Mario Stories

Self Esteem Camp

THE REQUEST: Write about an experience you really hated

One of the things you'll notice about my mom and me in most of these stories is the fact that... well... we were an interesting pair. COMPLETELY alike in some ways. The complete OPPOSITE of each other in every other way. And that's what makes the stories about my mom and me interacting the most interesting. It's always fun to hear about the times her stubborn personality (that would never bend on anything, ever) came crashing into my stubborn personality (that would also never bend on anything, ever). And then the minute the unstoppable force (her) met the immovable object (me), we would just stand back, and watch whatever the hell happened. Because you could never predict it.

Gloria and Mario Lanza
When stubborn met stubborn

In general, my mom and I never actually fought about anything. And that's because, for most of my teenage years, we were smart enough just to stay the hell out of each other's way. But if there was ONE aspect of our personalities that was bound to clash when I was a teenager, because we were SO completely different from one another, it was this following one. The one you are about to read one of my least favorite stories about.

It was the time my mom thought I was far too quiet in life, and that I didn't talk very much.

And because I didn't talk very much, she thought I needed to go to self esteem camp.

Self-Esteem Camp for teens. aka Loser Camp.

And with that, let's get into the subject of "introverts vs. extroverts."

My mom... um... how can I say this in the nicest possible way? I mean, if you knew my mom, you know how true this next sentence is. She basically never stopped talking.

From the day she was born, to the day that she died, Gloria Lanza was basically in one big conversation with every other human being on the planet. Always. She was the extrovert's extrovert. And this can be confirmed by just about any one of my friends who ever came over to our house. If you ever came over to our house in the 80s or 90s, even once, you knew my mom. You knew her because she immediately wanted to be BFFs with you. You knew her because she was going to sit you down in the kitchen, and she was going to get to know you, and you were going to chat. And that was just that.

And this is why I say this with love. I have NEVER met a person in my life who was more interested in the art of "having conversation" or the concept of "sitting around and chatting with people" than my mother was.

You can see it in Santa's eyes.
He's already had a twenty minute conversation with my mom, about optimal reindeer placement.

Now as for ME, on the other hand...

Well I am just about the quietest person you are ever going to meet. You know how my mom was the extrovert's extrovert? Well I am pretty much the introvert's introvert.  In fact, I don't think I have EVER known a person in my life who is less interested in "interacting with other people" or "sitting down and chatting with them" than I am. I just... don't... have.. that specific gene. I am SO much of a loner, in fact, that I can guarantee there are people who went to school with me for twelve years, and have never heard me speak. At a certain point, I imagine a lot of kids at my school just probably just assumed I was a deaf-mute.

Somehow, somewhere, the extrovert's extrovert gave birth to the introvert's introvert

And this is where we get into the crux of this story.

On paper, it is almost IMPOSSIBLE that I could be the child of my mother.

Gloria Lanza? The centerpiece of the Ludke Family Reunion? The woman who knew not only every single person on either side of our family, but who would also talk to each and every one of these people on the phone? Every day?

Gloria Lanza? Who loved to regale us with the legend of how she was soooo popular in high school, that she was the only freshman in the history of Port Angeles to ever make the varsity cheerleading team?

My mom had TONS of stories about people. She knew EVERYONE. She talked to EVERYONE. Our house was always the center of EVERYTHING. And it goes without saying that all of my friends knew her extremely well too. In fact, everyone at my school knew her. My mom was always best friends with EVERYONE.

Meanwhile, I was her son, and I was basically mute. And I am STILL basically mute. Even at forty-nine years old, I will generally go out of my way not to talk to anyone, or interact with anyone, or get to know anyone. Ever.

Which, again, is why my mom and I were always an interesting pair.

By the way, here's a funny little side story about my mom, and her chattiness.

One of first things I pointed out to my wife when we first started dating was "Watch this. No matter WHERE my mom is in a room, you'll be able to hear her. No matter where you are in relation to her, or how far you are away from her, you can ALWAYS pick out her voice. And you will ALWAYS hear her namedrop me at least three times a minute, because her favorite thing in the world is she loves to start bragging about me. Listen for it any time we're in a crowd. It's the funniest thing."

Sure enough, my wife started listening for it at her first Lanza family get together. And there it was. I was right.

My mom's voice, always about ten percent louder than anyone else in the room. And she would just start bragging about me, or name dropping me, any chance that she got. The din whenever my mom was in a crowded social gathering would always sound something like this:

asdajdgadagdjad MARIO! ajajajamqahhah MARIO LANZA! ahajaahahawjaja SANTA CLARA! ajasnnajajajajaj MARIO LANZA! assgdadddaddaseddd GOOD AT BASEBALL!
ahajaahahawjaja JUST GOT MARRIED! ahajaahahawjaja TALENTED WRITER! asdadahassdadsadsd IS BETTER THAN YOUR KID!

Side note from my wife Diana:  It's true, Mario isn't exaggerating. I can't tell you how many times I had to hear that Mario learned to read when he was two (which I doubt). Or that he was a really fast runner. Or how cute it was that he used to refer to strawberries as "starbabies." After a while, he was right. All you had to do was stand with her in a room for five minutes, and you'd start hearing it.

My wife used to think my mom never shutting up about me was so funny. And she could tell how much I hated it, so that just made it even funnier to her. I mean, seriously, the LAST thing in the world that an introvert wants is to have attention drawn to them. I absolutely HATED it. I would have preferred to just anonymously go hide in a corner. But no, my mom could not possibly be in a room without not only drawing attention to me, but also making everyone else in the room hate me. Just because she would never stop bragging about me.

And yes, these are the types of problems you run into when you have an extrovert/introvert relationship with your mom.

Oh, and also, when you have a mom who thinks the sun rises and sets directly out of your butt.

But this was not the biggest problem that my mom and I ever ran into because of our differences in extroversion.

No, the BIGGEST problem came when I was fourteen years old, and I wound up getting shipped off to Self Esteem Camp.

Again. Not for the popular kids.

As you can probably guess, my mom had a hard time understanding the fact that I was an introvert. Because she was the most extroverted person in history of the world, she had absolutely NO way to relate to a kid with a personality like mine, where I was basically a Pet Rock. In fact, to her, I might as well have been an alien from Mars. She didn't really know what to do with me.

When I was a teenager, my mom would CONSTANTLY try to get me to talk about how my day had been at school. Or what my friends were up to. Or if there were any cute new girls in my class. Or what we were learning in science. Or hell, if I thought I needed new shoes. She would always ask me about EVERYTHING. And I would never give her more than my name, my rank, and my serial number. I would never, ever, EVER, give her more than just the bare minimum of anything that was going on in my world. Not because I was trying to be a dick, but because that was pretty much just what I did with everyone. I was a very private kid. And I just never talked!

Oh... and also... if I actually DID say something she thought was interesting, then she would immediately follow it up with a follow-up question. And I absolutely HAAAAATED follow-up questions. To an extremely private, extremely quiet person like me, a follow-up question is basically the work of the devil. I mean, I already answered your question, lady. I already told you if anything interesting happened in school. And in my mind, that should have been the end of it. You asked me a question, and I answered it. The contract has been honored.

Now, unfortunately, when I was thirteen years old, my mom took a look at me, her weird quiet son, and she made an EXTREMELY bad judgement call.

Basically, what happened was, one day she was looking through a catalog of the local programs at Bellevue Youth Eastside Services. You know, the programs that they offered to teens. And one of the programs for the upcoming summer was called "Self Esteem Camp." And, knowing my mom, I can tell you EXACTLY what happened next. I bet she saw that class, and she saw it was cheap, and she quickly put two and two together in her head. I bet she was like, "Hey, you know what? I bet my weird quiet son who never talks could probably use that! I think I'll enroll him!"

And that, my friends, is how my mom managed to mistake "being an introvert" for "having low self esteem."

And that's why, three weeks later, I had to go to fucking Self Esteem Camp.

Shame on you, Youth Eastside Services. Shame on you.

Okay, so... Self Esteem Camp. For a thirteen year old.

Have you ever seen a picture of a dog who just came home from the vet, and he has to wear a cone around his neck? So that he won't be able to bite himself? You know how the dog always looks absolutely MORTIFIED about this? Well, Self Esteem Camp is basically the teenager equivalent of The Cone of Shame. This was absolutely the WORST possible thing you could ever have done to an introvert.

Me at Self Esteem Camp, 1987

For two weeks, I had to attend class every day with ten other introvert kids. And we had to sit there in a circle, and we all had to talk about our thoughts. And our FEELINGS. Then we had to turn to the person to our right, and we were supposed to say something nice about them. And then we had to do all these dumb little icebreakers. And "making eye contact" roleplay. And all these hands-on "hey, catch me when I fall!" dumb trust exercises.

And seriously, I say this in the nicest possible way... as a thirteen year old introvert... I would have rather if you'd just shot me in the head.

Self esteem camp for teens, visualized

For an introvert, Self Esteem Camp was like a fat kid who suddenly has to go to Fat Kid Camp, and who no longer has access to his donuts. I hated it. I HAAAAAATED it. I hated every single god damn minute of it. I mean, I'm not exaggerating about this. For three hours, EVERY SINGLE DAY, we had to sit around with strangers, and we had to talk about our feelings with them. We had to talk about our emotions with them. And come on, what thirteen year old in the world is going to be comfortable with that? I mean, seriously, even EXTROVERTS would have hated this class. Even extrovert kids would have seen what we were doing every day, and they'd be like "Yeah thanks, but no thanks. I think I'll go with my friends to the mall. I'm not talking about my feelings with strangers."

And so, basically, here's what happened every day between me and my mom. Every day after Self Esteem Camp, I would walk home, and I would just be PISSED. In fact, I'm not sure I have ever BEEN more pissed. And my mom would always greet me cheerfully at the door with "So how was camp?" Oh, it was just peachy, mom. Just peachy. Today I got to explain to a twelve year old girl how I was a delicate little flower. And how I needed just the right amount of water so I could one day bloom like a rose. It was the most magical day of my life. Thank you for doing this to me, you sadist.

Now, here's the funny thing about this story (funny in retrospect, anyway)

Every day, I'd come home from camp. And all I would do was I'd bitch about it. I'd stand there in the kitchen, and I'd weave a tapestry of obscenities that would have made The Old Man from a Christmas Story proud. And to my mom, I'm sure this was the greatest thing in the world. Because to her, me bitching about something wasn't a bad thing. Me bitching about something was actually a good thing. Because me bitching about Self Esteem Camp meant I WAS ACTUALLY TALKING ABOUT SOMETHING. So, to her, it probably sounded like Self Esteem Camp was going great. It was going exactly as planned! It was actually making me talk!

I'm sure my mom was like, "Well he's mad, but at least I know what he's thinking now." I'm sure she thought it was great.

In any case, in 1987, I lasted two weeks at Self Esteem Camp. It was, without question, the worst fourteen days of my life. I hated Every. Single. Fucking. Minute of it. In fact, if anything, I bet that place probably actually gave me LOWER self esteem.

But every day I would come home from camp, and I would gripe about it to my mom. WHY DID YOU SEND ME TO THAT STUPID PLACE! I DON'T HAVE LOW SELF ESTEEM, MOM! I'M JUST QUIET! And she was overjoyed because now I was actually talking to her like a normal teenager. And now we could finally explore my feelings about things. Now I was opening up to her like the beautiful little rose that I was.

Her Machiavellian plan to turn me into an extrovert had worked like a charm.

And, well, to wrap it all up...

Look. My self esteem was fine when I was thirteen. And it remains fine now. I have actually always had a really high opinion of myself, I really have. I'm just very quiet.

And yes, I know that Youth Eastside Services Self Esteem Camp does some wonderful things. But if an introvert hasn't burnt that place to the ground yet, I mean, then I feel like they aren't even trying. That place will make you do icebreakers. That place is THE DEVIL.

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