It’s been a while since I’ve been straight up embarrassed in public. Though I lean introvert, I can typically handle social situations in an appropriate manner.
This week, I was reminded how awful it feels to be embarrassed in front of others.
We were at the pool for Lissie’s swim lessons. I was sitting on the edge of the wading section, keeping an eye on Auggie (who was wearing a lifejacket), and also trying to keep the baby from freaking out at her lack of freedom while strapped in her carseat.
We’d been attending swim lessons all summer. 14 times to be exact. And I had spoken with a lifeguard a few weeks back about where I needed to be in relation to my son while he swam. I was told I needed to be at the edge of the pool, which is where I was.
I was surprised, therefore, that a lifeguard approached me at the last lesson pretty agressively and told me I needed to be within arm’s reach of my son.
I told him I thought I was doing the right thing, but it wasn’t a problem and promptly waded over to tell Auggie to stay close to me.
But then the lifeguard didn’t stop. He kept explaining the rule to me, loudly, even though I didn’t fight him on where he wanted me to be.
There were a lot of people at the pool.
I felt embarrassed.
I know he was trying to do his job and keep everyone safe, but it’s a weird moment when you think you are following the rules, but then someone keeps explaining it to you like you don’t get it for some reason or are going to fight him on it, even though you’re not.
I’ve never liked getting in trouble. I made it through school without a single detention. I cried once when I got a tally mark against me for talking in 2nd grade. I also cried when a very nice police officer pulled me over for speeding the one time I got a ticket.
I really, really, don’t like being singled out in public for a negative reason. And I think there is a much more respectful way to correct behavior, in both public and private situations.
Dignity and Teaching
I learned very early on in my urban teaching experience that my students responded a lot better to redirection if I did it privately, without embarrassing them.
There are a couple of kids I specifically remember. Kids who other teachers had a hard time getting to listen. Kids who often got phone calls home or one way trips to the office. But not with me. Why? Because the other teachers would scold them publicly, in front of their friends. And they would talk back in an attempt to save face.
When these same kids were approached quietly, privately, respectfully when the other students were working, things were different. They, more often than not, corrected their behavior, dignity intact.
I also tried as best as I could to assume the misbehavior was unintentional. There’s a big difference in approach between “Quit tapping that pencil on the paper- you know it’s distracting everyone!” and “You may not have realized this, but tapping your pencil that loudly makes it hard for me to focus on what I’m teaching. Is there a quieter way you could get your wiggles out?”
Understanding kid’s innate desire to be treated with dignity helped my teacher game more than I ever could have known. Kids felt safe in my classroom. They knew I respected them as people. And they were able to learn and trust that they were in good hands.
Dignity and Parenting
How many times a week does a kid get their behavior corrected? Judging by my own parenting experience, a lot.
I think it was good for my kids to see the pool incident happen. We talked about it on the way home. About how I wanted to say some not nice things to him, but didn’t, and how hard it is to control our tongues. We also talked about how he was in charge of the pool, and how I needed to be respectful of him, even though it was difficult.
We talked about how I just wanted to leave, and how I understand there have been times in the past when they have felt the same way, embarrassed by something so much that they wanted to go home.
I hope this helped, particularly our five-year-old. She is a child of Big Feelings. I hope it helped her see that grown-ups have Big Feelings sometimes, too. That we feel embarrassed sometimes. That we need to respect the people in charge, too.
I also hope this helps me remember to be sensitive to those moments when my kids are embarrased. To those moments when they feel like they aren’t in control of their life. When they are misunderstood. I think I was better at remembering these things in the context of a classroom than I am in the context of my kids at home. I don’t know why this is. Maybe because I don’t always get a ‘prep time’ each day when I can re-focus and re-charge. JP and I get a few hours while the kids sleep each night, but it’s not like there is ever any extended separation from the environment of home like there was when I left school each day and didn’t have to return until the following morning. It’s more constant each day at home. But it’s not an excuse to forget.
Thank You, Mr. Lifeguard
I didn’t like it when it happened, but that brief and uncomfortable encounter at the pool had a lot to teach me, and hopefully, helped me connect with my kids in a deeper way. It was a good reminder to me of what it feels like to have someone assume the worst intentions in you, and to publicly call you out on it.
I think it’s a good thing when we can take an uncomfortable situation and learn something from it. I’m thankful to that lifeguard. Though I didn’t appreciate his approach, I know he was trying to do his job well. His approach gave me an important reminder about how I handle things with the people I’m in charge of as their momma, and was yet another reminder of the importance of maintaining the dignity of those we encounter. No matter how big, or how small.