I don’t like being the center of attention. Actually, I kind of hate it. This is particularly true in formal settings and in larger crowds with strangers. I’ve always enjoyed people watching, and I’ve always preferred listening to other people’s stories over telling my own. I haven’t decided whether my aversion to being in the spotlight stems from my generally awkward demeanor, a slight case of social anxiety or my quiet nature. My best guess is that it’s probably a hopeless combination of all three.
Even as a child, I was pretty quiet. I was calm and mostly well behaved, especially in public. I was acutely aware of what the consequences would be for embarrassing my mother in public… which I quickly learned by trial and error, as well as the occasional, ultra-dramatic temper tantrum in the candy isle of the grocery store. Nonetheless, friends, family and adults alike would always say, “Jordan, you’re so quiet! You should talk more often!”
Before I continue, I feel like I should give you a few pieces of background information to help you understand the dynamics of my family. My grandmother (who we’ll refer to as “Mimi” from here forward) is a picture perfect representation of how a southern, classy, strong, successful woman looks and behaves. I’ve never known her to be anything other than confident, collected, proper and polite. My father (conveniently absent from the lunch I’m about to describe), on the other hand, is less concerned with social expectations and has a bit of an unconventional sense of humor, which I’ve always found hilarious. No topic is off limits. As I did with others in most social situations, I watched him very closely. Needless to say, I inherited an appreciation for his style of humor. Mimi did not have the same appreciation, and my mother wasn’t always amused by it, but I digress…
One day, at a “ladies lunch” surrounded by my mother, my grandmother and several women from my grandparents’ very conservative, Baptist church, I decided I was going to speak up. I couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old, but I was feeling bold and confident. I had something to say.
In fact, I had an EXTREMELY important announcement to make.
Nothing. No response.
“Uhhh… nobody responded to me,” I thought. In my mind, there could only be one explanation. They obviously didn’t hear me. “I’ll just say it again, but louder this time.”
Hm. Still, no response. Mom and Mimi shifted awkwardly in their seats, their smiles beginning to fade and their faces showing small signs of discomfort. The chatter continued, but the sounds of it became slightly more muffled. “How did they not hear me?”, I asked myself. “I know I said it loudly enough… I’ll just try again.”
“EXCUSE ME. I FARTED!”
The table fell silent. “FINALLY!”, I thought. “They’re listening to me!”
The ladies at the table began searching for one another out of the corners of their eyes, as if attempting to confirm with the other women that they’d, in fact, just heard what they thought they heard.
“That’s nice, Jordan…”, Mimi said quietly.
“SHH, Jordan!”, my mother said through teeth clenched so tightly I’m surprised they didn’t crumble under the pressure.
At that age, kids are pretty oblivious to social standards and etiquette. The best comparison I’ve ever heard anyone make related to kids is that they’re almost exactly like tiny, drunk humans. They’re clumsy, have no filter, and have a difficult time understanding things such as WHY it isn’t okay to proudly announce their gas at the lunch table. Despite my behavior mimicking that of a tiny drunk person and my genuine confusion as to why my announcement wasn’t met with praise and smiles of endearment, I knew almost instantly that I’d done something wrong.
It was abundantly clear to me that my mother was not pleased. I continued to sit through lunch quietly, confused and free-falling into a seemingly endless black hole of shame and regret. My announcement had NOT been received as well as I’d hoped.
As for my father, it’s safe to say he did not make it through the aftermath of Jordan’s Great Announcement unscathed. If I remember the story correctly, I believe the conversation between he and my mom went something like this:
Smiles! Laughter! FINALLY! Dad came through with just the reaction I was looking for.
As for the really stupid moral of this really stupid story, trust a person’s instincts when they feel it’s best that they remain quiet in certain social situations. Awkward people can be a lot like those tiny, drunk children… you really, truly never know what you’re gonna get.