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.
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…….