It’s totally okay that my ten year-old son is embarrassed by me.
It’s the normal state of the universe.
It’s, like, my job to embarrass him.
But somehow, I don’t know, I thought maybe because I’m an urban mom whose work has me staying relatively current, I would maybe embarrass him less.
All the things my mom did to embarrass me—the juice-can-sized hot rollers in front of my teenaged boyfriends, her penchant for Capri pants, the Walk Like an Egyptian move she still does when she scores a sale or wins at Scrabble? I don’t do that.
“Dude,” I sometimes want to urge him in a stage whisper. “Don’t you realize how cool I am?” But I know how desperate that would sound. Still, every once in a while, I’ll casually remind him that I worked as a PA on Beavis and Butthead.
As it turns out, it’s precisely the fact that I’m not your typical mom that mortifies him.
Recently, I volunteered to chaperone one of his field trips and his cheeks turned to beets. “Mom! You just can’t.”
I took a deep breath. OK. I wanted to respect his feelings. But I can’t lie. It stung.
Later, I asked him why. After a lot of sighing, he mumbled to his sneakers, “Well. Your sweatshirt, for example.”
Yes, ok, it’s a cartoon of a guy with a gargantuan beard. I could see how that might embarrass him.
But, you know what? It’s a fantastic sweatshirt. I wear it to work with jeans and a button-up. I wear it with a cotton pencil skirt and sandals. I sleep in it. I’m actually wearing it right now! It’s fuzzed-over from being washed so many times. More than a sweatshirt, it’s an emblem of who I am.
Like everyone, I express myself through my clothes. We are what we wear. And my expression is to be as different from everyone else as possible. My style was cultivated out of a need to rebel against the conservative, preppy sameness of my hometown.
It never occurred to me that my son would grow up to rebel against me, a la Alex P. Keaton.
When my son was small, I dressed him in my image. He had Beatles-esque moppy haircuts. He wore tiny Converse sneakers. Sweatpants with vertical red and cream stripes. Shrunken black hoodies and army pants. He didn’t mind wearing fluorescent-anything. He looked like the mod/punk child I had always imagined I would have.
But as he grew, his own style emerged and, nope, it wasn’t that.
He now dresses himself behind closed doors, in private. His current style is to blend with the crowd. His palette ranges from gray to black. He favors the oversized Adidas basketball shorts that make me shudder. No pockets, no graphics, no anything. My heart deflated a little when he cut his amazing wavy, overgrown, rock star hair last week for an almost-militaristic buzz.
As hard as it is for me to understand, it’s him–it’s his style and he’s proud of the way he looks. And, as his mom, that makes me happy, of course. Plus, I love a rebel, even if it’s me he’s rebelling against.
Besides, I have a younger boy who wants to be David Bowie when he grows up. Who changes into a skintight, electric blue ninja outfit to chillax in when he gets home from school. His hair is in his eyes, his clothes don’t match and he has no problem wearing his stripey, too-small pajamas and Supras out in public on weekend mornings, when we get coffee and doughnuts in our neighborhood.
And he still thinks I’m the coolest.
He’s only seven, so this, too, I know, will change.
But for now, I’ll revel in its comfort, like a sweatshirt with a beard on it.
Lisa Rubisch is a NYC-based commercial director.