to leave?”
The third time, I strolled into the girls’ room next door; I knew the mothers. Teddy watched in trepidation.
I returned. “What did you say?” he demanded.
My boys can’t seem to get past the baby thing, which for the record I do not do all the time.
“Mom,” Teddy says. “When you ask complete strangers if you can hold their baby, I am just standing there like” – he closes his eyes – “‘I don’t know her. I’m just some innocent passerby.'”
“Listen, Ted, there’s a thing between mothers. When I look at their babies and smile, they – “
“Think you’re a creep.”
“It’s not even what we do,” Heather tells me. “It’s just our … being. It’s separation. They’re doing right what they’re supposed to do,” she says resignedly.
“It’s OK, Mama,” Teddy says. “I still love you. Despite your faults.”
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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