Feb 17, 2009

A Post for the Embarrassment Sensitive

Remember what it feels like to be embarrassed?

I do, if I try hard enough - a funny twisting in the guts, a tightening in the skin, a desperate, pulsing need to hide.

I remember walking into a supermarket with Archie for the first time. Just thinking that he might cry or hurl or fart (even a little bit) was enough to give me such an attack of embarrassment that I felt it might turn my insides out. When Lewis came along and they started tearing down the aisles together, screaming for the (bastard) sweets (that the bastard shopping centre people stick right under their noses) I'd just about freak.

The problem was that I was embarrassment sensitive – a common affliction among new parents. As I found out, the only real cure for the embarrassment sensitive is constant exposure to humiliation. And there is no shortage of humiliation when you are responsible for tiny humans who lack empathy, social etiquette and bowel control.

After four years I’d say I am just about cured. Nowadays, with all my kids have done to me in public, I'll walk into a supermarket shoeless, with a t-shirt covered in food and so oblivious to those around me that Archie and Lewis would have to pull my pants down, push me over and spit on me before I'd feel a little sheepish.

When I was embarrassment sensitive, I would always give the same supermarket safety spiel –

Reservoir Dad (whispering desperately): Kids, stay close by. No running because you might hurt someone. No touching anything unless I say it’s okay. Don’t raise your voice and for Christ’s sake do not put snot, vomit or anything else that comes out of you on anything or anyone.

Now I give a different spiel. It goes something like this –

Reservoir Dad (yelling at the kids who are already at the end of the aisle): Kids, what is the speed a toddler must be running at in order to cause the least damage to a pensioner in the event of a collision?

Kids: 3 km/h Daddy!

Reservoir Dad: Good. What do we do when we find the lolly aisle?

Kids: Keep all the wrappers for the scanner, Daddy!

Reservoir Dad: That’s my boys. And what do you do if you happen to vomit?

Kids: Try not to slip in it, Daddy!

Reservoir Dad: Yep. And if you fart?

Kids: Move quickly but quietly to a different aisle, Daddy-Bum-Bum!

Reservoir Dad: That’s my boys.

I have been much more successful with this approach but I have to say it is only possible after years of child-induced humiliation has completely desensitised you to feeling any level of embarrassment.

Maybe for the sake of parents everywhere there could be some regular embarrassment-desensitising classes. They could go hand in hand with antenatal classes and involve several desensitising techniques over several weeks culminating in a practical exam where Mums and Dads have to perform a pants-free version of the Wiggles Doctor Knicker Bocker Song in a popular food court.

Try it. Stand up right now and give it a go. It's not easy. After that anything a toddler does to you will be a breeze.

Funny though. This embarrassment-desensitising training that parents go through in the process of rearing kids can come back to haunt the kids themselves as they move into their vulnerable teens.

I remember when I was sixteen or so. I went to a regular summer festival that all the cool kids went to. Mum dropped me off and I said something along the lines of, “Just drop me off and keep driving. Don’t embarrass me.”

Mum – being Mum – waited until I started moving into the crowds and then turned off the car, got out and ran up to me screaming, “Oh my son! My beautiful son! I love my son!” and so on. She held me in a bear hug long enough to create a three metre clearing around us. Needless to say I was mortified.

My mother would not have been capable of this kind of ruthless attention grabbing if it hadn’t been for the years of humiliation my sisters and me had put her though.

And I guess this is where parents just have to bide their time.

I’m looking forward to Archie and Lewis making their teens. I’ll be sure to take them to all their social engagements.

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