Writing challenge, 26 May 2012

Another one from Mama Kat – I almost didn’t share this because it still, to this day, makes me hunch my shoulders and gnaw my fists with shame. (For the other responses to Mama Kat’s prompts, click here.)

Write about a time your child embarrassed you in public.

Oh, this is going to be a common one; I’m sure I can’t be the only mother this has ever happened to. You know the setting – the local supermarket, a weekday morning to avoid the after-work and weekend crowds. Me, with two small children in tow – eldest (aged 5) at school, but middle (3) and youngest (0) strapped securely into a double-seat trolley. It’s not too busy – in fact, it’s quiet enough to make the fact that I’m supermarket-shopping with a toddler and an infant bearable, if not actually enjoyable.

We’re trolling about having quite a nice time, considering – me and the Boy singing songs to each other, pointing out interesting packets of biscuits and having mature three-year-old discussions about why he can’t eat all the grapes before I’ve paid for them. I even throw in an occasional and sneaky bit of trolley-surfing in empty aisles (the Boy clapping and shouting with glee). The baby, for a wonder, is fast asleep.

We arrive at the freezer aisles, and I stop by the frozen peas (or something – I can’t remember, it’s not important because OH MY GOD what happens next wiped all the details from my mind). I’m aware that there’s another trolley owned by a fellow shopper just across the aisle, but I’m not paying attention because I’m chatting away to the Boy while trying to work out which peas (or whatever) are on offer. Suddenly the Boy speaks, loudly and clearly, cutting across my babble.

“Mummy?”

“Hmm?” I look up. He’s pointing across the aisle at the other shopper, about five feet away from us. “What?”

“”Mummy, why is that lady so FAT?”

Appalled silence. Involuntarily I glance across to lock eyes with a rather large lady dressed in a maroon tent-like garment, holding a bag of frozen vegetables. I look away in horror and wait a beat too long to reply to the Boy.

“That lady, Mummy. She’s really fat.”

And now, too late, I’m in motion, mouth flapping – “You mustn’t say things like that, darling, it’s not kind, come on, let’s see what kind of ice cream they’ve got, babble, drivel, blah” – pushing the trolley as fast as I can without actually running, rounding the corner of the aisle and glancing back to see the lady exactly where I left her, staring after me with her bag of sprouts still in her hand.

To compound the horror, it’s not that large a supermarket and we cross paths with that poor lady at least three more times before I finally manage to escape. My Boy has never been one to be fobbed off, and each time he spots her he points again and prepares to ask his question even louder (perhaps he thinks I’m going deaf, since I clearly failed to hear him the first time he asked). By the second time this happens I’m prepared and manage to divert him, but I’m shaking and sweaty by the time we arrive at the car. I throw the shopping into the boot, strap the children in and we make our escape.

And then I let myself go, howling with hysterical laughter until the tears roll down my face and the Boy starts to get worried that I’m upset, or have gone mad. Because ever since he first pointed her out and used his loudest and best speaking voice to ask his question, I have been trying not to laugh. I must not let that poor lady see how FUNNY that was, because oh my god she must be mortified, I would be so upset, she must feel dreadful – but all the time I’m screwed up inside, holding in shouts of embarrassed and horrified laughter. Because SHE WAS FAT, and there was no way of denying that, and no way of apologising without making my son a liar, and no way of making her feel better about herself. The damage was done, and nothing I could say or do would make her day any better.

But the worst thing? Absolutely the most shameful thing about this whole episode? That, my dears, is the fact that she saw my hysterical laughter in my face when we locked eyes over my son’s outstretched finger. She saw that all I wanted to do was collapse in horrified laughter, and SHE KNEW. Oh yes, she knew alright, and she let me KNOW that she knew.

I didn’t go back to that supermarket for months, and when I did I went round it like a demon – head down, arms pistoning to grab items more or less at random from the shelves, throw everything through the checkout and safely away. No children with me that time, no sir, and any sign of a larger customer sent me spinning into the next aisle, eyes wide with horror and hysterical laughter snorting down my nose.

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6 thoughts on “Writing challenge, 26 May 2012

  1. Steph says:

    Yours is certainly not the first kid to point out a fat person and ask why…which makes me wonder if perhaps the darling kids are meant to be there are that time to say what they say. Seriously! I know I would have laughed, too, not because she was fat but because kids say the unsayable stuff that we think with such unabashedness it’s refreshing, takes us by surprise so much it causes funny reactions. But it’s a weird thing, when you think about it. What if your kid saved that woman’s life? Or at the very least changed it?

    • Louise says:

      Hmm – I’d like to hope so. I’d also like to think that makes me feel a bit better about the whole episode, but it really doesn’t! :-/

  2. My kids have also made that remark in public and my daughter seems to make a variation of that comment to my parents who they see about twice a year. I’ve talked with her about it and how it’s really not nice to say that about people. It seems to slip her mind when she’s sitting on my mom’s lap whose large belly in right in front of her.
    I admire and appreciate you for admitting your feelings and true reaction to the incident. Like Steph says above, kids often say the things we think, but would never let out of our mouths.

    • Louise says:

      I think kids can probably get away with more with their grandparents than they can with compete strangers. Honesty that comes out as rudeness can be glossed over, laughed off and rehashed as family lore – that happens a lot in our family…

  3. Tristen says:

    Kids are so honest! We as parents want them to show that honesty, but when they do we FREAK out! That is such a funny story, one that I think just about every mom has dealt with at one time or another, at least you were able to get a good laugh out of it afterwords!

    • Louise says:

      I’m still laughing, slightly hysterically, some ten years later! (I also still keep a weather eye out for that poor lady when I’m in the same supermarket, but – touch wood – I’ve never seen her again. I’d run a mile, even now…)

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