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Attention Tension
I don't like calling attention to myself. That sounds hypocritical, considering this format, so I'll be more specific: I don't like calling attention to myself in live, public places. To me, karaoke might as well be kamikaze.

My forays in purposeful, public attention-getting are so rare, I can remember when and where it happened last: August of '98, in the parking lot of a nearby shopping center. At the time, my children were ages 6, 9 and 11 and we were in five weeks into summer vacation. And they had been fighting ... a lot.

I was at my wit's end looking for ways to stop the constant bickering. At one point I even told them they couldn't call me Mom, that they had to call me Jean. "You lost the right to call me Mom," I said with exaggerated sadness. It totally backfired -- they loved it. It took weeks to get them to call me Mom again.

I had no choice but to employ my last resort, the method of discipline most feared by pre-teens: embarrassment. Although hard for children to handle, embarrassment is quite easy for parents to execute. Simply reach over and wipe your child's mouth in McDonald's, give him a big smooch when you pick him up at a friend's house, or sing.

So it was at the beginning of August that whenever the arguments erupted, I borrowed a WWE phrase and yelled over them, "LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE!" I'd shout it at the top of my lungs, no matter where we were -- shopping at Giant, picnicking at the park, walking around the neighborhood.

And it worked for a while. The kids were embarrassed into silence, often taking off in different directions to distance themselves from the crazy wrestling fan. But as with most punishments, the kids grew immune. Even worse -- they looked forward to it. By mid-August I performed my last, "LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE!" By that point, I was the one getting embarrassed from their wild laughter and pleadings to, "Yell it again!"

Most times, however, I go to any length to avoid drawing attention to myself. A few weeks ago my husband and I went to a nearby nursery. I went incognito to prevent identification. I have developed somewhat of a reputation in this town as a serial plant killer. Last time I bought a perennial, the cashier said, "You again? I might as well ring this up an annual." She gave the flat of peonies a tearful farewell as I carried them to my car. I'm not certain, but I think taps was being played over the loudspeaker. The peonies hung in there for 11 days, a record for me.

Nonetheless, I keep trying. So I made a rare appearance in a sundress and went to the local nursery. My husband and I were talking to a garden expert when I felt a sharp pain on my hip. I grabbed at it and immediately realized two things:

1. I was stung by a bee.

2. I had trapped the bee ... inside my dress.

I didn't scream or even grimace, but continued my conversation with the garden lady while gripping the bee through my dress. Calmly I turned to my husband and whispered, "Hold my notebook -- I have a bee in my dress." He looked at me quizzically and whispered back, "You mean in your bonnet?"

When the garden lady finished answering my questions (which mostly revolved around a plant's bee attractability), I quick-stepped into the nearest portable bathroom. With the finesse and dexterity of Houdini, I wiped off the squashed bee without ever losing my grip on it.

I learned a few things about myself that day: It will take a lot more than a bee to make a public spectacle of myself, and I will only wear a sundress indoors.

[August 19, 2009]

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