The funny part of the story is the part that came before the visit, the part when I picked him up from school. I arrived as the lunch bell rang and walked up the stairs through the menagerie of harried tweens and teens making their way to the cafeteria.
I heard my boy and glanced down to see he was right behind me. As I caught his glimpse, I saw that he was giving me a pretty decent once-over. He nodded in approval and made a comment that I was wearing heels so that I could be taller than him. An observation, I might add, that is true.
Sigh...(she thinks, realizing that the little boy is growing up.)
The most interesting piece is that here I was, a grown woman, being sized up by my son. Now don't read into this as an Oedipal thing...the kid was making sure that I wouldn't embarrass him.
Apparently I already have. More than once I have shown up at school to drop off a missed backpack or lunch money, usually sporting my yoga attire. And, as it turns out, I also embarrassed my nephew when not only did I say hi to him in said workout gear, I think I even hugged him too. Sheesh, what could be more mortifying?
But here's the thing, it's not like I am wearing curlers and a robe or something. I am a busy mom who tries her hardest to remain fit and healthy and I thought that was something that would be perceived as cool...I guess I was wrong.
Bless his heart, I would have been none the wiser except that my very own sister repaid a debt that I didn't even know was owed. She's a bit of a workout queen, a runner with a lithe little body and strong legs, just really fit and healthy herself.
She had been sternly warned not to run by the school during her afternoon jog before school got out, but most importantly she was told not to stretch in front of her car while waiting for the carpool gang to make their way out. One day she overshot her usual route and ended up smack dab in front of the school. It was there that she saw my son, casually sitting on the wall.
"Aunt Kath?" Gav said.
"Gav?" she said with a smile. "Hey, what's going on?"
After they exchanged pleasantries, she offered him a sweaty hug and he accepted (without reluctance) and off she went to stretch...
behind the houses...
three blocks away...
to save her son from the embarrassment.
I only found out about this story because my sister shared it with me. My poor nephew was mortified to know that I found out he was embarrassed by our exchange, but he did relish in the fact that nearly the exact same thing happened to his cousin. Paybacks are a bitch they say...
So of course my sister and I shared some laughs but it got me thinking about the ways in which our outer appearance can affect the perceptions all people, including teenagers, have about us. (I mean teenagers are barely real people, right? I think many would argue that they are part of an alien life form sent to torture and perform tests on us involving uncomfortable probes).
Back to the subject at hand, the world we live in has become a very superficial place. We tend to focus on the least important aspects of our lives, things like how we look and what we wear, whether than the the good stuff, the stuff that counts: what makes us beautiful inside and builds our core character.
The so-called most "beautiful" people we see, can very often be quite ugly within. Yet we continue to fawn over them, admire them and try to emulate their look or style because tabloids and high fashion magazines not only seem to suggest this, they demand it.
The images splayed on the covers of the most prominent featured periodicals are usually those of painfully thin, perfectly airbrushed women, wearing clothes that most readers couldn't begin to afford much less fit into.
Their covers feature the same stories with only slightly different headlines: "How to shrink your belly," "How to get your man to...(fill in the blank-love you, please you, etc.,)" and "How to find the best clothes for your body," in addition to how to have the best sex and what foods to eat to increase your sex drive and metabolism, so on and so forth.
Every now and again, you might come across an article about making a positive change in your life or a hard hitting news story but if it's lucky enough to grace the front of the glossy, it will most certainly be near the bottom, blending in with the color of the models skin tight pants.
I have long since abandoned most high fashion magazines for the likes of those that are better suited for my lifestyle but I can say that starting some time around the age of 10, my room was cluttered with various forms of media rags starting with publications like "Teen Beat" and "Tiger Beat" progressing on to "Teen," "Young Miss" and "Seventeen," finally on to the likes of "Glamour" and then the Big Daddy of them all..."Cosmopolitan."
While I certainly came across a few very useful stories, I mostly learned how to feel shitty about myself. No matter what I did, it seemed that I could never measure up to the expectations of what these magazines suggested were the norm.
Every month, the stories shared the same themes and although I didn't realize it at the time, the seemingly positive articles giving tips and "how to" ideas were making me feel horribly inadequate.
I am pretty sure that most of the writers who created these stories did not set out to make their name in offering suggestions and instructions on how to have amazing sex or what to wear to land the perfect man. A great example (and pretty cute movie I might add) would be "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days."
If you haven't seen it, here is a brief re-cap. Andie is a writer who dreams of digging her teeth into the juiciest stories involving politics, religion, women's rights and so on. Instead, she has to settle for being the "How To" girl at a fictitious magazine much like those I've described above.
She pitches a story about all of the crazy things women do in new relationships that drive men away and her editor is crazy about the idea. So off she goes to meet Mr. Right, only to prove how to mess up a relationship in 10 days or less.
As you can imagine, there is a lot of ironic and funny moments in the film but there is also a very real story there. Aside from Kate Hudson's character Andie falling for a hunky and lovable Ben, played by Matthew McConaughey, she discovers that even after she delivers a great story, her editor says she can write about ANYTHING she wants, so long as it fits within the parameters of stories about shopping, men and sex.
Ultimately she quits her job to pursue her dream of writing articles with less fluff and more substance. (Oh and of course he follows her and they fall madly in love...it is a movie after all.)
Now, I wonder how many other writers feel trapped in the hamster cage of certain corporate media, spinning their wheels and churning out story after story about the same old nonsense.
I am not knocking all magazines because there are many, many quality periodicals, even within the fashion world, that produce intriguing, informative, thought provoking and moving articles, but sadly the most prominent seem to put out the same story with only slightly skewed and reworded paragraphs that share the same message: You are not good enough now, but do "this" and you might be, eventually.
I realize that this is not something that will likely ever change, it's a multi-billion dollar industry fueled by advertisers and companies whose interests will remain on the forefront of society as we know it.
At the same time, I am not saying to completely abandon make-up and regular bathing in favor of leading a lifestyle that isn't true to your own heart. And by the way, if that's the life you choose, more power to you. No judgement here.
What I am saying is that there has to be a happy medium, a place where we can be healthy and comfortable in our own skin.
We can begin by focusing on the importance of working on the beauty inside first and then the beauty on the outside will likely become automatic. It would be so amazing if we could all remember to teach our kids (and ourselves I might add) to remember the qualities that really define a person at their core, are not developed by how they look or what they wear.
If we could encourage our kids to embrace their uniqueness instead of treating it as an obstacle, perhaps this world could start to become a little kinder and less critical of what we look like on the outside.
Putting your best foot forward can mean a number of different things but I think it starts within your heart and moves outward. Compassion, patience and peace are three things I focus on. When I pay attention to those particular ideals, I find that I am less concerned with things that might be negative like gossip and judgment. When I feel good inside, I naturally care about myself on the outside too.
My wise sister told me something once and it just stuck with me. She said, "Remember, everyone has a story" and those five words can change everything you think about a person. I have taken that with me and try to remember that little sentence when I begin to feel critical or judgmental of others.
I try to teach my children to feel love and compassion for kids who might be "different" or "weird" or "mean," because really, they have a story too.
We all have our own stories, and whether we choose to share them or not, we can really start to put our best foot forward by showing ourselves a little compassion, having patience and sharing peace.
When I was a teenager, my father would say (usually after telling my friends something like I had peed my pants once in the 4th grade) "a little embarrassment is good for ya, goes a long way...builds character," then he would chuckle and walk away.
So I guess that what comes around goes around in love and parenting, and I think what he was getting at is that even things like embarassment, teach us to be humble which is a pretty good quality to have.
When you can share a smile, spread the love in your heart, show the peace in your soul and truth in your character, you are most certainly putting your best foot forward.
Everyone around you, including your kids (whether they admit it or not) can see that too...even when you stretch on the street in front of the school or walk directly on to campus sporting a ponytail, running shoes and sweaty yoga pants.
After all, can I truly call myself a parent of a teenager without constantly embarrasing him? (she thinks, with genuine love in her heart, as she walks away chuckling...)