The Circle of Pride and Embarrassment

While I generally have an “I don’t worry about what people think about me” attitude, it’s funny that when you have kids, you do care about how they “show” in public, in part because you feel like their actions are a reflection of your parenting skills. You wince when they’re young and throw tantrums in Target, pick their nose while walking down the aisle during a wedding ceremony or point a finger at a stranger in a parade and yell out something brutally honest (“That man is HUGE!!”).  And you rejoice when they remember to say “Thank you” to Grandma, sing a song perfectly at a recital or run to greet you in front of school with a big hug.  I hope I never forget the time when Emmie and I were sitting in a bookstore coffee shop– I was looking through a stack of cookbooks and she was engrossed in one of her Rick Riordan novels, when all of a sudden she looked at me and my books and said, “I am so glad I have a Mom that cooks, and plans out all of our meals, because a lot of people don’t do that very much anymore.” Yes, I about fell off my chair at that sign of appreciation, and yes, the elderly couple walking past our table right at that moment almost dropped their lattes in astonishment, then offered some words of praise to both Emmie and me.  It was a proud moment and I think it made that elderly couple happy, too…

Of course as your kids get older, you hope for more and more proud public moments and less red-faced ones, and generally that has happened for us…but because of Emmie’s size, I realized the other day that we’re in a unique situation. 

See, because she’s very petite for her 13 years, she looks a lot younger.  Which would be great if she was auditioning for a TV show.  But in everyday situations, when people don’t know her age, it can look like we’re raising a veritable wild child.  The other day, a young mother was in the grocery checkout line behind Emmie and me, with a little girl sitting in the childseat of her cart.  And there was Emmie, in an Aerosmith shirt and “fashionably ripped” jeans, a bit of smudged mascara under her eyes, grabbing a tabloid and chatting to me about Chaz Bono, obviously knowing who he/she is and asking questions that anyone around could hear, and me answering her, then answering her questions about the next tabloid subject– I could see the mom noticing her and the checkout dude chuckling, and that’s when it suddenly struck me that they both probably thought she was 9 or 10 (or younger), and maybe they even thought I was one of those (gasp!) “loose” parents, letting my kid grow up too fast…and for the first time in a long time I felt a twinge of red-faced embarrassment…’Some parent I must look like,’ I thought.   

“Let’s put the magazine back,” I told her, trying to save face.  “Most of that stuff isn’t true anyway.”  I secretly wished Emmie would start humming “Jesus Loves Me” or turn and give the young mom a big grin so at least she could see that she had braces on…

Little did I know I would soon be giving Emmie something to wince about.  As we left the store, we passed a group of high schoolers studying at a table in the grocery store’s Starbucks, and I recognized several that I hadn’t seen in ages, kids who’d gone to elementary school with Allison, and I smiled and spoke to a couple of them as we passed.  When we got home,  Emmie went straight to Allison.  “Mom said hi to some of your friends at the store!!!” she gushed.  “She thinks she’s so cool!! It was soooo embarrassing!!!” 

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