We used to take or dog to the elementary school yard to meet up with her buddies and get some good doggie energy out on weekday afternoons. One day, my dog Mila and I were joined by my friend David and his dog, Ola. Suddenly a monstrous bee (believe me, the insects in Hawaii can be astronomical in size) began flirting with my head in an only slightly terrifying manor. Since I’d only ever received one small beesting on my foot as a child, I wasn’t one to get combative or - conversely - freaked out, by the hovering beauties.
But apparently this lil’ worker bee found me irresistible and wanted to come in for a kiss. Before I could properly shoo her away, she landed a smacker right in the cupid’s bow region between my nostrils and my upper lip, and the pain of the sting made my eyes water and wretched a “hork!” sound from my throat. I excused myself from David and Ola and took a confused Mila home to our place just a half block from the school, where I applied an ice cube to my throbbing lip.
I woke up to Hotdog Face.
The cool thing about this is that the following day was my school’s annual Lei Day festival, the biggest and most beautiful celebration of the year, with students, their families, fellow teachers, and community members all gathering to witness the splendor of rehearsed hula dances, reverential honoring of Hawaiian traditions, and a colorful maypole threaded by beautiful 8th graders who danced barefooted in all-white attire.
In other words, a picture-perfect day. A day in need of a photographer. A photographer who could seamlessly blend themself into the haku lei- and muumuu-clad participants to collect memories of merriment.
And guess who got to be the in-the-midst-of-it-all photographer that day?
There was no way to conceal my monstrous condition, my face bloating outward like the bow of a sturdy whitewater raft. The stretching of my inflamed lip was so fierce that it dragged the skin away from my eyes, making me look like a bedraggled Bassett hound who’d spent the night immersed in a marsh full of moonshine.
The giant Nikon did aid a bit in the concealment of my sudden disfiguration, but it wasn’t long before concerned parents and revelers began approaching with worried questions, ill-disguised horror haunting their eyes. This was a festival of beauty after all! Not even the giant hibiscus tucked behind my ear could mask the reaction that, had I paused to ponder remedies for a moment, really just needed a big dose of Benadryl.
“I’m fine!” I chirped away happily, doing my best to not betray the mortification murmuring in my hungry belly (it was not truly possible nor convenient to enjoy the laulau and poi with a misshapen mouth hole).
Finally the afternoon drifted dreamily to a flower-hued end, and I was able to trundle home a rest my face (and my ego). Now that I’m thinking about it, I never did see the photos I took from that day. I wonder if there was a ruinous, flesh-toned smear at the bottom of each one?
Cringetopia: The Many Tales Of Butt Scrunching Over The Course Of An Embarrassing Life And How I’ve Learned To Not Be Embarrassed Anymore.
When I was in 8th grade, there was a girl named Shandis Haskell in my class who did the most remarkable thing that my insecure 13-year-old brain could conceive. It was the middle school talent show, and Shandis was on the gym floor with a microphone, in front of bleachers of rude and awkward tweens and preteens, singing Love Will Build a Bridge (a solid karaoke choice by any standard.)
Shandis had an amazing voice - slightly raspy and perfectly pitched, and it was obvious to the rest of us gawky kids - who couldn’t be paid to submit their name to a talent show roster - that she was absolutely meant to be up there.
However, halfway into the song, she forgot the lyrics. Just totally spaced. My second-hand cringe curdled up my spine as I joined my fellow onlookers with their hands over their mouths.
“Whoops!” Shandis said merrily. “I don’t know what the words are! Ah, it’s ok. I don’t get embarrassed.” And she chuckled for a bit, waited for the next refrain, and began singing again. Her easy statement, “I don’t get embarrassed,” floored me. So much so that I’m sure that Shandis, wherever she may be now, 30 years later, would be surprised. Because it’s not like we were good pals or anything (she was popular and secure in her skin; I was… not.)
At that moment I subconsciously gained a new life goal: to not feel embarrassed when I should feel embarrassed. It’s an admirable goal. And as it turns out, it’s an especially difficult one to achieve when your life is basically a tottering blooper reel.
It’s a Blunderful Life
The other day, my husband, who I’ve been together with for more than 20 years, claimed, “I bet I know what your #1 most embarrassing moment is!”
“The time at the bank?” I suggested.
“No,” he said, “ it was before we had kids."
“Ah,” I said. “The time with the hotel sink."
He began chortling. “That’s not the one I was thinking of."
I listed off four or five more embarrassing - but incorrect - incidents, his chuckles morphing into guffaws as he finally admitted that the incident on his mind - my MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT - was that time I let go a really loud, low fart while conversing with a fellow school teacher, and said teacher acted like he didn’t hear anything and kept the conversation smoothly flowing, while my husband, who was behind him, was practically bent over in laughter and I myself was doing my damndest to maintain composure.
“Oh, yeah.” I said. ‘That was a good one.”
An Existence of Cringe
I have always been awkward. I’m a stumbler, a fumbler, an ankle-rolling, food spilling, foot-in-mouthing Uber-dork who has just never had the smooth way of gliding through life the way that a lot of people do. I’m uncouth. I lack decorum. I’m the one who has told a friend’s mother that he was married (she didn’t know); the one who assumed a hotel groundskeeper spoke Spanish and so approached him flaunting my Español (he didn’t speak Spanish); the one who spilled red punch on a bride’s fluffy gown; the gal who gives the blond jokes their merit (yeah, I’m blonde.)
So it has been because of my goofy methods of existing that I’ve been almost forced - rather than choosing - to live my life the Shandis Way. Embarrassment, while usually warranted, doesn’t keep me awake at night anymore. I’d never sleep if it did.
That Time at the Bank
One day, I drove through the bank ATM to withdraw $400. I sat in my minivan and counted, and recounted the money… always coming up with $500. The ATM had given me an extra $100!
Since I’m a good person and an excellent example of integrity for my children, I guided the minivan around to the front of the bank, unloaded my two daughters (making sure I wiped off snotty faces and zipped up jackets), and marched them inside to show them the value of honesty.
The bank was empty of customers but several tellers were behind the counter and other bankers at their lobby desks. Hence, my announcement echoed through the place as I strode up to the teller and pronounced the mistake of my extra $100.
Bankers were quietly saying things like, “Wow, that’s so honest!” and “Thank you so much for doing the right thing!” as the teller counted the bills. I looked around with humble pride.
Eventually, the teller looked up and said, “There’s $400 here…” I looked at the money, then up at her, my cheeks starting to flush.
I had been counting the 20s — repeatedly, like seriously, 8 times — in groups of 4, not five. There had been $400 all along.
“We have cookies,” said the teller. “Do you want a cookie?” I felt my older daughter shrink into her coat next to me as the younger one happily bolted for the cookie tray. The girls and I each took one as we walked out.
More to Come
I’m currently compiling the embarrassing incidents I can think of to add to this series. It may be a very long series, so stay tuned.
I’d love to hear: What would you claim as your most cringe-worthy moment? Tell me in comments and we'll groan and laugh together!
Embracing the Cringe
Spilled on my shirt, still felt cute.
I’m a stumbler, a tumbler, a tripper, a slipper, an ankle rolling, drink sloshing, uncouth sounding, traipsy and messy lil’ space cadet.
Still beloved af.
Still finding reasons to shine.
Shoutout to my fellow klutzes. I’d high five you but we’d probably miss.
In 2022, I'll be focusing on writing more, and I'm starting with the goofy stuff. Serious writing makes me sad, and I don't want to feel sad right now. So, stay tuned for my Cringetopia series, wherein I'll be exploring all the ways mortification has threatened to ruin me... and how - and why! - I've chosen to not get embarrassed. (Okay, stay embarrassed.)
by Emily Nielsen
"I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition."
All posts are copyright ©Emily Nielsen