If you take a little gander at this special family photo of ours (circa 1986), you’ll see one normal looking person; the sweet little blonde girl at the front. She is not related to us. I don’t know how it was that not a single member of my family was looking at the camera – I’ll blame it on that brilliant sunshine for which Scotland is so renowned.
There’s a whole website dedicated to ‘awkward family photos’, and I’ve thought about submitting this one, although it must be said that there would be plenty of others to choose from. But there’s something about this particular picture; our benignly somnolent expressions and out-dated clothes (we’d been living in the tropics – these were the first long pants we’d worn for years), the odd yet jaunty angle of my jutting leg, the fetching eyewear… All of it combines into a veritable portrait of discomfiture.
I’ve often felt kind of physically awkward. I am knock kneed, un-coordinated (I call it ‘low physical intelligence’), big-bottomed (I’m supposedly caucasian, but this is proof of a Bushman ancestor), and short-sighted.
If you put me on the spot and ask me to speak formally to a crowd, I will become tongue-tied and sweaty and develop a stammer. But if I’m talking just to you, I might be equally uncomfortable – when conversing one-on-one I don’t always know where to look or how much to look away; it’s a fine line between creating that kind of creepy intensity when someone locks eyes with you and never glances away and looking around so much that the other person wonders whether you need medicating… (I’m in my element in a small group where I have no official role and can therefore share stories and a laugh without feeling pressured to perform.)
When I run, I am embarrassingly slow – by which I mean that I have been passed in a race by runners in the 70-years-and-up category and a double amputee (man, that guy was fast!). I usually wear a baseball cap when I’m training so I’m harder to recognize, but who am I kidding – how many other knock-kneed women with rotund rumps are there tripping over curbs in my neighbourhood??
I realize that I’m not alone in having these awkward moments. In fact, as a friend of mine often says, I “come by them honestly”; my family history is peppered with hilarious stories of awkwardness:
Once, coming home from university, my sister calculated her bus fare and gave the remainder of her change to a beggar, only to realize that she needed more for a rush hour ticket. She had to return and beg some of her money back.
My Grandpa earned the contempt of a neighbour lady when he performed his ‘cake flip’ trick (a loop-de-loop in which centripetal force was expected to glue the cake to the plate) a bit too slowly and launched her gateau.
I have one relative whose underpants elastic failed on a crowded railway platform (with no hands free to catch the dropping drawers), and another who mistook a port-a-potty urinal for a handbag holder…
My own personal history of awkwardness started early. One lunch hour when I was in grade one, we were all taking turns hamming it up and pretending to give the classroom garbage can a big kick. It was hilarious until I clumsily kicked a bit too hard and knocked the whole thing over, scattering refuse across the floor (which did not, in spite of my prayers, open up and swallow me right then and there).
In grade six, we did a unit of dancing in gym class, and the boy I was paired with asked me if I’d mind letting him lead for a change. It was bad enough that I had sweaty palms and two left feet – worse still that I was accused of being a dominating dance partner.
Then there was the time in my teens when my best friend came over and confessed that she was nervous about her parents being away on a cruise. I decided to recount, for her amusement, the story of how a great aunt and uncle of mine had escaped the sinking of a large cruise liner a year or so before. She took no comfort in my tale, and took her leave of me shortly thereafter (fortunately, she is the forgiving sort – we are still the best of friends).
One evening in my early twenties my sister and I tried out an aerobics class. We found ourselves directly in front of the mirror and – shame of shames – lagging at least twenty seconds behind the rest of the crowd for the entire duration of the lesson. We were so helpless with mirth at some points of the routine that we had to stop and clutch our sides. Not quite the workout we’d signed up for.
Even in ‘growing up’ I have not managed to grow out of my awkwardness. As a mother, there have been many awkward moments – some have been related to things my boys have said, but often enough the blame lays solely with me. I’ve managed to squirt myself in the eye when nursing (a few times, actually); I’ve flashed a delivery man (forgot to hitch my shirt down after a feed); I’ve forgotten the names of good friends while under the influence of ‘baby brain’; and just last summer I spent half an hour howling in a library parking lot as I waited for the paramedics after badly dislocating my shoulder (I concluded this episode lying on my back on the asphalt – so glamourous!). I get ticklish at inopportune times (not sexy to succumb to a fit of the giggles when your hubby whispers sweet nothings in your ear). I often dress inappropriately for the weather or events; I’ve had jokes flop; and I’ve had a couple of unfortunate parking mishaps. I’ve had more graceless moments in adulthood than in the whole of my childhood, so I can’t claim to be improving with age. Awkward is my middle name.
But I don’t mind confessing to this awkwardness. I don’t mind sharing stories that show me to be clumsy and, at times, ridiculous. I’m quite happy to laugh at myself and to invite others to join me in doing so – and why is this? If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because I’m loved.
I know I’m loved, and therefore it’s OK that I have these awkward moments and it’s alright that I make wacky mistakes. It’s OK that I sometimes trip up and fall on my face – because there’s always going to be someone there to laugh with me, pick me up, and dust me off.
I’m teaching my boys that it’s OK to be imperfect, too, and that there’s a lot of fun to be had in laughing at yourself when you know you’re more than the sum of your silliness; there’s a great comic camaraderie in the swapping of embarrassing stories when we know that we are neither defined by nor reduced by the funny things we do or how ridiculous we look doing them.
Love covers a multitude of sins; it lends grace to the graceless and affords us the opportunity to poke fun at our foolishness. What a joy it is to be loved, even in our awkwardness!