Category: So Embarrassing

Just So You Know, You Are Cordially Not Invited

A story in a series of many future stories about how being completely humiliated can actually be good for your character.

So, beginning probably around 5th grade, each year of public school was punctuated by some new crush I had on a particular guy.  When I am asked to recall moments from my academic career — say, my older son wants to know what subject I liked least in junior high, or a book club discussion on next month’s selection includes an informal poll of who among us read Lord of the Flies in 10th grade — I instinctively do a mental image grab of “the boy I liked” at that time before proceeding into more relevant territory.

To this day, I cannot form my imagination around any experience from 1989 to 1995 without a phantom bouquet of Drakkar under my nose.  My memories of school are literally ushered in on the arm of an infatuation.

In order to set this story up properly, you needed to know this about me.

You needed to know that my many crushes were crucial to my entire experience as a whole person — as a human being.

I’m not particularly proud of this, but it was my truth at that time. And yes, I have completely evolved since then.

Moving on….

So, it couldn’t have been more than one week into 9th grade — my very first year of high school — when I recognized the guy who would be “it,” at least for the foreseeable future.

Two years older — a Junior (!) — he was tall and had these amazing blue eyes that were  framed out by the rim of a methodically sculpted baseball cap.

He was just the right mix of disengaged (he was cool!) but not totally aloof (he wasn’t disturbed!).

He wore a braided gold chain around his neck (yes!)

He played football (double-yes!)

We were in the same Spanish class, and I sat right behind him.  Most of first period was spent staring at the back of his perfectly tanned neck, breathing in generous wafts of Drakkar and wondering if it would be too forward of me to reach over and tuck in the shirt tag that was always flipped up and out of his collar.

I decided maybe it was too forward, and settled instead for resting my feet on the bottom rungs of his chair.  Close enough.

I don’t think we said more than three words to each other, usually mumbled when he turned around to pass assignment sheets down our row.

“Here,” he’d say.

“Oh — thanks,” I’d reply.

See?  Three words exactly.

There was the occasional prolonged eye contact, but at 14 years old, what was I to really make of that?

Sometime around the end of September, the whole “does-he-like-me-maybe-too-or-at-least-perhaps-notice-me” tension broke in a scene worthy of a teen-aged TV dramedy.  Think: My So Called Life.  It was that good.

Our teacher was calling on students to stand up and say something — anything — in Spanish.  Unable to hold our attention throughout a rote lesson on conjugating verbs, it was now necessary for her to shake things up and put us on the spot.

“[Guy’s assigned “Spanish name”],” the teacher called.  “Up.  Up.  You’re next”

The Guy I Liked stood slowly from his seat.  He stuffed one hand in the pocket of his Cargo shorts, while the other hand cupped the back of his head as he took a long cool moment to consider his words.

Please let him think of something that doesn’t sound stupid I secretly begged, wanting at all costs to avoid witnessing a falter from the pedestal I had set him on.  This crush was just warming up, and I needed for it to continue.

Twisting himself slightly toward me, he released the hand that was touching his head and swung it in my direction, as he said:

“Lorena (my Spanish name) es muy bonita.”

And there it was.

When I was finally able to recover from the exhilarating shock of this very public confirmation that the feeling was mutual, I emerged slightly less hesitant about how to handle careless shirt tags and the accepting of assignment sheets being passed back.

In the days that followed, the two of us continued to nurture this growing affection, he, making smart-ass remarks aimed at entertaining me during class, I, relaying my approval with stifled giggles and playful swats to his back.

By early October, it was assumed that he would turn around and shove his desk against mine to partner up whenever group work was given.  It was also assumed that we would spend most of that time socializing or scribbling nonsense profanities on each other’s worksheets, feigning disapproval as we worked to erase the offending marks and then prod each other to do it again.

From what I could tell, all signs seemed to point in an encouraging direction.

Now, amidst all this intoxicatingly delicious encouragement, and most likely precisely because of it,  my best friend began to plant within my impressionable young mind the seed of a possible Homecoming invite.  The big dance — arguably on par with or even slightly above Prom in social significance — was scheduled for the end of the month.

“Laur, I’m sure he’s going to ask you,” she’d say during our near-daily after-school phone calls.

“I mean, duh — he’s totally gonna ask you.”

“No…. I really don’t think so,” I’d respond, halfway meaning it.

“I’m just a Freshman.  No way.  Besides, like, it’s already October.  And he hasn’t really said anything to me, or hinted, or anything.”

“Want me to talk to him?” she would ask.  “He lives in my freakin’ neighborhood — I can ask him about you if you want.”

Anxiously pacing the perimeter of my kitchen table, I allowed the telephone cord to criss-cross in a tangled web around my core.  A makeshift lasso to help wrangle my nerves as I worked out a coherent plan.

“No!  God, no — don’t do that.  No!” I’d beg, insisting I would just about die if she were to tip our hand like that.

“Our” hand. Camaraderie is priceless, no?

“Well….I don’t know.  What would you say, exactly?”

And so it would go, round and round, back-and-forth, the two of us negotiating the terms of the deal.  I don’t think we ever came to an acceptable conclusion, but playing out imaginary scenarios was almost better than playing out real ones, so these conferences were not exactly wasted efforts.

And then one day, she called me completely frantic.

“Laur — I talked to him.  I was out walking my dog, and he was driving in to the neighborhood, and, like, he stopped, and we talked and he asked about you!”

Finding it hard to draw a substantial breath, I could barely get the words out.

“What….did….he…..say?”

Oh my God.  Oh my God!  My mind was racing.

I pushed the phone against my ear, not wanting to miss even one voice inflection as I instructed her to articulate every last detail of the exchange.

What I got in return was proof positive that I was, in fact, (most likely) going to be asked to Homecoming.  He had mentioned me.  He had asked if I was going to Homecoming with anybody.  It was then insinuated, somehow, that he might want to ask me.

Oh my God.  Oh my God!

In the days that followed, I may have mentioned the possibility of having perhaps secured a Homecoming date to a few friends.  I may have declined an invite or two from other guys, fully anticipating being asked by “my” guy.  I may have also told my mother, who then asked if we should start looking for a dress.

“Not yet,” I said.  “Maybe this week, but not yet.”

It was two weeks from Homecoming when I got the phone call.

I was in my room, blasting “More Than Words” on repeat, likely dramatizing the advent of our first sexy problem in my mind, when my mother cracked open the door and poked her head inside.

“You have a phone call,” she said with that kind of expectant look that, upon further investigation, seems to be the harbinger of impending disappointment.

Parents too eager to share in the development of your good fortune almost beg fate to hand you an embarrassing blow to the collective ego.

I ran downstairs to the den and picked up the phone.  My mother retreated to the laundry room — adjacent to the den — where the walls are thin and she could listen in while pretending to fold clean clothes.

“Hello?” I said as calmly as I could.

“Um….yeah.  Hey, it’s [The Guy I Liked’s name].”

“Oh, yeah.  Hey.  What’s up?”

“Um……yeah.  Like, I’ve kind of um…..heard from a few people that, um…..you think I’m taking you to Homecoming?”

….you think I’m taking you….  ….heard from a few people….

Those words — along with the punctuating question mark that begged a response — they were a completely unexpected force with which I had no fortitude to reckon.

Oh, God.  This is so…..bad

Oh, God.

My heart dropped to my gut, where the acid went to work, pulling apart its sinewy fibers one at a time.

My cheeks burned so hot that my face went numb.

I tried to attempt a save:

“What?  Uh….no.  I don’t think you’re asking me to Homecoming.”

I heard the mild rustling of laundry cease, as my mother undoubtedly felt the need to listen harder.

“Yeah, well, I heard from some people at school that you were going around saying we were going to Homecoming together.  I just need you to know that we’re not.  I’m taking [Name Of Girl He Was Taking Instead Of Me].”

….you were going around saying…..  ….I need you to know we’re not….

In my mind’s eye, I saw myself, sketched out by an artist instructed to draw “pathetic” personified.  This ugly little version of me was “going around saying” like a fly jumping from one rotten picnic sandwich to another.

I froze — just completely froze — stuck in this yucky, awful, humiliating moment with yucky, awful, humiliating images of me imprinted on my imagination.

But I had no choice.  It had to finish playing out.  And I was going to have to feel the entire weight of it happening.

“Muy bonita” my ass.

I was being officially not invited to something.  Is that even possible?  Even the sentence construction looks wrong.

Regardless, I was being officially not invited to something, and I had to participate in my own diss.  I had to acknowledge it and then respond.  While my head was spinning and my gut was eating away at my heart, and while my mother listened in to the whole thing, I had to come up with something to say that would provide at least a marginally graceful exit to this conversation.

I wanted nothing more than to retreat to my bedroom, scream into a pillow, and avoid looking at my reflection in the mirror for at least the rest of the day.

But I managed one last denial before he reluctantly hung up, at least somewhat convinced that I would not, in fact, be running up to Masters Tuxedo to rent him a vest and bow tie that would match my dress.

And no, thank the Lord, I did not have a dress.

I can’t remember exactly what happened next.  I know I reviewed all the sordid details with my friend, while I did not review any of the sordid details with my mother.  Upon my return to school, I executed a strategically pleasant avoidance of  The Guy I Used To Like — you know, acting “not pressed,” without looking like I was trying too hard to act “not pressed.”

Days turned to weeks, which turned to months that brought new crushes on better guys.

Life moved on.

While this humiliation is a 20-year-old memory, softened by time and wisdom and the fact that I quickly went on to much bigger and way better things (and that, two years later, after kissing this guy in the bleachers during a football game, I could sum up the entirety of what I thought I had missed two years prior in one word: yawn), it was an important teachable moment with unexpected value.

This was the first in a series of life lessons on not taking yourself too seriously, on not living on assumptions alone, on not idealizing men beyond realistic capacities (which calls for limited expectations, by the way)….

And — perhaps most importantly — how it is, in fact, very possible to be officially not invited to something.

 


…And Nobody Laughed

A quick recap of a time I went out on a limb to be comedic and nobody laughed:

Every now and then, I pull myself aside and do a sort of gut check — you know, take a little inventory on the general state of  “me,” spiritually speaking.  These little moments I spend with myself are essential to any personal progress I hope to claim as the years move forward.  And I dig pretty deep, and get pretty real.  As someone who lives life with a sense of urgency, I can’t bear the thought of time gone by full of “should’ve-would’ve-could’ves.”

So when I self-assess, I’m not messing around.

Two months ago, a self-assessment that revealed a tendency toward procrastination lit such a fire, that the vague notion of “maybe someday I’ll start a blog” became a secured domain name and two published posts a mere 48 hours later.  And prior to that, the discovery that I had never really committed to a healthy lifestyle — the kind that lasts beyond the end of a particular summer or continues past a “goal weight” — propelled me into weeks of research on women’s fitness and nutrition before completely rebuilding my daily routine from the bottom up.  I have since lost ten pounds, and cannot fathom a day that doesn’t include a lengthy jog or an hour in the gym.

Like I said, when I self-assess, I’m not messing around.

So, maybe a year ago, I was doing some serious thinking about the way I interact with the world.  The idea of human relationships and what I offer up to the people around me was weighing heavy on my mind.  After getting real honest about my social acumen, I decided that I had moved through most of my years way too buttoned up.  It occurred to me that I took myself a bit too seriously:

I could be having way more fun, if only I’d relax, I thought.

I need to start finding the humor in all things.

I need to take more social risks — I need to engage more with others.

I should always find a reason to laugh.

And, by the way, I do love to laugh.  Always a reliable audience for all the would-be comedians I know, I laugh a lot, actually.  But I don’t laugh enough, and perhaps not when it would really count.  If I could laugh, say, when the x-ray reveals several cavities or when stuck in a long line at the MVA “Express,” well, then, I’d have the golden ticket.  I’d have learned the right way to unwrap life itself — revealing the elusive shiny foil with scalloped edges not once in a lifetime, but every single day.

Imagine that.

So, around the same time that I was drafting up my new plan to laugh more and engage more, and humor and risk more, I had a years-overdue appointment with an ophthalmologist.

The reading glasses I had in college were no longer sufficient for the near-daily struggle to read far away road signs and close-up books and all things in between.  I needed new glasses and a full eye check-up to boot.

I arrived at my appointment at the scheduled time on some weekday afternoon.  I signed in, and then took a seat on the only chair that didn’t have a suspect stain.  Flipping through the stack of magazines on the table next to me, I could feel my usual impatience for such things begin to bubble.

Figures — the only current magazines are the ones I don’t want to read.

And — gross! — they’re all “filmy.”  What the Hell do people do with them that makes them feel like that?

Rifling through my purse, I grabbed my iphone.

Of course!  No service.  Perfect.

Looking around the waiting room, I sussed out the scene.

That lady across from me looks as though she’s been here a while.  And that one over there, she’s clearly sick.  Oh my God, why is she here?  She should have canceled.  And she’s ahead of me, which means I’ll have to lean my forehead and eyes against the same machine that she leans her forehead and eyes.  How can I ask the technician to clean it all off without sounding weird?

And so it went in my mind, one negative interpretation of the situation after another, until I had worked myself into a mild lather.

My chest cinched tighter with each passing minute.

My deep breaths became audible sighs.

I started kicking my crossed leg in sharp, impatient fits so that, more than once, I worked my shoe loose enough to send it flying several feet in front of me.

Basically, I was being my usual, too-serious (and highly irritable) self.

And then, I suddenly remembered the pact I was intent on making.  The one that I had been working on that week — the one about finding more humor and more reasons to laugh and more people to engage.

I decided, in that moment, that the pact had been officially made.  I sealed the deal, right then and there.  Starting right now, in Dr. Smith’s [not his real name] waiting room, I was going to be a new, lighter, funnier version of me.

Mentally, I was ready.  Physically, I needed just a bit more time.

When my name was finally called, I began to psych myself up as I trailed the nurse to the first of several exam rooms.

Find the humor.  Find the humor.  Find the humor.

I found I couldn’t make too much out of the glaucoma test — the one where each eye is assaulted with a quick blast of air to assess pressure levels.  No material there, but I was decidedly more lighthearted then I had been in the waiting room.

Then, the doctor walked in.  He reviewed my history, and acknowledged that I likely needed a new prescription for glasses.

He was soft-spoken, but subtly warm and friendly.  Very professional.  Kind of serious.  Maybe a bit buttoned up.

Hmmmm…….

He put drops in my eyes to dilate my pupils before sending me back to the waiting room so the drops could take effect.

As I got up from the chair, my eyes were watering profusely.  I was sure my mascara was bleeding trails of black soot down both cheeks.  The doctor noticed my state and offered up a box of tissues.  I gratefully grabbed several, and then walked out toward the hallway.

In that moment, I believed I had suddenly found the humor.

As I made my way down the hall and toward the waiting room — where two elderly couples, one forty-ish woman, and a young guy sat with filmy magazines and cell phones that had no service — I conjured my best “cry face.”  Using the watery eyes to my advantage, I threw in a down-turned mouth and furrowed brow.  I let my eyelids droop just slightly.  I drew quick gasps of air into my throat as I blotted my face with the handful of tissues.

As I rounded the corner to meet eyes with the other patients — people in waiting rooms always reflexively look up when someone new approaches — I played like I was terribly distraught.

Sniffling, light gasps of breath, and eye blotting set the stage for what I thought was a pretty clever stab at comedy:

“Dr. Smith is just so mean,” I choked.  “I can’t believe he spoke to me that way.”

I stood for a moment, waiting.

Crickets.

Though my vision was a little blurry, I could see through the fake tears that no one reacted.

Not only did no one laugh — no one even cracked a smile.  In fact, no one so much as acknowledged my remark with a raised eyebrow or tilt of the head.

I saw only dead-pan faces and vacant eyes.

As I made my way to a chair, the other patients returned to themselves, still quiet and stoic and….well, in a state of  “waiting.”

Apparently, the notion of a bullying ophthalmologist  doesn’t move most people’s needle.

I did one more glance around the room, in an effort to find a shred of evidence that I didn’t make a complete jack-ass of myself.

Holding out hope, I played the crying bit a few seconds longer, partly to allow the others a chance to catch on, and partly because I needed a graceful exit to the act, which would involve slowly phasing out into a return to normal.  You can’t just shut these things down without a slow phase-out.

Eventually, I morphed back to my initial waiting-room-self, arms crossed over my chest, head leaning back against the wall, releasing an audible sigh and pumping my crossed leg impatiently.

Well, so much for my goal to be more engaging and spread more cheer.

If this is the life of a comedian, then I preferred to remain in the audience.

I still contend that turning pupil dilation drops into tears over a fake-mean eye doctor was clever and funny.  I would have laughed at that.  Or, rather,”eye” would have laughed at that.

Crickets?

Okay….perhaps it’s time for another self-assessment.

 

 


Houston, What Was My Problem?

A quick story about how an off-the-cuff comment can haunt you for the rest of your life, and then a question for you:

So, it was a Sunday morning.

In our house, Sunday mornings are spent hunkered down at the kitchen table, my husband sifting through the inserts while I work the crossword puzzle. The kids eat their breakfast early and then are quickly shooed away; the husband and I like to talk — completely unedited and without disruption.  You know, like two….adults.

Second cups of coffee turn into third and fourth cups of coffee, and minutes turn to hours as morning threatens to become afternoon.  But who’s watching the clock?

We instead watch cars and neighbors navigating their own Sunday routines, the large picture window framing out a sort of reality TV.  We comment on the ordinary and analyze the mundane, but that’s part of the fun.

It’s Sunday, after all.

Sunday mornings are just….easy.  Easy and nice.

So, on this one particular Sunday morning, the husband and I were doing our usual — he, comparing lawnmower prices from two different ads, I, gnawing on a Bic pen as I contemplated a five-letter word for “spectacle.”  I’m pretty sure we were on our third cup of coffee.  The kids were long gone.

Safe to say, I was blissfully absorbed in “Sunday.”

Which is probably why I had my guard down, so to speak, though I still contend that there should be no need for such “guard” in your own home in front of your own husband — especially on a Sunday.

Anyway, I guess I had my guard down, because I made a comment that I am still hearing about, and likely will continue to hear about until one of us dies or at least becomes senile.

Thinking I had solved 1 Across, I inked S-C-E-N-E into the top left of the crossword grid.

Five-letter word for “spectacle” is “scene,” I reasoned.

But then, by my later estimation, “scene”  didn’t work with some of the surrounding clues.

Damn it.

All caps in blue ink is a bitch to correct.  My crossword was gonna look a mess, and I had just started.

I bit my lower lip as I lifted the magazine from the table, holding it square in front of my face.  Maybe a different perspective and a better view would somehow make it “right.”

No….it was definitely wrong.

I drew in a deep breath as I set the puzzle back down on the table.  Hunching over, I propped my elbow up and rested my head on the upturned palm of my hand.  I grabbed my coffee cup, and as I drew the cup to my mouth — but before taking a sip — I said:

Houston…..we have a problem.

I don’t know why I said that, because I never say that.  Like, ever.

But I said it, and I said it seriously.  As in, long and drawn out and contemplative, and punctuated by a heavy sigh — an even more dramatic delivery than the astronaut’s, who, in a moment of distress, made that phrase famous.  Only, I wasn’t an astronaut in distress.  I was just a mom in her robe at the kitchen table, coming to terms with a few errant letters on a crossword puzzle.

Houston, we have a problem?” repeated the husband, his eyes wide with mild shock and his grin slightly mocking.

I looked up to meet the husband’s eyes and immediately looked away.

WHAT –?” I challenged.

I knew “what,” though.  I sounded like a complete nerd.

“Houston…..we have a problem?” the husband repeated, now laughing.  “Oh, babe…..really?”

“Shut up, [husband’s name],” I fired back, now feeling my cheeks flush.  “I was just being silly.”

“Baby….no you weren’t.  You were serious,” he teased.  “It’s okay…..” the husband trailed off into more laughter.

With my legs outstretched and my feet snuggled into the husband’s lap, I felt even more vulnerable.  Like a rabbit trapped in a snare, having to watch the hunter load his gun.  I couldn’t figure a graceful way to recover my legs and feet, so I just sat there partly frozen.

This comment provided the fodder for a few more minutes of gentle heckling before the husband became once again engrossed in his inserts.

I went back to my crossword, deciding that morphing some letters into new letters was much better than scratching out all the letters.  But the whole time I worked to solve the puzzle, my mind kept re-setting to that fateful comment, re-playing it with the exact inflections and cadence.

Houston…..we have a problem.

[Shudder]

It was pretty awful, I admitted to myself.

Sigh…..

I know I’ll hear about this again tomorrow, I thought.

And I did.

So, there’s my example of how an off-the-cuff comment can haunt you for the rest of you life.  Now I ask you:

Have you ever said something seemingly benign that became the source of your social undoing?  What have you ever said — off-the-cuff in casual conversation — that now makes you squirm to remember it?

 


Unfortunate Faces

For those of you new to my blog, it occurred to me that you might need a primer on the “unfortunate face” I am often referring to.  I reference this face in more posts than I realized.

A little while back, I wrote about an evening that didn’t end on a particularly good note, all because of an unfortunate face that I made while surrounded by some important people.  After its initial run, I had several women tell me they could completely relate to this story.

So, here it is again, lest you have your own Saturday evening plans this weekend — don’t do what I did:

A story about making a bad impression in front of important people:

I had made a last-minute decision to go out and buy a new pair of shoes — edgy, near-stiletto ankle boots  — because nothing I owned would quite work with the dress I had picked for the occasion.  It was settled the night before: I would “be” the short black dress with kimono sleeves.  Deep V-neck.  Bare legs, if the weather allowed.  Hair back.  Necklace, no earrings.

So the shoes, found barely one hour before I had to get the kids to my mom’s, barely one hour and change before I would be walking out the door to greet my husband in our driveway — the shoes were important to my character. The version of “me” that I hoped to pull off that evening: quietly confident, effortlessly edgy, with a bit of sexy turned down a few notches to read more like “intriguing.”

Yes, I had put a lot of thought into this.

Husband and I were going to enjoy a rare treat: a Saturday night date AND some socializing with a group of friends, some of who were my husband’s co-workers.  Co-workers who held kind of important positions at his company.  And, we were going to a very nice, and very hip joint downtown, therefore, the whole effortlessly edgy thing was appropriate, in case you raised an eyebrow at the mention of “co-workers” and “important.”  No worries, but thank you all the same.

So, again, yes….I had put a lot of thought into this.

This whole, how-I-must-come-across-just-right thing.

The evening went by much the way I had hoped it would.  Husband and I spent some time at the bar as we waited for our party to arrive.  I enjoyed strong beers with names I couldn’t pronounce, served in voluptuous glasses.  We played hangman on the back of cocktail napkins.  We sat with our knees touching; lots of leaning in and laughing close.  We didn’t talk about the kids.  We were having a really nice time.

Then friends began to arrive.  We took our seats around a large table as most couples broke themselves apart, sitting next to “new” partners and making new conversations.

There was lots of happy banter and gesturing and taking turns being clever, but not too clever.  We ate great food and drank what one might expect on an evening like this.  No one talked about their kids.  We were all having a really nice time.

Amidst this intense energy, I remember taking myself aside, you know, in that way one does when among a large group.  In that “I’m-not-here-I’m just an -observer” detached way you can do usually for just a minute or two before your sub-concious retreats back into wherever it usually hangs.  And in that minute or two of observational clarity, I was able to assess that I was playing the part I had hoped.  I was in my role, and it was working well with everyone else’s role on set.  Okay….we’re good.  This is good.  I’m having a really nice time.

And then, something happened.  I still don’t really know how it happened, but I know that it did because I felt it happen.  Plus, I had my husband’s repeated reminders of it happening: “Babe, you just need to be more aware next time.”

Right after final drinks were brought to our table, someone in the group made some particular comment — a completely benign comment — that struck a chord with me.  Now, I didn’t say “struck a nerve,” I said “struck a chord.”   I wasn’t upset.  At all.  I was more….contemplative….it made me go “huh” (to myself).  And once I go “huh” to myself, that act typically engages a Jacob’s Ladder-like process in my mind, where the one trigger thought leads to a deeper thought that then leads to some other kind of thought, etc.  Usually, within mere minutes, I end up going from something like “my thoughts on vacationing in June versus August” to “I wonder why it is that I never pursued that opportunity to intern on Capitol Hill.”  That’s just an example.  Whatever.

So, apparently, while I thought I was “huh-ing” to myself — quiet and on the sidelines of the conversation, just chewing on this notion, whatever it may have been (I don’t even remember now), everyone was sort of watching me.  The table grew eerily silent.  I wasn’t even aware until my husband touched the side of my arm, leaned into me, and whispered, “What’s wrong?” with a slight sense of urgency.  It actually broke up the thought party I was having.  It startled me.  Something’s wrong?  With who?  I thought, until I realized it was with me.  Something was wrong with me, I guess.  And everyone else thought so too.

Because, while I would have imagined that my quiet contemplative face looked like this:

Contemplative.

I am told it actually looked more like this:

imagesCA4FCPS1

(for the record, I look nothing like Taylor Swift or Amy Poehler.  These were just good examples of faces).

I had what most humans would interpret as angry-sour-I’m-pissed-at-someone-sorry-if-you-all-have-to-witness-this face.   To be honest, I did sort of feel a little contorted, facially speaking.  I kind of remember my mouth sort of twisted, my lips pursed together.  I remember feeling the fat under my jawline being slightly squished by my neck because I had my head cocked to the side just so.  And, okay, my eyes were probably “squinty” — maybe one eye more squinty than the other one.

I was probably wearing said face for several minutes.

And that’s sort of the last impression most of our dinner companions had of me, that face marking the end of the evening.  Though I quickly offered a broad smile in an effort toward damage control and an assurance that I was just swimmingly happy (I was, though.  I really, really was), it was sort of past the point.  Everyone had pretty much concluded that “Something’s wrong with Lauren.”  Ohhh, she’s pissed — look out.  Glad I won’t be going home with her tonight.  Pshew. Conversation continued — a bit stiffly.  Eyes darted away from me and toward more pleasant-looking people.  Bills were paid.  Coats and purses were gathered up and our group slowly broke apart, heading home.

Well, so much for quite confidence and intrigue.  So much for the dress and the shoes and “the look.”  Actually, I had the look — it just wasn’t “the look” but instead (eyebrows lowered, whispery/judgey voice) the look, tsk.

I have wondered more than once how many couples talked about “the face” during their car ride home.

What the Hell happened?  Did I miss something?

Was she pissed at her husband?

Geeze-o-flip.  Glad I’m not that poor guy.

Well, c’mon — did you see those shoes?  Only psychos wear shoes like that.  I could tell — she’s a little “off.”

I have actually been told that I make a lot of faces.  A lot of faces.  Some are more purposeful, and will be the subject of a future post, I’m sure.

But others are completely unintentional, and scarily enough, beyond my ability to control them.

I usually get asked, at least once during every social gathering I attend: “What’s wrong?  You look….upset….”  99 times out of 100, nothing is wrong at all.  Nothing.

So what’s with the faces?  ‘Cause I sure as Hell don’t know.  Have you ever been accused of thinking or feeling what you most certainly were not thinking or feeling, all because of a few facial muscles moving in unfortunate directions?  Have you ever determined that someone else was thinking or feeling what they likely weren’t, just because of a slightly miscalculated non-verbal?

Share stories if you’re able.  This happened a few years back and it still makes my stomach flip every time.

I need to be more careful….more “aware.”  Advice?


All The World’s A Stage…

A short essay on whether we notice the weird behaviors of others, and then a question about the last time you were self-conscious:

I remember taking my older son, who was quite young at the time, to a birthday party at the ever-popular play gym in our area.  Because of his age, I elected to stay, planting myself among all the other hovercrafts who were sitting on the good side of a two-way mirror.

The adults looked on as little bodies tumbled and jumped, kicked and rolled and ran, each of us tracking our own child’s every move.  We guided their balance with a fixed and steady gaze.  We helped them land safe dismounts by breathing deep and holding in.

But mostly, we just prayed our kid wouldn’t do anything weird.

As is often the case at events like this, one kid was doing something weird.  And his mother was visibly panicked.  No longer sitting with the other parents, she was standing, thisclose to the glass, audibly coaching her child through his episode as if he could hear her.

I was doing a fairly good job of not paying attention, though it was difficult because she was blocking my own view of the party.  Instead of focusing on my son, I tried very hard to seem incredibly interested in a stack of tumbling mats shoved in the leftmost corner of the play area.

No way would I let on that I noticed a thing.

After several minutes, this poor woman turned to me and gave me “the look” that parents — usually moms — exchange in a quest for a “hey-I’ve-been-there-too” head nod.  I smiled broadly and gave “the nod,” after which she said,

“It’s funny.  We’re all worried about how our kid is coming across in front of the others, but the thing is — nobody notices.  Because they’re just focused on how their kid is coming across.”

I laughed with her and “completely agreed.”

Except, I really didn’t agree.  Because I noticed.  I always notice the weird.

So, I took my boys bowling over the holiday break just last week.

The bowling alley was relatively crowded; families occupied the lanes on either side of us, forcing us to share a ball machine and snack table with lots of people I didn’t know. Other families floated in the background, waiting for an empty lane to come up.  Like I said, there was definitely a crowd.

As I stood up to bowl my turn, I suddenly felt incredibly self-conscious.  All at once, I was way too aware of myself:

The way I awkwardly gripped the ball.

The way I sort of sashayed up to position — a half walk, half completely unnecessary gallop.

The way my ugly bowling shoes caught on the waxy floor, causing me to fake-pivot (the best save I could come up with on the fly).

The stupid expressions I could feel myself making once I turned around to face my kids after knocking down only three pins.  What is it with that face, by the way?  The face we make in that precise moment we spin around to go back to our seat…..it’s like a dopey outtake from the opening credits of a bad ’80’s sitcom.  Look directly into the camera.  Now, give an “oh, gee” shrug, and then shake your head in amused resign.

All of it — every stitch of it — weighed like lead on my shoulders.  It was gross to be feeling so lame.

Now, this very minor crisis was unexpected, I’ll have you know.  The advent of my thirties several years ago brought with them a new found sense of peace.  A peace that helped put such gripping insecurity to rest (mostly).  I learned that I’m not the star of anyone’s show.  Nobody cares.  Really, they don’t.  And they aren’t looking to care, either, so it’s highly likely that no one is watching me — or you, for that matter — so rest easy!

I reminded myself of this,  but for some odd reason, my mind forced upon me the memory of that play-gym party years ago.  Don’t ask me why, but I remembered the weird kid, the panicked mother, the attempt she made to reconcile the awkward situation, and my own private acknowledgment that people do notice these things.

People are watching us.

They’re watching us, and they think we’re weird when we bowl.  Or chew, or dance, or puzzle over a map, or when we ride in cars.

So….today’s question:

When was the last time you said or did something that left you feeling surprisingly insecure?  When was the last time you felt certain you were being unnecessarily weird?

As I mentioned, my moment was four days ago, in a bowling alley.

Now get going with those comments.  If you leave me hanging here, I’m gonna feel…….

weird.

 

 

 

 


If The Robe Fits…

“This was the makings of my boys’ first joint effort in observational humor at my expense.  They know I would never take them to school in my robe.  They’re just laying the bait for each other.”

When my brother and I were younger, we built the crux of our relationship on a shared love of observational humor.  Being that we were just kids, the “observational” part of the equation was limited to our home and anywhere we ended up after time spent in the back seat of a white and orange Pinto.  Being that our home contained our parents, as did the driver’s seat of said orange and white Pinto, the “humor” part of the equation always seemed to require that Mom or Dad unwittingly participate in the punchline.  Sorry Mom and Dad.

We got lots and lots of mileage out of the comings and goings, sayings and doings of our parents.

Lots of mileage.

One thing I particularly remember my brother and I “observing” and “humoring” over, was my mom and her blue robe.  Ahhhh, the blue robe.  Terry cloth.  Hem just above the knee.  Wrap-around with a karate-belt tie.  White piping along the inside edges.  Well-worn and after a while, slightly faded.  In the early and mid-1980’s, that robe was her weekend morning uniform.  It was also her between-outfits stand-in.  If it was evening and Mom had the robe on (she never wore it to bed), we knew a sitter was coming; she was obviously in the process of “getting ready.”

More often than not, though, the robe made its appearance on Saturday or Sunday morning.

My brother and I, sitting at the kitchen table, would lock eyes immediately upon seeing “the robe” come around the corner.  We used mental telepathy and lots of creative body language to lob a series of inside jokes back-and-forth, until one of us would inevitably dissolve into laughter.  You must remember, we were pretty young, so it didn’t take much to get us going:

Frayed terry cloth revealing long, loose ovals of thread?  Funny.

Uneven karate-belt tie, one end long and almost touching an ankle, the other end short, just a stub sticking up from the waist belt?  Funny.

A smudge of toothpaste on the collar? Double-funny.

“Pillow head” and faint sheet marks on forehead — completely “morning robe”-related? Hysterical.

Again, we were young.  It didn’t take much.

Fast-forward roughly 28 years.

Now a parent myself with two boys ages 9 and 7, I am beginning to feel a target developing on my own back.  My boys, their eyes taking in my every move before meeting each other’s knowing gaze, seem to be collecting arrows for their quivers.  Ammo for their arsenal.  Fodder for their own comedy routines.  Someday very, very soon, what I say and how I say it, what I do and how I (foolishly, I’m sure) do it, will perhaps be the one tie that binds them through difficult “tween” years when brothers seem hard pressed to find anything to not shove, punch, and fight over.  At least there’s always good old mom, ready to take one for the team.  There have already been some practice sessions.  Oddly enough, the first one that really stood out to me involved….a robe.

It was a school morning, and I was manning my post in front of the stove, one hand grasping the frying pan handle, one hand wielding a spatula, trying to negotiate some stubborn pancakes from cooked side to raw side.  I remember the heat was too high, and the cakes were stuck.  I was frazzled, as I usually am on school mornings.  When will I ever learn to start the whole “getting ready” process earlier?

My boys were also manning their posts: Each “sitting” in their assigned spot, if sitting may be defined in the loosest of terms possible.  One foot flat on the seat of the chair, one foot flat on the floor — imagine the legs of a marathon runner before the starting shot — their inability to sit properly did not escape my mental checklist of “all things annoying” that morning.

Poor sitting habits, added to the ruined pancakes, added to the lateness of the hour, added to the smell of last night’s dinner rotting on old cold dirty dishes still sitting in the sink, equaled irritability to the nth degree.  Plus, I was now sweating slightly above the lip — I was standing over a hot stove after all — a bit flustered.  I reached in my pocket for a hair band, and wound what was some major bed head into a more contained rat’s nest.  Oh, and I was wearing a heavy terry cloth robe.  I think we can all see where this is going.

Whipping my head around toward the boys, I was prepared to bark orders about eating fast and no goofing around.  But the words halted — I was slightly taken aback by the expression on each child’s face.  They were staring at me.  Like, purposeful staring, the way people do when they are taking in a “scene,” trying to decide what to make of it.  They also looked sort of amused, but in a disgusted way.  Like when you see someone burp the alphabet or turn their eyelids inside out.

Older son was the first to comment.

“Uh, mom?”

“What?” I said, not very patiently

“Uh…..you look kind of.  Um….weird.”

Silence.

Second son pipes up, “Yeah, Mom.  You look weird.  You need some make-up.”

Older son then offers, “No, it’s not that.  I think it’s….well….you look a little sweaty.  Your face is maybe greasy or something.”

Silence.

Older son continues, “Yeah, that’s it.  And your hair is crazy. And, you know, your robe.  Are you taking us to school like that?”

I am now catching on that these are not the ramblings of innocent child-observers just saying what comes to mind.  This was the makings of my boys’ first joint effort in observational humor at my expense.  They know I would never take them to school in my robe.  They’re just laying the bait for each other.

I finally speak up, loudly, and say,”[Older son’s name] you’re being ridiculous.  What do you mean, ‘taking you to school like this?’ Turn around and eat your breakfast.”

Second son, his eyes now glowing with the anticipation of carrying this thing to the hilt, looks at his brother and says, “Her ROBE.  It’s weird.  Look how puffy it is.  Her big fat robe.  Ha, ha, ha.”

Older son, now laughing too, adds, “Yeah, Mom.  That robe is not good.  It looks weird.  You’re kind of freaking us (ahhh, they’re an “us” now, a team formed around a common target) out. ”

“Did you see — she has a coffee stain on her robe,” shouts older son, now in hysterics.

“Where?  Where?  I wanna see….let me see it!” screams younger son.

“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!  Turn around, Mom!  Ha, ha, ha, ha!” laughs everyone — even the pancakes — except for me.

I stand there in my apparently “dumb-looking” robe, with a spatula and a sweaty upper lip.  I turn to catch a glimpse of my mother’s face — the reflection staring back at me on the microwave door.   I am still.  I absorb the shock of the realization…..

Paybacks are Hell.

Okay, moms out there: Have your kids ever “robed” you?  And on the flip side, anyone else take a particular interest (along with siblings) in finding the humor in your parents?  Is it a bonding ritual?  A coping mechanism (like, if we find a way to laugh, then we won’t cry)?  Thoughts?

 


Making Faces

A story about making a bad impression in front of important people:

I had made a last-minute decision to go out and buy a new pair of shoes — edgy, near-stiletto ankle boots  — because nothing I owned would quite work with the dress I had picked for the occasion.  It was settled the night before: I would “be” the short black dress with kimono sleeves.  Deep V-neck.  Bare legs, if the weather allowed.  Hair back.  Necklace, no earrings.

So the shoes, found barely one hour before I had to get the kids to my mom’s, barely one hour and change before I would be walking out the door to greet my husband in our driveway — the shoes were important to my character. The version of “me” that I hoped to pull off that evening: quietly confident, effortlessly edgy, with a bit of sexy turned down a few notches to read more like “intriguing.”

Yes, I had put a lot of thought into this.

Husband and I were going to enjoy a rare treat: a Saturday night date AND some socializing with a group of friends, some of who were my husband’s co-workers.  Co-workers who held kind of important positions at his company.  And, we were going to a very nice, and very hip joint downtown, therefore, the whole effortlessly edgy thing was appropriate, in case you raised an eyebrow at the mention of “co-workers” and “important.”  No worries, but thank you all the same.

So, again, yes….I had put a lot of thought into this.

This whole, how-I-must-come-across-just-right thing.

The evening went by much the way I had hoped it would.  Husband and I spent some time at the bar as we waited for our party to arrive.  I enjoyed strong beers with names I couldn’t pronounce, served in voluptuous glasses.  We played hangman on the back of cocktail napkins.  We sat with our knees touching; lots of leaning in and laughing close.  We didn’t talk about the kids.  We were having a really nice time.

Then friends began to arrive.  We took our seats around a large table as most couples broke themselves apart, sitting next to “new” partners and making new conversations.

There was lots of happy banter and gesturing and taking turns being clever, but not too clever.  We ate great food and drank what one might expect on an evening like this.  No one talked about their kids.  We were all having a really nice time.

Amidst this intense energy, I remember taking myself aside, you know, in that way one does when among a large group.  In that “I’m-not-here-I’m just an -observer” detached way you can do usually for just a minute or two before your sub-concious retreats back into wherever it usually hangs.  And in that minute or two of observational clarity, I was able to assess that I was playing the part I had hoped.  I was in my role, and it was working well with everyone else’s role on set.  Okay….we’re good.  This is good.  I’m having a really nice time.

And then, something happened.  I still don’t really know how it happened, but I know that it did because I felt it happen.  Plus, I had my husband’s repeated reminders of it happening: “Babe, you just need to be more aware next time.”

Right after final drinks were brought to our table, someone in the group made some particular comment — a completely benign comment — that struck a chord with me.  Now, I didn’t say “struck a nerve,” I said “struck a chord.”   I wasn’t upset.  At all.  I was more….contemplative….it made me go “huh” (to myself).  And once I go “huh” to myself, that act typically engages a Jacob’s Ladder-like process in my mind, where the one trigger thought leads to a deeper thought that then leads to some other kind of thought, etc.  Usually, within mere minutes, I end up going from something like “my thoughts on vacationing in June versus August” to “I wonder why it is that I never pursued that opportunity to intern on Capitol Hill.”  That’s just an example.  Whatever.

So, apparently, while I thought I was “huh-ing” to myself — quiet and on the sidelines of the conversation, just chewing on this notion, whatever it may have been (I don’t even remember now), everyone was sort of watching me.  The table grew eerily silent.  I wasn’t even aware until my husband touched the side of my arm, leaned into me, and whispered, “What’s wrong?” with a slight sense of urgency.  It actually broke up the thought party I was having.  It startled me.  Something’s wrong?  With who?  I thought, until I realized it was with me.  Something was wrong with me, I guess.  And everyone else thought so too.

Because, while I would have imagined that my quiet contemplative face looked like this:

Image Credit: taylorswiftedu.edublogs.org
Image Credit: taylorswiftedu.edublogs.org

I am told it actually looked more like this:

imagesCA4FCPS1
Image Credit: ejsisme.blogspot.com

(for the record, I look nothing like Taylor Swift or Amy Poehler.  These were just good examples of faces).

I had what most humans would interpret as angry-sour-I’m-pissed-at-someone-sorry-if-you-all-have-to-witness-this face.   To be honest, I did sort of feel a little contorted, facially speaking.  I kind of remember my mouth sort of twisted, my lips pursed together.  I remember feeling the fat under my jawline being slightly squished by my neck becasue I had my head cocked to the side just so.  And, okay, my eyes were probably “squinty” — maybe one eye more squinty than the other one.

I was probably wearing said face for several minutes.

And that’s sort of the last impression most of our dinner companions had of me, that face marking the end of the evening.  Though I quickly offered a broad smile in an effort toward damage control and an assurance that I was just swimmingly happy (I was, though.  I really, really was), it was sort of past the point.  Everyone had pretty much concluded that “Something’s wrong with Lauren.”  Ohhh, she’s pissed — look out.  Glad I won’t be going home with her tonight.  Pshew. Conversation continued — a bit stiffly.  Eyes darted away from me and toward more pleasant-looking people.  Bills were paid.  Coats and purses were gathered up and our group slowly broke apart, heading home.

Well, so much for quite confidence and intrigue.  So much for the dress and the shoes and “the look.”  Actually, I had the look — it just wasn’t “the look” but instead (eyebrows lowered, whispery/judgey voice) the look, tsk.

I have wondered more than once how many couples talked about “the face” during their car ride home.

What the Hell happened?  Did I miss something?

Was she pissed at her husband?

Geeze-o-flip.  Glad I’m not that poor guy.

Well, c’mon — did you see those shoes?  Only psychos wear shoes like that.  I could tell — she’s a little “off.”

I have actually been told that I make a lot of faces.  A lot of faces.  Some are more purposeful, and will be the subject of a future post, I’m sure.

But others are completely unintentional, and scarily enough, beyond my ability to control them.

I usually get asked, at least once during every social gathering I attend: “What’s wrong?  You look….upset….”  99 times out of 100, nothing is wrong at all.  Nothing.

So what’s with the faces?  ‘Cause I sure as Hell don’t know.  Have you ever been accused of thinking or feeling what you most certainly were not thinking or feeling, all because of a few facial muscles moving in unfortunate directions?  Have you ever determined that someone else was thinking or feeling what they likely weren’t, just because of a slightly miscalculated non-verbal?

Share stories if you’re able.  This happened a few years back and it still makes my stomach flip every time.

I need to be more careful….more “aware.”  Advice?