Recently, I took my preschool-age daughter to Sunday Mass. We sat in the cry room, where her shenanigans were only seen by the others who were there with small children. But when we went up to receive Communion, she grabbed the opportunity to show off the moves she learned from “Angelina Ballerina”, twirling and jumping all the way back down the aisle and evoking chuckles from everyone sitting on that side of the church.
I was so embarrassed by my daughter’s display of “liturgical dancing” that, as soon as Mass was over, I stormed out of church and drove away. In my rattled state, I inadvertently left my son — an altar server — stranded in the parish hall, trying to hitch a ride home.
As anyone who has been a parent for more than a day or two has learned, kids have an uncanny knack for finding ways to embarrass us. For me, other memorable moments of child-induced embarrassment would include:
*The time when an old family friend was visiting us and leaned over to give some words of encouragement to my then-four-year-old son, who was drawing. His response to her kindly gesture? “You have stinky bwef.”
*The time I started getting my two toddlers ready for a bath and then (stupidly) went upstairs to answer a phone call. As I was talking to the caller, I happened to glance out the kitchen window into the back yard and saw both kids walking up the stairs to the door – buck naked. (Thank God none of the neighbors were outside).
*The time I answered the doorbell on a Saturday morning and my neighbor greeted me with, “I just thought you’d like to know that your kids are on the roof.” Yes, it was true. The painters who were working on the outside of our house had removed the window screens, and the little darlings thought it was a great time to see what our yard looked like from 10 feet up.
When these kinds of incidents occur, most of us are grabbed by a mixture of shame and horror that can best be summed up in the immortal words of Elvis Costello: “I’d rather be anywhere else than here today.”
But last Sunday’s display at church got me thinking. Is it really logical to be so shocked when the kids do things like this? After all, they are children, and if they really knew better, we wouldn’t be spending so much time and effort on their education.
What seems crazy to us seems perfectly logical to their immature way of thinking. In my daughter’s case, for example, she already thinks of herself as a ballerina, and the fact that she has never taken a single dance class is a mere technicality in her mind.
Maybe God allows these episodes to happen because they can be good teaching moments, not only for us, but for those who are watching (and let’s face it, that’s who we’re really concerned about). The way that we react when our kids embarrass us can send one of two messages: either that we are parents who are doing our best but humbly accept that our kids have imperfections, or that our main concern is outward appearances and protecting an image.
In my experience, trying to accept embarrassment in a spirit of humility is difficult but in the long run takes the sting out of the situation. Getting angry or upset, on the other hand, tends to aggravate an already bad scene, because we regret not only the embarrassment that our kids caused us but our reaction to it (like leaving a son stranded at church).
So, although I still cringe every time I think of my daughter doing pirouettes down the aisle, I’m slowly getting over it and will even consider taking her to church with me again – in about five years.