I was young when I learned what it felt like to be humiliated for the first time. I was about five or six years old.
My aunt and uncle were visiting with my parents that night. They were in the living room, chatting away on the couch and chairs while my cousins and I played on the floor in the middle of them.
I was changing my Barbie doll’s outfit for the third time when my hand flew to my neck and I shouted, “My throw-it hurts!”
My uncle stopped talking mid-sentence. “Your what hurts?” he asked, a twinkle in his eye.
“My throw-it,” I repeated innocently.
This caused a wave of laughter from the adults. I had no idea what they were laughing at. What did I do? What did I say? I was kind of liking the attention.
But my mother asked me to say “throat” yet again, and when they laughed yet again, I began to suspect that something was going on. My face knew for sure because it was getting hot, and my tummy knew too because it was feeling kind of twisty.
I looked down when I mumbled it this time, but I wouldn’t say it again after that, no matter how nicely they asked. I just wanted them all to go away. Even if I didn’t know what humiliation was, I knew what it felt like, and I didn’t like it.
They tried to teach me the correct pronunciation after that, but I wouldn’t let them. They thought I was being stubborn. I was being stubborn, but sometimes that isn’t a bad thing. Even kids (especially kids) know when they don’t want to be messed with.
I had forgotten all about that incident until the day my own daughter pronounced something wrong for the first time. My initial reaction was to laugh; it was just so darn cute, after all! But the humiliation I had felt once upon a time flooded through me in a flash, and I caught myself. I covered my mouth to hide my smile and when I could, I gently corrected her, then moved on.