Thirteen years old in all my gangly, pimply glory walking onto the beach 15 minutes down the road from my grandmom's Century Village condo -- the army barracks of senior citizen living in the 70s. Usually we'd get to the beach so early we'd have our pick of spots, but when my dad insisted on stopping at Publix first, there would be others to hide from as we made our way on the sand searching for the perfect spot. Not too close to the surf so we'd have to move when the tide came in, not too far away so we weren't near the sights and sounds of the crashing waves, but not smack in the middle either or we'd be surely smushed by those who preferred to sleep past 7 a.m. while on vacation.
Like dogs sniffing the grass before they pee, we'd meander. My dad's green transistor radio blaring Big Band hits or worse yet Paul Harvey, my mom clutching a grease-stained brown shopping bag of leftover fried chicken, Grandmom's paper-thin Confederate towel draped over her shoulder, insisting it was a good buy and we were overstating its significance as an emblem of evil, me creating as much distance as possible between myself and my herd. The humiliation continued long after we claimed our prime plot of sand -- my dad would fight against the whipping wind while trying to read each page of the sports section, cursing loudly if the Flyers or Eagles lost, and raise the volume of the static whenever we started 'losing' a radio station, and Grandmom would point to the nooks and crannies on our adolescent bodies we'd missed with the zinc oxide or SPF 50 Coppertone.
During her reign as Round Meadow Elementary PTA President, my mom struck terror in the hearts of my fellow after-school drama club participants, insisting we listen to our teacher and stop goofing off in a tone so angry, everyone was silent for minutes afterward. At 16, my first job ended unceremoniously when my mom confronted the movie theater manager for docking my pay in the same amount I'd come up short after the previous night's tally. He referred to her as the B word, and I was gone the next day.
The cycle of embarrassment continues on, particularly with my own sons who don't much appreciate my full-body hugs or loud cheers, particularly when done 'on the outside.' Yet, to me, given my history, there's something about embarrassment that creates the ties that bind. My mom loved me so much that she gave the theater manager hell when she thought he was doing something unjust. She had my back, no questions asked.
As my mom sits in a Philadelphia area hospital recouping from open heart surgery, I now see these as the many small moments that gave me strength, a deep sense of loyalty, and a hearty appreciation for the odd.
My parents and certainly my Grandmom never cared if what they were doing embarrassed me. I find myself doing the opposite because I don't want my kids to suffer the public discomfort that as a highly self-conscious kid I did. I don't wrap my arms around them or scream out their names in public anymore -- at least when I remember not to. I'm the tempered, detached parent. Only in my heart, I'm neither.
A much larger child in my son's martial arts class teases him and performs moves that have recently injured my kid. If that had happened to me in the 70s, you better believe my mom would have gotten to the bottom of why with little concern for any embarrassment or hurt feelings left in her wake.
My mom's current state and my son's inability to sleep last night because of his strained back have woken me up to see how much these stupid, petty fears stop us every day. Caring too much about how others see you slowly and steadily suffocates you into someone you don't recognize, let alone like. And the suffocation is 100-percent reversible as long as we remain true to ourselves and what we know in our heart is true. Letting go and paying attention to your gut, not the self-doubting barrage o' crap in your head, creates a freedom in thought and action.
Thank you for never sacrificing who you were for who we asked you to be, Mom and Dad. In the immortal words of Paul Harvey, I bid you "Good Day." Given his volume, I'm pretty sure he was also a full-body hugger.