The other day I was waiting in line at Target and I suddenly felt a very tiny hand grabbing a portion of my right buttock and sort of squishing the flesh into a mound of denim-dimpled shame, and I whipped around to see my 3-year-old clamped onto me like a deranged lobster, his face a radiant beam of delight.
"I gotcher BUTT, MOM," he announced in his signature voice, which I would like you to imagine as slightly louder than a jet engine, yet pitched so high that dogs in neighboring counties automatically tip their head to the side whenever he talks. Twelve thousand nearby shoppers turned to take a look, exactly like the last time we had a Humiliating Incident in Line when both my children decided they were "Christmas robots" and began staggering around with arms outstretching, blooping and beeping.
My 3-year-old is the same child who recently decided that a crowded grocery store was the perfect place to break out into a top-volume rendition of the "It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time!" song, complete with dramatic Running Man dance moves. He's also the one who stopped in the middle of a hardware store aisle last weekend to shout, "DIS IS BLOWING MY MIND!" (Painter's tape. Painter's tape was blowing his mind.) He runs through public places with his head turned completely backwards, like an owl, until he inevitably collides with someone's legs and goggles up at them while I rush over offering a flurry of apologies.
My 5-year-old is slightly more subtle. I'll just be in the midst of thinking how well-behaved he is in comparison to his brother, when he'll loudly ask if that guy is a COWBOY, does he live on a RANCH? That's when I'll notice the man standing near us who happens to be wearing a wide-brimmed hat and I'll try and whisper something about how it's just a hat and Riley will say, "YEAH BUT MOM, DOES HE RIDE A HORSE?"
I am the sort of person who hates attracting attention. I blush and get sweaty when people look at me, I have issues with eye contact, I am socially anxious and shy and just generally a massive dork. Taking small children into public places is INSANELY challenging for me, because everywhere we go it's like I've dragged along two hooting, cavorting monkeys, and I didn't even have the common courtesy to put them on a leash.
The only way I could be more conspicuous is if I handed them each a tambourine, really. People are always staring, and they're either entertained and smiling, or ... you know, not. The smiling people make me relieved, if embarrassed; the tight-lipped people make me wish for a nearby hole to crawl into.
I do my best to keep my kids in line, teach them how to behave, and extract us from any situations that get too obnoxious. Still, they're 5 and 3, and they are entirely unaware of how people perceive them. In that regard, I'm sort of jealous. I'm not saying everyone should act like a preschooler all the time, but when, exactly, did I learn to be so hyper-vigilant of what strangers think about me?
To be honest, sometimes I wish I had a little more butt-grabbing, mind-blowing, cowboy-noticing abandonment. Instead, I'm just the red-faced lady trying to squelch that enthusiasm in her kids.