I spend most of my days either worrying about having to talk to someone, feeling embarrassed about a conversation I am currently having, or analyzing every misstep from a discussion I previously participated in. My life is fraught with anxiety surrounding the potential for awkward or humiliating experiences with other humans.
I wasn’t always this way. This level of self-consciousness only comes from years of self-doubt and putting so many feet in my mouth. When I was a little kid, I wanted to talk to everyone. My brothers and sisters used to marvel at my ability to make friends everywhere we went. They likened my interactions to a square dance. I would do-si-do my way over to a kid who appeared to be an age within five years of my own and become his or her best friend. One time, when I was six, I even went door to door asking my neighbors if they had any little kids who might want to play with me. I was lucky that I didn’t knock on the door of a serial killer who would be more than happy to show me the basement where their “child” lived. I didn’t find any friends, either, but I would still count that day as a win since I was alive at the end of it.
Somewhere along the line, I started to feel awkward. I began to feel self-conscious in conversations and second-guessed everything I said. I’m going to say this happened around puberty. I still haven’t moved past this pubescent-level of discomfort, and I long for the freedom from self I experienced as a five-year-old.
I didn’t know my kids could feel awkward like this. Given that half the time they are trying to leave the house in their underwear, I assumed that embarrassment was pretty far off my kid’s radar. (Unless, that is, I’m the cause of the humiliation. I’m well aware that Darla is in a phase where I’m kind of mortifying to her). I’ve witnessed my kids feeling discomfited a couple of times, and it’s very notable whenever it happens. Something about awkwardness is so adult that it doesn't seem right coming from my kids. I assume they only think about legos, candy, and television most of the time. It never occurred to me that every once in a while they might think “Oh, that was awkward that I did that.”
Last week, after Jude and I dropped Darla off at school, we walked across the yard to leave the school grounds. On a typical day, Jude will run up to a teacher’s aide named Mary and give her a big hug. He calls her his good friend. As we approached the area where Mary usually guards the kindergarteners, another woman, who looked a lot like her, walked across our line of vision. Jude, an otherwise shy kid, perked up and smiled at her. He waved enthusiastically at the woman, who didn’t happen to see him. He then saw the real Mary in the distance. His smile faded and his hand dropped. The entire situation disconcerted him so much that he forewent his hug with Mary. As we left the school that day, I took Jude’s hand, which had just been waving at a stranger he mistook for someone else. I gave it a squeeze that I hoped would say, “I know how you feel right now and, I hate to say it, but this is going to happen to you a lot more over the rest of your life. Sorry!”