So, it finally happened. Last week my 1 year old (soon to be 2 year old) christened the bathtub with a teeny turd. It was a milestone of sorts. Don’t misunderstand me, it was absolutely super nasty, necessitating a complete bleach down of the bath, but for some reason my older kids love retelling those sorts of stories about themselves. SO, in true Smith kid fashion I’m sure that my sweet Nyla will learn to brag about her pint sized ordeal some day.
Mia for instance, my 7 year old daughter loves to tell of the time she also introduced a floating obstacle to a bath full of toys and an innocent brother. Needless to say, all the toys were tossed and a simple bath will forever live in infamy. My son will never be outdone. When Mia takes her opportunities to brag about her baby antics, Christian (my 9 year old) quickly jumps in to tell his own story. His narrative is pretty short…he peed on his own face. My side of the story is much more colorful, of course. And so it goes that during a diaper change, Christian, no more than a few weeks old, began to pee and as any first time parent or first time parent of a boy would be, I was so alarmed! There was no controlling the flow or direction. It was terrifying. Every object, wall or person within a 10 foot radius was a potential target. In the excitement of it all, Christian bathed his own face in pee. The realization that my precious little baby had pee on his face made me feel sooo terrible. At his tender age he’d already experienced one of humankind’s greatest degrees of disrespect and it was entirely inflicted on him by himself. Furthermore, there was nothing I could do to stop it. Anyway, his version of events never includes the emotional trauma that I felt.
For my kids there no sense of shame and only hilarity when they share with unsuspecting relatives, friends and at times strangers. It’s a little disturbing…yes, but beyond my slight personal embarrassment, I’m thankful that my kids aren’t saddled with the burden of shame. There will be plenty of years down the line where I’m sure they’ll encounter that dark, heavy, sinking feeling of indignity. I’d rather they never feel it ever, but I understand our society interacts with shame using it as a sort of teacher in the school of life. I can’t count the number of times that phrase “shame on you” has run through my mind. Usually it’s accompanied by the image of a little old lady wagging her boney finger at me (I’m not sure why, this person is a complete figment of my imagination), but I’ve always struggled with the weight of shame. Shame linked to ridiculous, meaningless things and shame linked to my own major blunders. And to be honest, the shame I’ve always felt has been directly tied to my perceptions of how others may feel about me and my choices. Shame…what a subjectively based, nasty thing!
I wonder if we all struggle with feeling the weight of that imaginary old lady/grandma figure wagging a finger in our direction. Is it just me?? I’ve heard it said; without shame how can a person feel regret for bad decisions and desire change? I’ve personally experienced the opposite. Shame has played the role of emotional manipulator, evoking a false remorse; or maybe more accurately misplaced remorse. Side note: My husband is a huge fan of the movie, The Princess Bride, always has been (maybe from birth, well…not really birth, more like elementary school), but in reading through this, he instantly pictured that old nasty witch-like lady who boos Buttercup. “BOO, BOO, BOO to the queen of filth, of garbage…” We all know that scene, right?? The scene is actually funny in a very uncomfortable sort of way, but she’s a close to perfect example of shame. I say ‘close’ to perfect because I believe that true shame has its greatest impact when it’s generated from a person whose opinion matters, because we/I crave acceptance. I didn’t realize that the relationships in my life that transacted through shame offered counterfeit acceptance.
It wasn’t until a handful of years ago that I began to understand that I could be in charge of my shame. It didn’t have to control me. For the bulk of my life, shame was nearly a basic algebra equation: me + my choices = shame (sad and depressing algebra, really). But I had an epiphany. It didn’t happen in a vacuum of course, I had help achieving the epiphany, but what I ended up coming to is this: I can say no to shame. I can live free-ish of the expectations of others. I use the non-word “free-ish” because there are always going to be people in our lives whose expectations we’re subject to to some degree; bosses, spouses, etc. The huge game changer for me was coming to a place of believing that I am intrinsically valuable and loved. I am constantly accepted and always wanted regardless of my choices. Of course I’m talking about how God feels about me. No person has the capacity to be that amazing. Once I began looking at my relationships, myself and my choices (past and present) in light of this revelation everything changed for me. I stopped fighting and deeply longing for the acceptance of others. It was already coming from a superior and unwavering place. I'm not "fixed", if you will. I still have to talk myself off the shame ledge periodically; sometimes daily, but it truly doesn’t have the hold on me that it did before.
Ok, time to get out of the trenches and back on to lighter ground…well maybe poop colored ground. I didn’t mention my 5 year old Sofia earlier. It isn’t because she doesn’t have her share of moments, but more that she’s not quite in step with the others in terms of sharing her dirty little secrets. I’m sure she’ll get there eventually considering her influences. I’ve mentioned before that she’s a riot and it’s absolutely the truth. Usually she’s amazingly funny because she’s just being her and not intending to draw a laugh. What she might share if she remembered its happening is this: something about my parent’s pool always had sort of a laxative effect on her as a wee one. It was almost as if the mere sight of their pool was enough to create a bulge in the back of her swim suit. I’m giggling as I write this. It's just so funny; super yucky but really funny! She was so little at the time, probably 2 ish. Here’s to kids without shame! But even better, here’s to kids who grow into adults without shame!
Writer and fellow traveler on the road of life.