Try Not to Embarrass Your Child

Last week I did a presentation in Older Son’s classroom. I love doing this and he has always liked having me come to school. Sadly, nothing compares to the simple machines lesson I did in second grade, so I kind of screwed myself by setting the bar that high so early.

It wasn’t that big of a deal, just blocks, cardboard tubes, and some moving pieces, and they had to get a marble from one end to the other using the moving piece. I guess the big second-graders just liked having the excuse to play with blocks.

Here’s the conversation we had when I told him I was coming in:

Older: (delighted, hopeful, leaning forward in his seat) “Is it going to be the simple machines again?!”
Me: “No, sorry.”
Older: “UUUGH! Why nooooot?”
Me: “I have to do what the teacher asks me, that’s what volunteering is all about.”
Older: (dejected, annoyed, slumping in his seat) “OK fine. You can come.”

His class is starting writer’s workshop so I volunteered to talk about writing. Overall I think it was a hit, they were a little squirmy by the end but I got some laughs and lots of questions. They’re smart kids, we never give them enough credit.

My stress going into it was not the usual presentation anxiety: standing in front of people, is there something in my teeth, what if I suddenly have to pee, what the heck was I planning on saying because it’s completely gone now… It was the moment when I had this thought: Oh crap. What if I embarrass my son?

It was so easy up until now, when they were little ones in first grade who would be so excited for you to just read them a book. Now the stakes are getting higher. If I look like a fool, does Older get the fallout? Too many of these kids know me now – they’ve been in my house and seen me in a bathing suit, for God’s sake. I can’t possibly look like a real professional to them.

And I always, at some point, cross the line of appropriate. I don’t mean to, but kids know me. I’m too relaxed, and I treat them like grownups. I’ve never been able to cultivate real teacher-talk. You know, being able to speak clearly and slowly and keep things on topic and moving along and everything we discuss is done in an educational manner that will not lead to fooling around or inappropriate ends. Just like his teacher sounded every time she interrupted my crazy rambling.

But nothing got too out of hand. The funniest part was when I read my fifth-grade journals (which are hilarious). I had a bunch of excerpts chosen but only got through about half of them. They especially liked the ones in which I was hurt (on “my left knee, left elbow, right knee, right hand, and left hip, and my head. I ACHE!!!” Was I dropped into a blender?).

When I wrote about a girl who pushed me down while roller skating “DELIBERETLY!!” they – not surprisingly – were bloodthirsty for revenge. “Well what did you do to her?!” they demanded. “Nothing!” I said, to groans of disappointment (and Older’s best friend giving me some hints on what I should have done to her). “But I got really mad and wrote about her in my journal!” So the teacher and I talked about how it was a good way to get out their anger.

One boy asked me how I could know that my journal was secret from my parents. That was where I thought we might be heading for trouble. So I just answered as honestly as I could, “That’s a matter of trust between you and your family. Look out for your sister. You should probably just stick it under your mattress.”

Oh well. Nobody’s perfect. But the upshot was, when Older’s friend came over to play that afternoon I asked them if they liked it, and they said yes, they wanted to hear the rest of the diary entries. We didn’t get to them then but Older actually spent some time reading them that weekend. (Yeah we all had a good laugh at 10-year-old Mommy’s expense.)

I know the kids were making such a connection to those old diaries because that’s their life. Chronicling insult and injury, alternately idolizing and demonizing their family, trying to find justice in a world that seems so unfair.

I actually ran a few of the entries by Older before the presentation (to make sure I wouldn’t embarrass him). In one I talked about being really mad at my sister because she got to do everything fun and I never did, and it was so unfair and nobody liked me. I asked him if it was too personal. He said, “It’s like you’re describing my life.”

I took that as a stamp of approval.

I think we Big Grownups With So Many Important Things On Our Minds forget about that life, and that’s why we sometimes have such a hard time connecting with our kids. So my recommendation is, go dig out your old Snoopy diary with the lock on it and remember what it’s really like to be ten years old.

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