As richly rewarding as parenthood is, some days you feel as though you're trapped in an extended Saturday Night Live episode, such as when your infant's screech reaches car-alarm decibels or he spits up like Mount Vesuvius. Naturally these gaffes occur in public, attracting stares that make you want to melt into the floor. Cheeks burning just thinking about it? Take a cue from a few been-there, survived-that moms on how to handle awkward situations with good humor and grace.
During a pin-drop-quiet moment in church, your baby lets loose with a noisy bodily function.
Right when Melissa James's pastor called for a period of silence during the worship service, her 8-day-old son, Preston, "filled his diaper, with a loud, drawn-out, liquidy raspberry sound." Desperate for a distraction, James spied her friends in a nearby pew shaking with repressed laughter -- and dissolved into giggles herself.
Save-face strategy: Do as James did and laugh. Hard. "At first I was embarrassed, but then I decided that it was a reminder from above that I needed to keep a sense of humor as a mom," says James, of Hampton, Virginia. Plus, cracking up clarifies to others that the disturbance came courtesy of your cutie, not you.
Your tot bellows a really bad word.
Dragging her two sons, ages 1 and 2, through the supermarket parking lot, Molalla, Oregon mom Miri Carr cringed when the boys spotted their shared obsession, trucks. That's because their garbled consonants can sometimes make it sound as though they're dropping the F-bomb. When the toddlers pointed and screamed at the top of their lungs, "TRUCK, TRUCK, TRUCK!" Carr started to brace herself for the reaction she knew would immediately follow: dirty looks from the old ladies wheeling their grocery carts to the store's entrance.
Save-face strategy: Explain it away. With those little old ladies watching, Carr boomed out, "Yeah, that's right, kids, that is indeed a truck! Isn't it funny how my boys get so excited about trucks?!" Offering a quick clarification ("What my baby actually meant to say is...") can help mitigate your embarrassment -- and spur uncomfortable onlookers to breathe a sigh of relief.
Your wee one freaks out at the very sight of a family member or friend.
Bridget Pelosi's cousin, Michael, showed up at a big family shindig with a full, bushy beard that incited absolute terror in Pelosi's 16-month-old son Gavin. In an attempt to fix the situation, Michael spoke to Gavin, saying, "Don't be scared of me, I'm nice," but the closer Michael got, the more panicked Gavin became.
Save-face strategy: Be honest. But go gentle -- it's never easy to tell someone that his mere presence sends your baby into a tailspin. "I said to my cousin, 'Gavin doesn't see many people with beards, and it can be a little unnerving,'" says Pelosi, of Chatham, New Jersey. "He appreciated the honesty and turned his attention to the adults for the rest of the night." Remind spurned loved ones that baby's reaction is neither personal nor permanent. Chances are, if the neighbor with the booming voice gives your sweetie space, he'll warm up.
Your baby hurls on you in the worst possible situation.
During the holidays last year, Kirsti Jeppsen, of Taylorsville, Utah, had already spent 20 long minutes shuffling through a seemingly endless security line at the airport when her 17-month-old son, Barrett, threw up all over her. "Of course everyone turned to watch, and those standing nearest to us took a giant step backwards in horror," she says. "I just wanted to cry, but if I had gotten out of the line to go to the restroom, it would've meant waiting all over again!" Instead, she and her husband quickly shoved their bags to the side and managed to keep their place in line as they struggled to clean up the mess.
Save-face strategy: Don't be too ashamed to accept help. As Jeppsen and her family pawed through their bags for fresh clothes for Barrett, a few sympathetic mothers began digging in their purse. "One passed me a couple of wadded-up tissues and another handed me a few rumpled napkins," Jeppsen says. Tokens, sure, but when disaster strikes, an offer of assistance can be as comforting as a hug -- so say yes to whatever aid comes your way. It will make you feel (if not smell!) a tiny bit better.
Your little snookums screams throughout a flight, and your fellow passengers are glaring at you.
Bernadette Noll, of Austin, Texas, once flew to New Jersey with her cranky, teething 6-month-old, who wailed and flailed for two hours straight. The evil eye from people around her was about to become a torrent of angry words when Noll waved down the flight attendant and bought a round of drinks for everyone sitting nearby. Her grand apologetic gesture worked wonders. "It broke the ice and definitely softened the not-so-nice stares that had been coming my way until then," Noll says.
Save-face strategy: Perturbed passengers can become more understanding when they're slightly lubricated, but you won't always need to wet their whistle to get on their good side. Simply commiserating with your cabinmates ("Sorry my daughter's so loud!") can go a long way. Buying drinks worked, says Noll, "because it conveyed to everyone that I understood the situation sucked, which cleared the air." A rueful smile and a "Wish I'd brought earplugs to go around" can also do the trick.
Your baby unwittingly makes you bare all in a very public place.
Erin Ridley held her 7-month-old daughter, Taylor, in her arms as she strolled through Wal-Mart -- and couldn't figure out why she was getting so many odd looks. "I didn't realize till we were at the back of the store that Taylor had pulled my V-neck T-shirt down so far that everyone got a view of my bra!"
Save-face strategy: If you're truly humiliated and fear you may have scandalized onlookers, find the closest exit. Beet red, Ridley rearranged her shirt and fled the store. "It was a small town, so the chances that someone I knew had seen me were pretty great," says the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, mom. She dreaded the thought of confronting a smirking acquaintance. You could continue shopping, but if embarrassment paralyzes you, there's no shame in leaving the scene of the crime to recover your sense of calm.
Originally published in the April 2011 issue of American Baby magazine.