Recently a friend described a situation as “awkward” and I laughed.
Not because it wasn’t true, but because I spent decades developing a resistance to awkwardness. It’s not that I don’t still feel it, I just have a vast collection of awkwardness to compare against and as a result, I probably disregard awkward feelings more than some.
Because awkward is keeping a chamber pot under the seat of the family van.
Awkward is a family of seven camping inside a Suburban with said chamber pot.
Awkward is bringing the family plunger when you stay at a hotel.
Awkward is showing your grandma your new cotton swim-dress and matching pettipants.
Awkward is being mistaken for a reenactor’s child at a historical park because of your dress and sunbonnet.
Awkward is dead flies dropping from the sticky flytape coils above to the kitchen counter when guests are present.
Awkward is being the only one wearing a dress and bloomers at a public beach, or at a swim party.
Awkward is swimming with your brothers in an outdoor hotel pool–you in a blouse and denim skirt with tights, them in rolled-up pajamas.
Awkward is the housekeeping staff gawking when your whole family swims fully-clothed in the indoor pool in the center of the hotel courtyard.
Awkward is abandoning the beach as soon as normally-clad swimmers show up.
Awkward is your mom placing a rolled-up comforter down the middle of the hotel bed to make sure you and your twelve-year-old brother don’t touch.
Awkward is your family being invited to someone’ home for a meal and your father accepting, then informing the host that your family follows Levitical dietary prohibitions against pork and some seafood.
Awkward is you trying not to enjoy it too much when an elderly relative serves ham anyway and your dad decides it would be more godly to eat it than to refuse.
Awkward is returning and exchanging the Narnia book you won as a Sunday School prize.
Awkward is your mom substituting “special” for “magic” in the poem you are to recite for the kindergarten program.
Awkward is not quite explaining that you’re afraid to watch Titanic with your aunt because you heard there was nudity in it. (Because at 23, you’ve never seen nudity in a movie. So you hide in her guest room with your brother instead.)
Awkward is your family of eight standing and filing out of the church pew during a vocal solo–again. It is standing around the lobby not making eye contact with the ushers and then filing back into the empty row and taking sermon notes as if nothing ever happened.
Awkward is being instructed to write a letter (for “school”) to a church family protesting the Halloween party they are hosting for the church at their farm. And wanting to hide from said family every Sunday from then on.
Awkward is looking stupidly at expectant trick-or-treaters who show up at your family’s home when you’ve forgotten that it’s even Halloween. What to say?
Awkward is writing a thank-you note for the Christmas gift your parents wouldn’t let you open.
Awkward is turning the placemats face-down when celebrating a family milestone at Chinese restaurant.
Awkward is your dad telling the server not to bring fortune cookies.
Awkward is your sister telling you to stop shaking the bed you share, when you’re masturbating.
Awkward is explaining to homeschooled friends…
…why you aren’t allowed to read Anne of Green Gables.
…why you don’t use Saxon math.
…why you don’t have a Christmas tree.
Awkward is a carload of strangers stopping at your house to tour your mom’s organized closets.
Awkward is the cashier saying, “Good luck, whatever you’re hoping!” when your virginal self is purchasing a pregnancy test for your mother.
Awkward is forcing a smile back for the cashier’s sake and saying, “Thanks!” before driving home in the family Suburban, stomach knotted.
Awkward is asking the restaurant staff to lower/shut off the music. Extra awkward points if you are in a foreign country.
Awkward is not knowing what grade you are in.
Awkward is asking your younger brother if your shirt is “modest”.
Awkward is being the adult in charge while your mother gives birth upstairs.
Awkward is waking up to find a test tube of umbilical cord blood in the refrigerator.
Awkward is going to the laundromat with your teenage brother to wash linens from a homebirth, because the ancient septic system at home has given up.
Awkward is being wedged between your grown brothers in a car back seat while wearing shorts for the first time as an adult.
Awkward is being a university student and not knowing the name of even one of the Beatles.
Awkward is trying to make out with your fiance without letting your lips touch.
Awkward is a plane ride with your new fiance, wondering when he wants to hold your hand for the first time.
Awkward is saying goodbye to a good friend without touching them.
Awkward is being the only single girl at church:
or wearing jewelry,
or not wearing a headcovering.
Awkward is your parents awarding you a high school diploma (backdated fourteen years) in front of your three kids.
Awkward is church leaders asking your family not to attend anymore. More awkward is still running into their family members socially.
Awkward is a family friend coming to the door and your mom only talking to him through the nearby window.
Awkward is reading your teenage diary, or your family’s old Christmas letters.
Awkward is standing in the moonlight gazing down at the Golden Gate Bridge on the cusp of turning 21, with your… dad.
Awkward is realizing you were once a bridesmaid in a gay man’s wedding.
Awkward is being “caught” watching a Jimmy Stewart movie with your college-age friends and fellow cult members–and trying to figure out how to apologize to whom for what.
Awkward is your toddler deciding that a dinner with company from church is the place to share her [limited] knowledge of penises.
Awkward is realizing that your wedding photos are too triggering to display anymore.
Awkward is explaining to a classmate who saw you having a full-fledged panic attack on the side of the road minutes earlier.
A photograph may capture a memory, but awkwardness sears the deeper emotional experience into the brain. And that’s not always a bad thing!
We love to watch how others manage awkward situations–in sitcoms like Seinfeld, for example, where Kramer seems impervious to embarrassment, while George appears to lean in to it. And the more uncomfortable the scenario, the better we remember the episode, grateful that it isn’t happening to us. My daughter used to cringe when we watched The Andy Griffith Show, Barney Fife’s character embodying her worst fears of humiliation. Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean is even better, completely and, yes, awkwardly, unaware of how horribly uncomfortable he is making everyone around him.
So, a little awkwardness? Sure, it’s an inevitable part of trying new things, having complex relationships, living a full life. We encourage our kids not to fear harmless awkwardness, and sometimes they give us surprising opportunities to model the nonchalance we preach. While embarrassment might make my face redden for a few minutes, I’m a lot more resilient than I think!