When I think of parents and embarrassment, I think of mortified preteens huddled in the corner of the gym as their parents dance the night away at the middle school’s family spring fling. Horrified adolescents covering their ears and pleading with Mum to just stop singing in the car on carpool day. Disgusted teenagers rolling their eyes and praying they won’t run into anyone they know as Dad tries on sunglasses at the drug store.
Well, that’s what I would have thought a few years ago. But now, as the proud parent of a toddler, I have my very own collection of stories in which the parent is embarrassed, not the child. And I strongly suspect the embarrassing hi-jinx that parents of older kids get up to are payback for the public humiliations routinely suffered when their kids were little.
Bean is a silly guy. He loves to make up strange stories and finds his own jokes hilarious. When he’s about to say something that he thinks is funny, he has a way of cocking his head to the side, leaning forward, and smiling a little half-smile up at me. One of his favourite games involves the car. When we’ve been out somewhere and are on our way back to our car, he’ll often point to each car along the way and say in an exaggerated manner, “Is that our car?” as if he’s forgotten what it looks like. When we get to our car, he pretends to be very excited and says, “Oooohhhh, there’s our car!!” Innocuous, silly fun.
One day we were at the grocery store and Bean was in a silly mood. He was pointing at all the different packages, cartons, and cans in the aisles, asking in his silly toddler way, “We going to get that for our lunch?” I was happy, he was happy; it was kind of fun.
And then we passed an elderly man in the coffee aisle. Bean, sitting in the cart facing me, got that head-cocked-half-smiling look, raised his hand to point past me at the man and said, very loudly, “Is that my Daddy?” I laughed it off and tried the old distraction technique: “No, silly. Oh look, there’s the coffee we need! Will that be our lunch?”
But then another man came down the aisle – this one was a twenty-something college student type, carrying a shopping basket with his sullen-looking girlfriend.
“Is that my Daddy?” This one was even louder than before. The young man looked up, startled, too awkward to respond. His girlfriend gave us A Look. We hurried down the aisle.
A new man crossed our path. Didn’t women grocery shop anymore?
“Is THAT my Daddy?”
Yup, that’s us. A mother and son, roaming the grocery store in search of milk, eggs, and an absent father. Any takers?
For a few short-but-long minutes, this continued – Bean calling out strange men as his long-lost father, and me nervously laughing and saying, “No silly, Daddy’s at work. You know that! Ha ha…” We got looks of confusion and faint worry; men hurrying by; bystanders smirking. Finally one brave soul, who from the contents of his grocery cart appeared to be a father of young children, looked at Bean and laughed kindly. “Nope. Sorry kid, not your Daddy.”
That was enough to startle Bean into shyness, and we finished the shopping trip in relative silence.
In the context of all the humiliations I’m sure to face as a parent, that one isn’t the worst. Still, if you need me, I’ll be working on my sweet dance moves in preparation for Bean’s 14th birthday party.