I am not going to say this is a male trait, because between me and my husband I am the one who doesn’t like to ask for directions. Maybe it is an introvert thing. I’d rather wander aimlessly through the hardware store aisles than ask for help, because then I might have to make conversation. Worse, I might get an overly helpful employee who wants to hand deliver me to the correct place. Both instances strike fear and awkwardness in my heart.
It would appear I’ve passed along this trait to my sons. And because they are teenagers and I’m their mother, all my previous personality traits have morphed and collapsed into this single one: I am an embarrassment.
It doesn’t matter that I did not ask for directions before. Just because I’m a mother to teenagers and my subconscious goal, apparently, is to embarrass them, I now roll down the car window and stop strangers for help.
Last week, I was driving Ford and Owen to a school competition held across town at the community college. I don’t know my way around the campus, but in true I-dont-ask-for-directions fashion I hoped there would be signs to guide me. There weren’t any.
Also true to form, I was running late. The boys had about two minutes to get to their event. We circled the campus once, searching for signs, then I said those shocking words: “Should I ask for directions?”
“What? No,” they said. “Absolutely not.”
But they are teenagers, and I’m their mother; it’s pretty much in my job description to embarrass them.
I started searching for passers-by, despite my inner voice telling me “no” and the boys sinking into their chairs and hiding their faces.
I was, in fact, embarrassing myself.
I spotted a unsuspecting college student walking much too far from the street to realistically give me directions. I rolled down the window anyway and screamed, “excuse me.” Even my posture was embarrassing. I was almost leaning out the car window and craning my neck to make my scream reach the poor guy.
“Mom, no,” the boys said. “Just stop. Roll up the window and stop.”
I continued. The student walked closer to the car.
“Can you help us find our way to this hall?” I held up a sheet of paper with the address scribbled on it.
If the boys thought I was old and stupid, I felt even older and stupider.
The nice young man explained the directions for me. Ford and Owen stared at their laps and mumbled things under their breath. For a moment, I completely remembered feeling just as embarrassed by my own mom. How did I get here?
I thanked the college student for his help, then we peeled out of the parking lot. Except, I couldn’t remember whether he said left or right at the next stop sign. I started to roll down the window again, this time to flag down a female student with ear buds in her ears.
“Mom? No!” Ford said. “I will not let you ask for directions again.”
So we drove off just as the girl was taking out her ear buds, and, honestly, that was way more awkward.
Ford and Owen were sunk so far down in their seats now their heads were invisible through the windows.
I wanted to remind the boys that there was a time when I wasn’t this uncool. In fact, there was a time when even they thought I was the smartest, coolest person around. Of course, I never stopped to ask for directions back then, either.
When we finally got to the correct building, I didn’t see any other kids going inside. “Maybe I should come with you,” I said. “I could get you settled and make sure you’re in the right place.”
“Mom,” Ford said, “You already asked for directions. I think you’ve done enough.”
Then my two oldest boys — the ones who used to say they wanted to marry me — got out of the car without looking back and disappeared into the building.
I, of course, stayed for several minutes to make sure they were in the right place, that they didn’t come back out. I watched other teenagers get out of their mom’s cars without looking back either. Some of the moms looked quite stylish and smart. I knew their kids thought otherwise. We were all embarrassing moms hovering in the parking lot, wondering if we could help, and asking ourselves how we got to this place.
When Ford and Owen didn’t come back out of the doors, I decided to leave. I switched the radio from their favorite channel to mine: the Elvis station. Then I sang like they never let me when they are in the car.
And that’s when I realized, the transformation is complete. I really have become my mother.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She may be reached atFacebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.