When I was about 12 I survived (the first) Absolute Worst Day of My Life. It was humiliating and excruciating. For weeks I just wished that the earth would open up and swallow me whole, showing a dusty mercy for my pathetic existence.
It all started with a book report. It was the end of the Spring semester, just before summer break, and we were wrapping up our Reading class with book reports on everyone's all-time favorite book.
I'm a reader, from a family of readers, so asking me to pick my favorite book was sort of like asking Imelda Marcos which shoes she liked best. Where would she begin? First there's the seasonal shoes, and within each season you've got different styles to choose from: formal, casual, open-toe, sling-back... qualifying a "favorite" is a very subjective thing.
It's the same with books. I liked all kinds of different genres: I read children's books, classics, sci fi, fantasy, mysteries. And then there was the ever-present pressure to appear "cool", and also, "with it". No way was I going to admit, in front of 30 other 12 year-olds, how much I loved and idolized the Chronicles of Narnia. I mean, come on! Talking animals? I'd be immediately dismissed as a baby and probably followed around with people making "googoo" sounds at me.
Although, when I think back to what actually happened, that doesn't seem so bad in comparison. But moving on...
I chose, after lengthy review, Jane Eyre. At the time, I was seriously into Bronte and all her dismal yet spare darkness. I figured that choosing a classic novel proved how mature I was and then having it also be a love-story, of sorts, showed how romantic and feminine I was.
Plus, I figured it made me look smart and stuff.
So, there I was, at the front of the class, presenting my report. I stood in front of 30 or so other students, three of whom I had serious crushes on. (Of course. It was, after all, 7th grade). It was summer and hot, so our teacher had lowered the blinds and turned off the lights to keep things cooler. The room was dimly lit through the row of windows in the back.
I wore a new pair of acid washed shorts, rolled up at the hem to mid-thigh. The waistband came up to just below my rib cage, that was the style, and I had on one of those change-color-with-heat t-shirts that were all the rage, tucked in and fluffed out at the waist. My hair was in a pony tail and my bangs were poofed to the max.
I was standing behind a wooden podium, giving my summary of the book and saying how much I liked it and why I thought it was so great and all, and then, out of no where, with no warning at all...
I farted. Loudly. In front of the whole class, three of whom I had serious crushes on.
There was a moment of silence. Then, a giggle and a snicker. Then all of sudden everyone was laughing. Loudly. At me.
The rest of that day is a blur, mostly because I just wanted to die, die, DIE of embarrassment. I know that I stumbled out a little, " 'scuse me..." and hurried to finish the report, sat down and stared at my notebook for the rest of the class.
To understand my shame in that moment, you have to know where I come from. It wasn't just that I was 12 and I farted in front of the class and everyone laughed. That would have been bad enough.
But in my family, the way I was raised? There was no farting. There were no bathroom jokes, no one had gas and you never, ever giggled when you heard someone say the planet Uranus.
That Just Wasn't Done. My parents were liberal in the extreme, with lots of wild and interesting friends with open and interesting love lives and they talked about sex all the time and it was all a big retro-hippy life.
Or that's how they wished it to be. Because, as many of you may know, gas is human, part of the digestive system, totally normal and EVERYONE HAS IT. But in my house, it just went totally unacknowledged. No one was ever constipated or had diarrhea, it was always just "an upset stomach". My step-dad was the major culprit, he'd let out loud and totally stinky farts during dinner, even going so far sometimes as to lift up a little bit in his seat, and...
No one said a thing. Not one word. He never said, "excuse me", no one looked up, there was no pause in the conversation. It just moved along as if the wind had never broken, or in his case, died a putrifying death.
So to be standing up there, in front of friends, enemies and crushes, and just let one fly... it was devastating. More so because no one pretended it hadn't happened, too. I was ill-prepared for public displays of noxious fumes.
They tormented me for a week or two, until someone else's misfortune eclipsed mine. Poor Dawn Cauley wore white shorts to school on the same day her period started. It's not just a cliche, kids really can be cruel.
As I've gotten older, I've had to develop a thicker skin about such things, but I still tried for a long time to avoid any kind of bathroom humor and to hold everything, EVERYTHING, in until I could... deal... with it privately.
That all changed when I met my husband, of course. He delights in poop jokes and tends to save his gas just for my personal amusement. Walking down the street, he likes to let one loose and say, "Hey, did someone step on a duck?" or look at ME and say, "Ooooh, nice one, sweetie." As if.
And there's also the matter of my two little girls. Sometimes I cannot believe the smells that are created from those adorable tummies. Once you have kids, poop becomes dinner table conversation. You're excited that they pooped, or they haven't pooped enough, or it was green or yellow or loose or rocky. All these details become fascinating.
I remember the first time I tried to tell my mom about how stinky my oldest had been lately. She shut me down but (hmmm... butt?) quick. My parents still hold strong to their complete denial of all things fart-related.
But I've loosened up. Literally and figuratively. I'm not going to raise my kids to think there's anything wrong or weird about things that their bodies just do naturally, though I do hope they'll have some discretion and manners.
Mostly, though? I'm just looking forward to the day when my step-dad lets out something ripe and juicy at the dinner table and my little daughter says, "Grandpa, you have to say excuse me! You tooted!"