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About Feeling Cringy

How do you get rid of that cringy feeling when you’ve embarrassed yourself by doing or saying something that was bad, but not bad enough to fix with an apology?

So, this morning, one of my lovlies went to the Post Office to get his passport. He’s adult enough to drive which means that it’s time to get a brand new adult passport.

He had called me yesterday: “Mom, would you have time to help me fill out the paperwork for my appointment tomorrow?” His tone was apologetic.

I smiled. These days, I don’t have that many opportunities to “help him.” This guy is earning his independence right on schedule and, to be honest, sometimes the whole growing up thing has felt a little too rushed for me.

I dusted off the memory of our trip from Thailand to Cambodia. Some very forgettable circumstance had triggered me to think we were totally failing our children by doing too much for them. So, on the spot, we-the-parents gave them their kid passports–along with the responsibility of filling out all the paper work to leave one country and to enter another. Think word and number search game without the fun.

Back in the present: unfortunately, I didn’t notice that Regret Monster (an expert at setting me on edge emotionally), had started knocking on the door with a flood of suggestions as to how could have better prepared my children for life. Then there was the reminder that their daily days with me will soon be over.

Feeling nostalgic, I jumped at the chance to help.

“Sure, I’ll take care of that,” I assured him.

I filled out the form online, scanned it for mistakes, and printed it. Only then did I notice that I’d left the “z” out of his “city of birth.” There was no retrieving the document and the instructions specifically said not to make any handwritten changes on the printed copy.

Aware of my capacity for creative mistakes on important papers, I shifted into micromanage-the-details mode (I know, why wasn’t I in that mode to begin with?). Downloading the PDF for the empty form, I printed it and filled it out by hand. Gabriel would be super prepared with two options.

I read the list of required documents and noted that an expired passport sufficed for proof of citizenship–and his driver’s license would work as a photo ID.

Mistakes and delays? Not on my watch.

You can imagine my displeasure when he popped back home “because they want my birth certificate.” I immediately forgot how much I really so like our local post office workers (to the extent I’ve taken the time to respond 6/6 and 10/10 on the survey).

“Why are they asking for extra proof of citizenship?” I felt angry. My children are “hispanic”, because their father is “hispanic” (I’m still pondering why the default identity doesn’t come from me, the “non-hispanic”). Experience has effectively convinced me that this fact does not always work to their advantage.

Again, our small town post office workers provide stellar customer service and I would have hoped that my past experience with them would’ve produced a “benefit of the doubt” response instead of the “are you kidding me?!” reaction.

But they were also messing with the fact that I’d done my research and I knew. Are you familiar with the indignation that comes with “I’m right, you’re wrong?”

I cracked open the door to the regret monster (who hadn’t ceased the knocking) and accepted some fuel for the fires of my indignation.

“I’m going to call them!” It was a loud thought. A much quieter thought sent out the memo that this was not necessary, reminding me that there were much more pressing issues to deal with, but I ignored it.

Unfortunately, I was still in reactive gear and missed the opportunity for some good, Inside Out living–and a quicker conclusion to this story.

I remembered that in three days, Daniel would be applying for his adult passport on the other side of the country–and he wouldn’t have the luxury of zipping home for his “Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States of America.” Oh dear!

So I made the phone call “to see if the website is accurate–has anything changed?–because, if so, I’ll need to speed mail my other son his birth certificate.“

This was true. But it was not my inside truth.

Regret Monster applauded loudly as I reached for the phone.

A kind voice put me on hold to check with the clerk. The voice then explained that they typically ask for a birth certificate because the child passport photo doesn’t always resemble the grown up applicant. “But I see that your son’s picture does look like him… And anyway, not to worry because he’s back with his birth certificate.”

I thanked him nicely and sat down to a late breakfast with my beloved.

“I was polite on the phone, wasn’t I?” It was more of statement to push away the nagging sense that I’d lost my grounding and been pesky.

He didn’t say anything. Thanks, honey, way to make me own it.

“I guess it was really about me being mad and right,” I confessed to myself out loud (interestingly, Regret Monster had gone into temporary hiding, avoiding any responsibility). I determined to be more present next time.

Give it a little time and the cringy feeling will go away on its own.

Check. Lesson learned (maybe). Move on.

Not.

The front door opened.

“Mom? Why did you call them? The clerk was so nice. She was glad I got there early and took my stuff even though there were three people in line. When I came back with my birth certificate, they were all looking at my passport and she was kind of irritated.”

Maybe this is the time to add that I can be that mom (sometimes) who makes sure (very nicely, of course) that I get the extra order of beans and no sour cream on my Chipotle crunchy tacos (and can you please give me those tacos separately so that they don’t get soggy?).

My kids prefer to be elsewhere at times like these.

Then there’s the inconvenient fact that I’m that role model in their life ever advocating for kindness, respect, and generosity.

So I made an exaggerated cringy face and we laughed. And it was all good.

The cringy feelings started to wear off, but thankfully not before I learned that these feelings are among our best allies when it comes to transformation from the inside out.

I shared the whole experience with a couple of friends engaged in the process of self awareness (university students who have the definite advantage of being from the current generation).

They were silent for a moment after I told them my little story and suddenly, I realized just how trivial the illustration was. I mean, Naissa is an international social work major taking challenging classes like “Trauma” and “Death and Dying.” Zoe is a violin performance major grappling with what it means to keep learning after being sidelined by a wrist injury.

In an unconscious attempt to save my self-respect and explain myself, I grabbed words much like a cramping swimmer might grab a flotation device.

“It was really nothing,” I started to say, but I wasn’t going to lie, either. It was something. So, I added: “But…

It’s the little nothings that make up the big something.

The Dwelling Well

“Yeah!” Zoe exclaimed. “That should be a quote! It is the little nothings that make up the big somethings.”

The words, now coming from her mouth, came to life for me (thanks, Zoe). Life is made up of little nothings. How we internalize and respond to those things sets the essential tone and texture of our lives.

Big challenges and crises get plenty of attention, demanding that we process them on some level. Meanwhile, the mundane details of every day life often go unnoticed–and it is precisely those little actions/reactions that reveal our inside beliefs. Perhaps that’s why our monstors hide there–there’s less of a chance that they’ll get caught.

From a practical perspective, the mundane details are also full of opportunity because our responses there form our habits and patterns. As philosopher, Will Durant (summarizing the thinking of Aristotle on the matter) said:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Will Durant

Cheers to our cringy feelings and the embarrassing moments. We cannot promise to “never do that again,” but we can commit to attend well to the little “nothings” that open our eyes and hearts, that lead us to that big something we’re praying for.

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