It’s totally okay that my 10-year-old son is embarrassed by me…
It’s the normal state of the universe.
It’s, like, my job to embarrass him.
But somehow, I don’t know, I thought maybe because I’m a mom whose work as a director has me staying relatively current, I would maybe embarrass him less.
All the things my mom did to embarrass me — the juice-can-sized hot rollers in front of my teenaged boyfriends, her penchant for Capri pants, the dance move she still does when she scores a sale or wins at Scrabble — I don’t do.
“Dude,” I sometimes want to urge him in a stage whisper. “Don’t you realize how cool I am?” But I know how desperate that would sound. Still, every once in a while, I’ll casually remind him that I worked as a production assistant on Beavis and Butthead.
As it turns out, it’s precisely the fact that I’m not your typical mom that mortifies him.
Recently, I volunteered to chaperone one of his field trips and his cheeks turned to beets. “Mom! You just can’t.” I took a deep breath. Okay. I wanted to respect his feelings. But I can’t lie. It stung.
Later, I asked him why. After a lot of sighing, he mumbled to his sneakers, “Well. Your sweatshirt, for example.”
My sweatshirt? Yes, okay, it’s a cartoon of a guy with a gargantuan beard. I could see how that might embarrass him.
But, you know what? It’s a fantastic sweatshirt. I wear it to work with jeans and a button-up. I wear it with a cotton pencil skirt and sandals. I sleep in it. I’m actually wearing it right now! It’s fuzzed-over from being washed so many times. More than a sweatshirt, it’s an emblem of who I am.
Like everyone, I express myself through my clothes. And my expression is to be as different from everyone else as possible. My style was cultivated out of a need to rebel against the conservative, preppy sameness of my hometown.
It never occurred to me that my son would grow up to rebel against me, a la Alex P. Keaton.
When my son was small, I dressed him in my image. He had Beatles-esque moppy haircuts. He wore tiny Converse sneakers. Sweatpants with vertical red and cream stripes. Shrunken black hoodies and army pants. He didn’t mind wearing fluorescent-anything. He looked like the mod/punk child I had always imagined I would have.
But as he grew, his own style emerged and, nope, it wasn’t that.
He now dresses himself behind closed doors, in private. His current style is to blend with the crowd. His palette ranges from gray to black. He favors the oversized Adidas basketball shorts that make me shudder. No pockets, no graphics, no anything. My heart deflated a little when he cut his amazing wavy, overgrown, rockstar hair last week for an almost-militaristic buzz.
As hard as it is for me to understand, it’s him — it’s his style and he’s proud of the way he looks. And, as his mom, that makes me happy, of course. Plus, I love a rebel, even if it’s me he’s rebelling against.
Besides, I have a younger boy who wants to be David Bowie when he grows up. Who changes into a skintight, electric blue ninja outfit to chillax in when he gets home from school. His hair is in his eyes, his clothes don’t match and he has no problem wearing his stripey, too-small pajamas out in public on weekend mornings, when we get coffee and doughnuts in our neighborhood.
And he still thinks I’m the coolest.
He’s only seven, so this, too, I know, will change.
But for now, I’ll revel in its comfort, like a sweatshirt with a beard on it.
Lisa Rubisch started her career at MTV and now directs commercials and music videos for major brands at Park Pictures in New York. She also contributes writing to websites, anthologies and books. Here are her posts for Cup of Jo.
Have you embarrassed a kid in your life? (Here’s when I mortified Toby.) Did your parents ever embarrass you? I remember my dad once said to a class parent, “Welcome to the bosom of our family,” and thirty years later I still want to dig a hole and crawl into it.
(Top photo by Cameron Whitman/Stocksy. This essay originally ran on Momfilter six years ago, syndicated with permission.)