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Our smallest child loves to go sledding. A mere dusting of snow sends him running for the closest, unoccupied sled. He bombs—head-first—down our driveway, the snowbanks created by our plow guys, the steep incline near our house which I worry is rife with sapling stumps. But his all-time favorite place to go sledding is the hill behind his pre-school.
Growing up in the frozen tundra of the northeast corner of Vermont, I am no stranger to sledding. My childhood home was perched at the top of a hill just off a narrow dirt path the town considered a road. Since our road was a low priority for the town plow, my sister and I were sometimes able to pretend it was a bobsled or luge run, depending on its’ condition. It took about a minute for us, perched upon thin sheets of molded plastic, to zip down to our next-door neighbor’s house, a quarter of a mile away.
On the rare occasion that our road was sanded, we’d opt to traverse the hill directly—via the well-groomed VAST snowmobile trail. The fact that no one ran over us is a testament to the driving skills of the many snowmobilers who were startled to discover the small hazards of our well-bundled persons in the middle of their trail. For our part, we trained ourselves to listen for the distant whine of engines. “Incoming!” we’d scream. “Ditch! Ditch!”
Henry’s hill is tame compared to these frighteningly unsafe memories of mine, but he is just as thrilled as I was by the bitingly cold air, the way the treeline blurs, by that rush of adrenaline that comes when the sled reaches maximum speed.
We had promised to take the kids sledding at Henry’s pre-school over the weekend. It was my understanding that this was one of the “perks” of our private school. However, when we pulled into the parking lot, we found what looked to be a used car dealership. Automobiles were parked bumper to bumper. A quick scan of the hill revealed masses of children and adults. My husband and I looked at each other. He threw the van into reverse and we backed up almost into the main road.
“Wait! Wait! Where’re you goin’?” Henry was frantic. “Stop!”
Then the crying started.
We pulled forward into the lot and wedged our vehicle between the dumpster and a well-loved Volvo.
Henry stopped crying. Nora started whimpering.
I’ve mentioned that our middle child does not like surprises. She also has an aversion to crowds. “I’m staying right here,” she announced.
Brendan raised his eyebrows in my direction, saying, “C’mon Henry. Nora and Mommy will meet us up there.”
It took me ten minutes to convince Nora to release the death-grip she had on her car seat. My last attempt to ameliorate her anxiety was to assure her that we would avoid the crowd if we walked to the hill via the side of the school without a trail. The side of the school that has signs posted, “Danger! Falling ice.” I have to pick my battles with her and the standing seam roof was mostly ice-and-snow-free.
By the time we reached the line of would-be sledders, she was fine. “Hi, Emma!” she called to a girl she knows and off they went. Emma’s dad walked over and introduced himself. “Are you here for the birthday party, too?”
“This is a birthday party? Oh, God, I didn’t realize. We came up the back way…” I scanned the hill for the rest of my family, thankful that 1) Liam was at a friend’s house and 2) The family we had invited to join us for an afternoon of sledding hadn’t been able to make it.
We needed to go. I signaled to Brendan who had just launched Henry over a jump. “It’s a birthday party,” I muttered to him. “I think it’s the class above Henry’s. We’ve got to round-up our kids.”
“Oh, I think it’s alright,” my amiable husband said. “Not all these people can be here for the party and the kids are having fun. Let them take a few runs and then we’ll go.” I reluctantly agreed.
A few runs turned into a few more runs, which turned into ‘just ten more minutes.’ By the end, Henry had made a new friend and was sharing his snow-tube. His wide grin told me he was having a blast. I started to relax. It’ll be alright, I told myself. As long as I don’t have to go down there and mingle with the party parents.
It was then that I saw her: Nora was in the queue for hot chocolate and cake.
Grabbing one of our sleds, I sped down the hill to prevent her from making our social faux pas worse. We left shortly thereafter. As we were leaving, a number of friendly parents and kids waved goodbye.
This is probably how the White House crashers got their start.
I think Nora has been sneaking extra TV-time. C-SPAN, to be exact. Or maybe just a little MSNBC. It’s either that or Congressman Wilson astrally projected onto my five year-old last week.
“You lied to me! You lied!” Nora shouted, stomping her Mary Janes. Her eyes glittered with outrage.
“Honey, honey, no. I didn’t lie!” I was practically stammering in the face of her fury.
“You did so! You lied!”
Heads swiveled in the elementary school cafeteria. Other parents were turning to watch the drama—surreptitiously, of course. No parent wants to admit it, but it can be gratifying to see someone else struggling with their child in public. It’s like watching an episode of Supernanny—your problems seem small compared to those people’s.
And Nora was staging a good show. When she has a tantrum, she pulls out all the stops. I am thankful that they do not occur frequently because when they do, my embarrassment is a 10.0 on the mortification scale.
“You said I could ride the bus home!”
“Nora, I didn’t! I told you that I was picking you up today. You only needed to take the bus home on Wednesday. Come on.” I tried to sound soothing. “We’ll talk about it in the car.”
“NO!” She maintained the vowel until it collapsed into a wordless scream.
I could feel the sweat beading on my sternum. “You can’t ride the bus home today. You can ride the bus home tomorrow.”
“NO! You’re a liar!”
“Oh God, it’s Friday. You’ll ride the bus next week. Let’s go.” Grabbing Henry and M, my carpooling kid, I fervently hoped that Liam and Nora would follow me.
As I weaved through the masses towards the exit, we suddenly became invisible. No one wanted to make eye contact (me, least of all).
By the time we reached the car, Nora was winding down. She hiccuped. I fixed her with a glare. She sniffled, hugged me, and apologized for her “fit.”
I accepted her apology. Because unlike Congressman Wilson, I think she meant it.
Years from now, I may have to explain to a medical professional—potentially court-appointed—that I was the person who introduced my two youngest children to cannibalism.
We were on our way to watch Liam’s acting debut in his Drama Camp’s six-scene play called “Potions 4 Peace.” In accordance with my modus operandi, we were running about ten minutes late. I hustled the kids into the Flynn Center’s elevator. Henry lifted up “Piggy” (his ever-present companion) to push the button for the third floor. For the millionth time, I tried not to think about the germs that are undoubtedly embedded in Piggy’s stuffing.
The elevator rose two levels and stopped. We could hear the muffled shrieks of excited children and the buzz of parents being affable on the other side of the door. The door, however, remained closed.
We were stuck.
I am not normally claustrophobic but the thought of being trapped in a tiny metal box, three (or more) stories up, for an undefined amount of time, with two small children, without books, games, food or water…it made me dizzy.
Eventually, someone in the performance space came over to investigate who was repeatedly ringing the elevator’s bell. I explained the situation to her and she promised to get help. Satisfied that we would be sprung soon, I returned my attention to Nora and Henry, who were making the transition from confused to panicked. More white than brown was visible in their eyes.
“Are we going to be in here FOREVER???” Nora squeaked.
Looking at Henry, I said with all the gravity I could muster: “I say we eat the Pig first.”
Henry squealed and put Piggy behind his back. For him, Piggy’s dissection is a fate far worse than death by elevator.
My intention was to distract—not frighten—them, so, I smiled. Henry immediately realized that his mother was making a sick joke and started giggling.
I continued the game. “Piggy is too small. I suggest that you eat me first. I’m bigger so I’ll last longer. Where do you think you’ll start? My ears?”
Henry giggled again. Nora smirked, and then they both embraced the game with a startling fervor. Fingers! Elbows! Armpits! I began to second-guess my distraction strategy. “Ok, ok, guys,” I said, “You know that we don’t eat people.” More smirks and giggles.
A voice crept into our coffin. “Stay calm. The fire department is here.”
Fantastic. We would not become the Donner party.
Another voice, this one was apologetic: “Umm, I’m sorry, but, we need to start the play.”
Multiple Miss Mary Macks later, the doors opened onto a darkened room in which ten-year old wizards were hatching a diabolical plan to take over the world.
I hurriedly thanked the bevy of ax-wielding firefighters for rescuing us and then slunk to a seat. My cheeks were on fire.
“Reducto!” shouted a wizard, completely in character. True professionals, the drama kids hadn’t missed a beat. The show had gone on and I, for one, was thoroughly grateful for it.