It was nearing noon. Time to head the quarter mile down the road to preschool to pick up my sweet girl. I called my dad to come stay with my son, still deep in slumber in his crib upstairs. Normally, he’d be up by now and heading out with me, but his schedule was awry from a mid-morning nap delayed too long by grocery shopping with his hare-brained mama.
I’m thankful for many things when it comes to this small, no-stoplight town. Mainly, I’m grateful I live close enough to our old brick church, the one I was both baptized and married in, that I can hear the 11:45 a.m. bells ring from my mailbox and know that just two minutes away, kids are pulling on backpacks and zipping up coats—my bumbling, happy almost-four-year-old among them.
I journeyed down the steps to greet her outside of her classroom door. Her teacher met me in the hall and explained kindly and gently, “I made your sweet girl cry today and I need to explain.” My face immediately fell and I felt hot tears rush up. Thanks to a big snowfall and an even bigger bout with the crud, this was her first real week back since our holiday break. I figured she’d acted up and been called out, and I felt an immediate rush of shame.
Turns out, I was mistaken. Her teacher continued, “I was trying to show her how to use the sand table, and she thought I was getting onto her. She got embarrassed and cried into my shoulder for a few minutes.”
Aaah. The “all eyes are on me” social anxiety. Now I understood.
I understood because I have those moments on an almost-daily basis myself. I felt it just yesterday when I was asked to speak my name and birth date aloud at the pharmacy, and what should have been such a rote response initiated a speech block and my stutter flared up right under those unforgiving fluorescent lights. Likewise, I feel it every time I’m asked to read aloud in my women’s small group or make a phone call to set up a playdate. Put me in a room with a million strangers and I’ll write them each a 10-page letter before I speak a word aloud to the masses.
As we walked back to the car, my daughter explained that she’d felt silly for getting the table wrong and that everyone was looking at her. I dried her tears and reminded her that everyone just wanted to help her. Plus, that the table was probably really confusing anyway.
That pep talk (and an ice cream cone for dessert after lunch) made it all better. How I wish I could make every uncomfortable moment disappear as quickly for her.
Driving home, my mind flashed back to a young girl in middle school. A girl smack in the middle of one of the most socially awkward, lanky, and generally confusing times of her life, with shiny new braces on her teeth affixed by neon rubber bands that glowed in the dark for no purpose at all. That long car ride home from the dentist was one of the most unsettling I can recall. I didn’t speak a word, mainly because I was a mess of streaming tears and fury, and honestly also because my mouth was really sore.
My mama didn’t try to make it better immediately, and what I saw then as inconsiderate silence I now understand as her wheels actively turning. She sat me down as soon as we got home with literature about foods to avoid, how to properly brush and a timeline of what to expect over the next 18 months. All to-the-point, regimented data. Then, she asked me to wait, while she went upstairs for a second. She came back down with an old, yellowed album and asked me to flip around. There was my sweet, beautiful mama in all her clumsy middle school glory. She had a pageboy haircut, what appeared to be a sailor’s outfit on and a gap between her teeth big enough to spit sunflower seeds through.
She didn’t have to tell me why she pulled that album down because I knew. Her message? I’ve been there. Let me walk with you down this road.
My sweet girl, I’m sorry you were embarrassed today. I wish I could say it won’t happen again, but your papa and I have been teaching you recently about the importance of telling the truth, and I need to set an example here. It will. You’ll inevitably feel that emotion again.
You’ll have days when you feel like everyone’s against you and there’s not a friend to be found in the world. You’ll make mistakes and second-guess decisions both big and little. You’ll fall down and wander off course just a bit and we’ll probably bump heads a little along the way.
But here’s the thing: It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, and nothing your grandma hasn’t been through with me. So give me your messy, and your mean. Give me your sad, your shamed, your sorry and your suffering. I’ve got shoulders big enough to take it all. And I’ll turn right back around, with my arms stretched wide as the heavens, and offer you nothing but love back in return.
You get it from me, girl. And that’s what you’ll keep getting, all the days of my life.