As any mother of teenage daughters can attest, their threshold of embarrassment begins at subterranean levels and goes downward from there. “Mom, really!” is their mantra and the offenses that generate that response are multitude. When I shared space with not one but two adolescent females, the term walking on egg shells did not begin to describe where I trod. And most often there was no way of discerning just what would prompt the mortification designed to bring them shame and despair.
It was innocent enough, on my part. One night I attended a football game at my Daughter the Cheerleader’s high school. As I approached the field between the bleachers filled with frenzied fans, I spotted my daughter and her fellow cheerleaders, going through their paces as they led the crowd in routines that would spur their team to victory. I watched with pride as she performed the chants and accompanying movements she had practiced at home. I neared the front row bleacher nearest her and attempted to get her attention by calling her name and shouting, “Go Team!” punctuated by a hearty wave.
Well, by her reaction you’d think I’d swooped onto the field in front of the entire student body sporting my high school cheerleader outfit (wrong colors, by the way, not to mention the fact I’d never fit into it) while frantically shaking a pair of pom poms. Her stricken expression clearly conveyed the news: I’d humiliated her. Totally, completely, without a doubt the worst humiliation she’d experienced in her 16 years.
Ah, what a short memory she had, my little pom-pom girl. It was not too long before that awful wave and shout when I did something far more egregious. It was December and both daughters and I attended an annual holiday festival in a nearby city. The building was an array of gloriously decorated trees and all manner of handmade Christmas ornaments, glittering with lights and color. The girls and I wandered through the aisles of lovely crafts and delicious goodies, reminders that the most wonderful time of the year would soon be upon us. We were in a celebratory state of mind, but the inevitable moment came when I had to use the rest room. The girls waited near the entrance, and when I made my exit we continued our meandering.
It was but a moment when I heard a woman’s voice behind me. “I know you might think this is a joke,” she began, “but I need to tell you there’s a long trail of toilet paper attached to your waist.”
I stopped dead in my tracks and bent my head around. Sure enough, a long trail of toilet paper was attached to my waist. Flustered, almost speechless, I reached quickly to remove the offending object, while muttering a word of thanks to the lady who pointed out this utter breach of etiquette. As I crumpled the paper into a wad and looked for a place to dispose it, I turned to see my daughters, who had by now moved several feet away from me. Their expressions were, not unexpectedly, those of absolute chagrin. Humiliation doesn’t quite cover their reaction to the debasement to which their mother had just subjected them. “Mom, really,” did not pass their lips, because, well, it just wasn’t adequate to the situation. Truly, I had committed the ultimate public disgrace. I mean, we’ve all heard about toilet paper stuck to the shoe, indeed almost the definition of impropriety, but attached to the waist? Clearly, my girls wanted everyone to know they had no connection with me. As I observed them stroll away, careful to avoid eye contact with me, I sensed I had crossed a line that could not be uncrossed. Burned a bridge that could never be rebuilt. If divorcing one’s parent was an option, I’m sure they would have availed themselves of it at that very moment.
While I attempted to overcome by own embarrassment—who knows how many festival goers have been witness to my social blunder of blunders—I could not suppress a laugh. My breach of decorum was of course, unseemly. My girls’ reaction, predictable. But that look on their faces—priceless. We soon met in the crowd and they decided not to disown me, since they needed a ride home to their warm and comfortable rooms. And it was not the last of embarrassing moments I would bring into their lives.
After all, what’s a mother for?