In “Nothing Extraordinary,” a winning essay from our 2019 Personal Narrative Contest for students, Jeniffer Kim writes about a moment when she felt ashamed of her mother — and what she learned about herself from it. Her narrative begins:
It was a Saturday. Whether it was sunny or cloudy, hot or cold, I cannot remember, but I do remember it was a Saturday because the mall was packed with people.
I was with my mom.
Mom is short. Skinny. It is easy to overlook her in a crowd simply because she is nothing extraordinary to see.
On that day we strolled down the slippery-slick tiles with soft, inconspicuous steps, peeking at window boutiques in fleeting glances because we both knew we wouldn’t be buying much, like always.
I remember I was looking up at the people we passed as we walked — at first apathetically, but then more attentively.
Ladies wore five-inch heels that clicked importantly on the floor and bright, elaborate clothing. Men strode by smelling of sharp cologne, faces clear of wrinkles — wiped away with expensive creams.
An uneasy feeling started to settle in my chest. I tried to push it out, but once it took root it refused to be yanked up and tossed away. It got more unbearable with every second until I could deny it no longer; I was ashamed of my mother.
We were in a high-class neighborhood, I knew that. We lived in a small, overpriced apartment building that hung on to the edge of our county that Mom chose to move to because she knew the schools were good.
We were in a high-class neighborhood, but as I scrutinized the passers-by and then turned accusing eyes on Mom, I realized for the first time that we didn’t belong there.
I could see the heavy lines around Mom’s eyes and mouth, etched deep into her skin without luxurious lotions to ease them away. She wore cheap, ragged clothes with the seams torn, shoes with the soles worn down. Her eyes were tired from working long hours to make ends meet and her hair too gray for her age.
I looked at her, and I was ashamed.
My mom is nothing extraordinary, yet at that moment she stood out because she was just so plain.
Students, read the entire narrative, then tell us:
Do you connect with anything in Jeniffer’s story? Have you ever had a moment like this when you felt embarrassed, or even ashamed, of your parent? What happened? What thoughts were going through your head? How did that embarrassment or shame feel in your body?
Jeniffer’s personal narrative ends with self-reflection and a realization. Have you ever felt ashamed of something your parent or someone else did — only to realize something about yourself? What did you learn? How did this incident change your view of yourself, others or the world?
Which moment in this essay did you find most powerful or moving? Why? What message do you take away from Jeniffer’s story? How can you apply it to your own life?
Jeniffer describes her feeling of shame by writing, “I felt like I’d been dropped into a cold lake.” Does that description resonate with you? How could you use simile, metaphor, hyperbole or some other literary device to express what embarrassment feels like to you?
Which “writer’s moves” that Jeniffer used in her narrative do you admire most? Choose one and share why you thought it was effective. How did it pique your interest or help you connect to the story?
Students, if Jeniffer’s story inspired you, consider turning what you wrote into your own personal narrative and submit it to our contest, now through Nov. 17, 2020.
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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.