Son, I’ve Made My Life Out of Readin’ People’s Faces, and You Don’t Know What the Heck I’m Talking About
To this day, probably the scariest two words you can say to me are, “Talent Show.”
“Hey Mom, guess what? I’m going to be in the 5th Grade Talent Show,” my daughter announced the other day.
“Really? Um, have I mentioned what happened when I was in my 5th grade talent show?” I asked.
Because it’s all about me.
“Well, I was with two other girls, and we were going to sing The Gambler, and I promised I would learn all of the words but I didn’t. And I stood there like an idiot, making up words to everything but the chorus, and completely embarrassed myself. In front of the biggest crush I ever had.”
“So, what are you doing for the show?”
“A Taylor Swift song.”
“Do you know the words?”
“Just the chorus.”
“That’s exactly how much I knew of The Gambler,” I said with a raised eyebrow.
I was pretty sure where this was leading, and I thought maybe nurture (or lack of it) could bypass nature, but a feeling of doom settled in my stomach.
This was going to be The Gambler all over again. The Circle of Humiliation following its inevitable path.
But it turned out that she changed her mind. She is now doing a skit with her friends. Which could still lead to embarrassment – but it will not be a musical one at least.
That, of course, is not the end of the story.
After school yesterday I ran across one of my students sobbing uncontrollably.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It’s Lyric Check Day for the talent show, and I forgot to bring my song,” he sobbed.
“Well that shouldn’t be a problem,” I said. “Tell me the song, and we can go print it out real quick.”
“The Gambler,” he choked.
Wow. It really is all about me, I thought in amazement.
“Are. You. Kidding?!!!” I exclaimed. Probably not the best way to calm down a hysterical kid.
“I sang that when I was your age!” He looked at me doubtfully.
I decided not to relate the whole mortification in front of my possible future husband portion of the story.
“Let’s go get that printed out,” I said.
I realized what was going on. This was my chance. To redeem myself, to console this poor boy, to make a difference, to be a hero. TO BREAK THE CYCLE. We went to to the computer lab, and I pulled up the song.
He peered at the screen through his tears.
“That’s not it,” he said, somewhat hesitantly.
“Are you sure? You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to run,” I belted out. “By Kenny Rogers?”
“Who’s that? What are you talking about?” The tears had dried up. My singing has that effect on people.
“What are you talking about? Who do you think sings The Gambler?”
So, sure. That’s who sings it. And why he looked at me so doubtfully when I announced I sang it at my talent show. Before “Fun” was even born.
And the Humiliation comes full Circle.
Long before I took on the burden of humiliating myself on a regular basis, my step-father was more than happy to perform the job himself. It wasn’t a difficult task. Unfortunately, I cared way too much about what other people thought of me, and my step-father was good at leveraging this weakness.
One Saturday, when I was about 11 or 12, the doorbell rang. It was early afternoon, but I was still in my pajamas, my hair tousled, my teeth unbrushed. There were four people in the house at the time, three of whom were actually dressed. I was told to look out the peephole to see who it was. I did, and reeled back quickly from the door.
“It’s John Doodah*!” I whispered frantically.
John Doodah was our paperboy. He was also the cutest boy in my class and I had a wild crush on him.
“Well, answer the door,” my step-father said.
I was horrified. “No, please don’t make me answer it,” I begged.
“Answer it,” he said sternly.
And I did, mentally rehearsing what I would say that Monday when I got to school, “Oh, John. I hear you met my cousin. Isn’t she a mess?”
I never said that to him, mostly because I could never get up the courage to speak to him. To this day, I am convinced that my ascent to the Peak of Popularity was effectively derailed that Saturday morning, and as soon as John told all of his friends about my disheveled appearance, they took out the tracks and the ski-lift and anything else that could get me up to the Peak.
Fast forward thirty-four years to today. I am taking one of my infrequent Days of No Obligation. This is when I give myself permission to lay around all day, reading books, in my pajamas. At around 1:00, I decided to eat lunch. My 10-year-old daughter, who was also in pajamas because I did not feel the obligation to tell her to change, was watching T.V. in the living room.
The doorbell rang. The dogs leapt from their resting places and barked frantically.
We looked at each other. My daughter snuck over to where I was. We peeked out to the living room window, where we could see the caller standing on the front porch.
“Who is it?” I said.
“It’s the boy across the street.” (Who happens to be in her grade level. At her school. Which also happens to be the school where I teach.)
“Go answer it,” I said.
“No!” she said, horrified. “You go answer it!”
“I’m in my pajamas!”
“So am I!”
I thought back to the John Doodah Fiasco. How it had essentially ruined my life. How this was one of those decisive moments when I could teach my child about character, how appearances shouldn’t be so important, how parents are in control and can make their kids do whatever they say.
“Let’s keep hiding back here,” I said.
And we cowered in the kitchen until the coast was clear.
I think I made the right decision.
*This name has been changed to protect
me from being further embarrassed in case John Doodah ever reads this post the innocent.
This post is dedicated to The Dictator. She knows why.
Some dogs, like our dear young bulldog, Wonderbutt, have a startling habit, which I shall title The Poop as You Walk Habit.
This habit is a somewhat comical sight, or at its worst an inconvenience, when the dog happens to be walking on his own property. You can almost bring yourself to admire the dog’s multi-tasking skills. But it tends to disturb other people when the dog goes off the reservation, so to speak. Especially if the dog happens to choose a neighboring reservation for the deposition of said poop.
Now, this is not really an uncommon problem. This is why many neighborhoods have rules about cleaning up after your dog. Rightly so. (Although I would like to make a side note that this rule is clearly not enforced for anyone else in our neighborhood since we regularly find foreign dog poop in our front yard.)
Anyway, the previous dogs that we have had in our family have not had The Poop as You Walk Habit. Mrs. P.I.B., our golden retriever, has been a model of pooping behavior for most of her 10 years. And, the rest of our family, including my 9 year old daughter, seems to be fairly good at waiting until we get home, too. So, we have gotten out of the Bring a Bag When You Walk Habit.
This is exacerbated by the fact that we have gotten out of the Walk Habit altogether since it is Winter. However, we decided a walk was just what the Firepants family needed on a recent particularly chilly 70 degree day. Cap’n Firepants determined that he should stay behind to guard the house from Indians, so it was up to Dimples and me to protect the dogs from varmints and other dangers during our walk around the block.
Picture this. It’s a beautiful day in Texas, and you and your daughter are accompanying your canines on a happy-go-lucky tour of the territory, giving Wonderbutt much-needed exercise and Mrs. P.I.B. much-needed attention from admirers who are also enjoying the fresh air. (Mrs. P.I.B. has always drawn the most compliments when we walk. Even when Dimples was a baby in the stroller, people would come up to us and tell me how beautiful my dog was, completely ignoring my stunningly attractive infant.)
You are about halfway through your jaunt, and Dimples says, “Uh oh.” You freeze, because you know there are only two things that “Uh oh” in that tone can mean. Either Dimples just passed gas – which really wouldn’t need an “Uh oh” out in the fresh air, or –
“Quick. You can run faster than me! Take his leash!” I yell frantically. We tangle up the leashes for Mrs. P.I.B. and Wonderbutt in our haste. Mrs. P.I.B. is more than willing to run, even with her old arthritic joints, and Wonderbutt is more than willing to continue jogging in the opposite direction so he can finish his business facing the same way he started.
Finally untangled, Dimples begins the dash.
But it is too late.
And, of course, there are plenty of people to witness our shame.
At least it’s not in someone’s yard; it’s on the street.
Where everyone walks and jogs because we have no sidewalks.
Where young mothers push their strollers.
I make a big show of gathering large leaves and collecting Wonderbutt’s piles while Mrs. P.I.B. and the rest of the neighborhood watch me. The Channel 5 News crew televises my crime to the rest of the city and outlying areas.
Dimples and Wonderbutt are long gone around the corner.
After pushing the mess into a nearby sewer grate, I make the shameful walk home with a puzzled Mrs. P.I.B.
Cap’n Firepants greets us at the door, shaking his head, having already surmised when Wonderbutt and Dimples burst into the house, what crime I have yet again committed.
I hate beautiful days.