Children tend to save their most humiliating questions and comments for when in public – it’s one of the unwritten laws of parenting.
My daughter, Susie, has come out with some clangers in her seven years of life. By sharing her opinions and questions openly, she has embarrassed me more often than I care to remember.
The scenes of these occurrences can be grouped together into the following locations:
I don’t have anything against religion but we are not a religious family. We do, however, find ourselves in churches to celebrate weddings and christenings from time to time. And Susie understandably has many questions.
At one such christening, when she was three, Susie had an important question about the vicar. It went something like this:
Susie: (at the top of her voice, pointing to the vicar) ‘Mummy, why is that man angry?’
Me: (whispering) ‘He’s not angry. Shhhh’ Heads started turning.
Susie: (still at the top of her voice) ‘He is angry mummy! He keeps saying ‘Jesus Christ!’’
Oops. That’s all I have to say.
Shops and Supermarkets
I love the innocence of childhood, how children give their opinions with total honesty and without regard for social niceties. Unless, of course, my child is the one who is dishing out the honesty.
Once, when Susie was 4, a lady in a shop bent down to talk to her. Susie hid her face in my jumper.
‘What’s the matter?’ The lady asked, ‘don’t you want to talk to me?’
Susie turned her head back towards the lady, held her nose and said, ‘No, I do not. Your talking smells like a toilet’.
What can you say to that? Would you like a mint dear?
Susie has made a huge variety of comments over the years relating to the appearance, size and/or smell of innocent strangers. And she just doesn’t get why some men have long hair. She’s really not afraid to ponder this mystery at the top of her voice. I still haven’t worked out whether it’s better to apologise on her behalf or to just walk away (dragging Susie with me).
For some reason, the beach is the scene of many of these embarrassing moments. Perhaps because there are so many people wearing bikinis and swimming trunks, bearing body parts that little eyes don’t normally see.
If you don’t want a child to make a very audible and candid comment about the state of your body, I would cover up on the beach. Especially if Susie happens to be there.
Friends have told me that when their children make embarrassing remarks in public, they simply ignore them. Unfortunately, I’m not so lucky. My daughter simply will not accept silence or ignorance while she is in pursuit of an answer.
A few summers ago, a rather flat-chested woman with very short hair was sunbathing in close proximity to us.
Susie piped up. ‘Mummy, why is that man wearing a bikini?’
Why can’t she ever ask these things quietly? I bowed my head in silent embarrassment, turned pink and prayed the poor woman hadn’t heard.
‘Mummy, I asked you a question! Why is that man wearing a bikini?’ Susie carried on, now with pointing.
OK, the woman did hear that time.
‘She’s not a man,’ I whispered and then employed my best distraction tactics, ‘Susie, do you want a really big ice cream?’
Distraction tactics failed miserably. ‘It is a man! It is, Mummy!’
The woman diplomatically retreated into her sun tent. I wanted to die.
Public Toilets & Changing Rooms
When you take a child into a public toilet or changing room, you are asking for humiliation to follow. Susie once decided to ask, ‘Mummy, why do you have hair on your front bum?’ in a busy public toilet while I was having a wee. I heard a flicker of giggles rebounding around nearby cubicles.
When I dare take her clothes shopping (which she hates) she makes sure I pay with loud announcements such as ‘Mummy, I think your tummy is so very fat because it’s full of jelly’ while I try clothes on.
I also get comments about the varicose veins on my leg (which, ironically, appeared during my pregnancy with her). My face is critiqued on a regular basis – just in case strangers wish to know how many spots I have and their exact locations.
Luckily, I’m not around to hear what comes out of my daughter’s mouth when she’s at school. But I still shudder when I remember taking her to her first school visit. All my good intentions of making a great first impression were quashed in an instant when one of the teachers asked Susie what she was drawing a picture of.
‘It’s Stinky.’ Susie explained.
‘Who’s Stinky?’ asked the teacher.
Susie smiled sweetly at him. ‘You’.
When we found out which reception class she was going into, it was no surprise that Stinky wasn’t her teacher.
It can be tempting to reprimand your off-spring in these kinds of situations. However, I can’t see how you can tell off a child who is just giving her view or asking a genuine question. Susie and I do talk about what is socially acceptable to say and do in public (for example, opening the door of the toilet cubicle while I’m mid-wee is not acceptable). I also explain to her how her comments could hurt someone’s feelings. But it is so difficult for her to understand. In her mind, she simply wants to find an answer or express her opinion.
However, it does seem that finally, at the age of seven, something has clicked and she’s beginning to comprehend. Thankfully the humiliating public questions and remarks are beginning to decrease.
Perhaps it will be safe to go to the beach next year after all.
Aimee Foster is a mum, freelance writer and social media manager, stationery addict and Diet Coke lover. Find more of her ramblings over on her blog New Forest Mum.