I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but this is getting ridiculous.
I’m a grown man. A husband. A father, four times over. I have a college degree. I am a working professional.
And yet, the thought of speaking in front of people can almost put me in a rigid, catatonic state, which is unfortunate, because frankly, I’d rather be sucking my thumb in the fetal position. I’ll admit, I’m a naturally shy person who has to force himself, internally kicking and screaming, to be as conversational as say, a box turtle. This is an area in my life that I’ve invested quite a bit of work, pushing myself to do basic social things like:
2) Approach people
3) Say something
4) Respond when spoken to
5) Answer questions with more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’
6) Try not to scream and run away
Honestly, I feel like I’ve grown quite a bit in this regard in the last decade. And that’s what made this experience so much more pathetic.
As some of you may know, March 2nd is the birthday of one Theodor Geisel, more commonly known as the incomparable Dr. Seuss. Since that date fell on a Saturday this year, the lower grades at my kids’ school honored the author on Friday, March 1st, with such Seuss-related activities as reading his books, making Cat in the Hat shaped cookies for snack, Seuss-themed connect- the-dots and word searches, and using the same 32 words over and over and over again all day long. Anyway, on Thursday morning, my daughter’s 1st Grade teacher asked me if I’d be willing to come in to read a Dr. Seuss book to the class for Dr. Seuss Day. I quickly agreed to do so, and picked my all-time favorite, Green Eggs and Ham.
Allow me to interject a few details. I am the reader in our house. Please don’t conclude from that statement that my poor wife is unable to read. So what exactly does that statement mean? It means when it’s story time in our house, the kids invariably ask for me. I am the one who reads with flair, with fun voices, with added comedic asides that spice up the manuscripts. Everyone in my family will tell you I do it well, and not only that, but I really enjoy doing it — in fact, it’s one of my favorite things to do with my kids. As for the book, Green Eggs and Ham is perhaps my most beloved of children’s books; with four kids, guessing conservatively, I’d say I’ve read it 500 times. To be honest, I know the story so well I barely have to look at the pages when reading it. Put those details together, and this whole reading to the class thing was gonna be a slam dunk. Seriously, what could go wrong?
The truth is, not even once did my aforementioned “social issues” pop into my head as a possible concern. After all, this wasn’t public speaking, this was reading one of my favorite books to 1st graders, who are not what I would call “savvy critics.” These are six and seven year-olds incapable of even adequately brushing their hair in the morning, or thoroughly wiping their own buns after a visit to the bathroom. Not only that, but this particular group of 1st graders is well known by me. I regularly volunteer at the school, and I know all of these kids by name. I help in class, I eat lunch with them, I play at recess with them. There’s absolutely no reason in the world that I should I feel self-conscious reading to them. And yet…
It all started well enough. I felt absolutely no stress or anxiety as I sat down in the teacher’s rocking chair to begin reading. Perhaps I should have a positive outlook and be proud of the fact that I made it all the way to page 10 without any issues. It is on page 10 that Sam (I Am) speaks his first line of the book: “Do you like green eggs and ham?” I read it with my usual funny Sam voice, and all of the kids laughed upon hearing the line. And that should be a good thing; after all, when I read, I try to be funny, I try to entertain my audience. I had succeeded in engaging them. Hooray! But at the same time, their laughter subtly reminded me that I was the center of attention, that they were all focused on me — and there’s just something in my personality that is not at all comfortable with that. Suddenly, I was keenly aware of my audience, and from that moment on, the temperature in the room (or at least around me) seemed to rise. I trudged on, sticking with my style, getting lots of laughs, trying not to react to the pounding in my chest or the feeling of perspiration gathering on my forehead. This was no longer Colorado in March, this was Florida in August. By the time I read “Thank you! Thank you! Sam-I-Am,” my shirt was plastered to my torso, and I wiped my brow for the third time.
Fortunately for me, the teacher took a few photos of me reading to the class at the very beginning of the book, so they could still be cheerfully captioned “Mr. Hernandez reads on Dr. Seuss Day!” Had she taken her pictures just two minutes later, they could have been captioned “Visual Cues of an Impending Myocardial Infarction.”
After school today, my daughter handed me some hand-written thank you letters from some of the kids in the class, and they just warmed my heart. Here are some excerpts (as written):
“I thot you wour funy with your words. Hope you come agen. Green egg in ham is my favrit dook.”
“Thank for coming to our classroom to read us Geen eggs and Ham you read it funny!”
“That was my fafrit book. I red it a lot whin I was little.” (She’s in first grade; when has she not been little?)
See, that’s what’s so great about kids. To the two other adults in the classroom that day, I must have looked like an absolute idiot, but the little kids either didn’t even notice, or didn’t even care. Their letters easily could have said, “Dear Mr. Hernandez, I’m so glad yor okay. I thout you wer melting.”
But they didn’t. They don’t care if you stumble over words, if your hair is messy, or if your clothes match. Kids’ only measure of judgment is this: Did you spend time with me?
As parents, we must never forget that truth.
On a side note, on the back of my daughter’s thank you letter to me, she took the time to make a drawing of me. I started laughing immediately when I saw it.
“What’s so funny, Daddy?”
“Nothing, Sweetie, it’s just so cute!”
Just to clarify, I do not own a shirt that says “COCK.” I do, however, own a t-shirt that says “Coke,” but unfortunately, my daughter isn’t that strong a speller yet. I’m just happy that she left off the first word of the actual shirt. Because if there’s anything worse than a “COCK” t-shirt, it would be an “Enjoy COCK” t-shirt. Check that — worse yet is a super sweaty guy wearing a damp “Enjoy COCK” t-shirt.