To my Father: the Reason I’m Still Single

Anecdotes

The sweltering central Texas heat could do nothing to quell the involuntary shivers as I cowered in the corner.  The music room at Nolanville Elementary was on the second floor:  brilliant.  Even as a six-year-old I had learned that it was always hotter on the second floor, especially at the end of May.  Combine the conspicuous lack of air conditioning with the sixty Kindergarteners who crowded the tiny room and the sweat pooling at the small of my back:  there was no reason I should be shivering.  Why were we getting dressed in here again?  The stage was on the first floor and my costume wasn’t exactly mobile, the stupid thing.  I sat in my corner cross-legged and head propped on my hands just glaring at it, praying I would miraculously develop heat vision and manage to reduce the monstrosity to ashes before my dad could see it.  How.  Embarrassing.

“You’re lucky to have a part in the play at all, it’s such a fun opportunity!” said my mother.  Lies.  “You should be thanking me for graciously offering you this role after the winter concert fiasco” squawked my rail-thin ostrich of a music teacher.  I don’t care what anyone says:  Kelsey Streagle deserved what she got and my punishment was totally worth it.  And her hair grew back eventually, why is everyone still holding this against me?  I guess I bought into it for a little while:  after all, the end-of-year play was the most prestigious event we could ever…ok, you know what?  I’m not fooling anyone.  I wasn’t gracious.  I wasn’t excited.  I would go so far as to say I was dreading this evening and had been for a good two months.  Sure it was great to be part of Jack and the Beanstalk but THE HARP?  SERIOUSLY?  I auditioned for the most glamorous part (the hen who lays the golden eggs, obvi) and somehow managed to land the only role of a clunky, singing inanimate object a la Beauty and the Beast.  (I would go on to play a singing carpet in Beauty and the Beast 12 years later, talk about coming full circle.)

Did they not realize just how damaging this role would be for my fragile self-esteem?  I already had a bowl cut (thanks Mom) and now this?  All I wanted was to be on stage and dazzle the audience, not humiliate myself in front of the entire school.  And my dad.

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At the time, Dad was a Major in the U.S. Army.  He was the Executive Officer for a Field Artillery Battalion and he was damn good at his job.  As so many military families can understand, this meant that Dad was rarely at home, soccer games, or Girl Scout ceremonies.  Whenever I asked Dad why he worked so much he would tell me “You have to go after what you want.  When you get where you want to go, you work hard to stay there.  When you end up somewhere else instead, you work even harder to make it into something you want.”  Or something like that.  It was advice that just couldn’t penetrate my six-year-old psyche, no matter how sharp my mind already was, and I still threw a tantrum when I found out I hadn’t gotten the part I wanted.  This was my lone chance to impress my dad and I now had the added challenge of doing it from inside a shimmery cardboard fortress.  Great.

And then we were backstage.  The harp was so large that I couldn’t possibly move while inside it.  The stage instructions had been written (quite brilliantly) so that the curtain dropped before my big scene, thus allowing us to drag the behemoth onstage with time to spare before it was revealed to the audience.  I don’t remember most of the play, unsurprisingly, but I do remember that scene.  MY scene.  Curtain dropped, costume was in place, and I shimmied between the harpstrings mounted on the side.  I poked my head through the oval cut out of the front, ready to go.  The curtain lifted.  It was on.

I knew exactly what to do.  The sweet soprano would begin to croon in Italian from the speakers flanking my costume and I would pretend it was my own voice.  Aaaaany minute now the music would start and I would raise my arms like I had seen opera singers do in the photographs my teacher showed me.  I was going to make my dad proud, I was, but where the hell was the music?

Somehow, even back then I understood the concept of an awkward silence.  I’m not positive how many seconds passed before I took the leap:  fifteen or twenty, possibly more.  Regardless, it was enough time that people began to whisper, wondering among themselves about the cause of the silence.  I scanned the crowd for Dad and found him, his beautiful smile radiating love and adoration despite the grim circumstances.  How could he be smiling?  Couldn’t he see that I was being humiliated up here?  But he just kept smiling.  It was in that moment that my insecurities melted and I knew what had to be done.  I started to sing.

And it was… terrible.  On a scale of one to Andrea Bocelli, I was William Hung.  For a long time I maintained that I had sung a beautiful Italian ballad but, let’s be real, it was gibberish.  There were no words, only squawks and long, drawn-out vowels.  I sang opera music on that stage until my vocal cords were no longer capable of vibrating.  There probably wasn’t any applause when the curtain dropped, I can’t really remember.  All I recall is the look on Dad’s face as I sang to him, for him, and the warm embrace I was given as I ran to him backstage after the show.  “You were wonderful,” he said.  And that was all I needed.

My father’s support in that traumatic endeavor more than 17 years ago gave me the green light to pursue my interests with full confidence that I would always have a backer.  I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons from him since then, namely:

-Baseball is the greatest game and the Red Sox are America’s team.

-“Take your daughter to work day” takes on a whole new meaning when it takes place at the Pentagon.

-When you run away from home, a suitcase full of Barbies won’t get you any further than the end of the driveway.

-Whether it’s standing on his shoes at the Father/Daughter dance or twirling to Mambo Number 5 in the living room, I’m always a better dancer when I’m dancing with him.

-You can be a nerd and still be totally awesome.  And “The Hobbit” is a perfectly reasonable first novel when you learn how to read.

-Nothing mends a broken heart better than a mug of tea and Daddy’s shoulder.

-The more embarrassing your parents are on the sidelines, the better athlete you’ll be on the field.

And finally, my dad taught me the value of sacrifice.  His 30-year career was the definition of sacrifice, leadership, and selfless service.  In the beginning, he had to sacrifice time with his family in order to mentor and shape countless junior officers, many of whom are serving in prominent leadership positions today.  In the end, however, my father sacrificed his career for his family.  He is a loving father, an adoring husband, and the life of the party.  He is the caring brother of two brothers and five sisters.  He is the perfect son-in-law to my Grandmother, not always an easy task.  My father is the smartest, kindest, and most generous person I have ever known: he is the standard to which I compare every man I meet and I have yet to find his equal.  So yes, Dad, it’s your fault I’m still single.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Hey You. I Know You.

Letters

Hey you.  Yeah, you.  I know you.

You’ve always been different.

You grew up in limbo, half in one world and half in the other.  Wearing football jerseys to school but playing with Barbies in the back room of your basement.  Impressing the boys with baseball statistics at the lunch table but staying after school to add glitter to your art projects when no one was watching.  You had a crush on James, the adorable blonde in your Kindergarten class, so naturally you pushed him down the hill at recess.  He no longer wanted to sit near you during arts and crafts.

You wanted the best of both worlds.

You had a 6th birthday party but refused to tell any boys:  it was a Princess party and they couldn’t know you were one of “those” girls.  You climbed all the way to the top of that giant oak in your neighborhood because your friends said girls couldn’t climb trees:  you were scared of heights but you had to prove them wrong.  You imitated your older brother as much as possible because the boys would like you better if you were more like them.  Right?

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You fought with your mother every Sunday before Church:  you wanted to wear that pretty dress, you really did.  But what if the boys from school saw you in a dress?  They would never pick you for kickball again.

That cute boy in 4th grade with whom every girl was obsessed?  You weren’t immune, but you pretended to be.  You wanted him to notice you but NOT by acting stupid and girly:  instead, you challenged him in reading contests, geography bees, and gym class competitions.  You were sending the message that you were awesome but that you were too independent to tapdance for his attention.  And you were crushed when he picked the girl who was willing to do exactly that.

Like I said, I know you.

You didn’t get “that kind” of attention in middle school from boys and you felt rejected:  you played sports, you were smart, and you knew everybody.  Why didn’t they like you?  And then it became clear.  Your friends were all little and petite, which was perfect for prepubescent boys who are under 5 feet.  You hit your growth spurt a little early and were an awkward 6 inches taller than the next guy.  Your friends had new “boyfriends” every week and they held hands in the hallway:  you continued to excel at school and sports.  You were confused when the boys told you that you had the “perfect personality” but chose to chase after your shallow and moody (albeit more glamorous) best friends.  You learned way too early that it IS possible to friendzone a girl.  But you refused to act any differently:  Mom said things would change.

And change they did.

You entered high school.  Your priorities didn’t change but your body did, and you got a little more attention than was usual.  Your best guy friend wanted to spend even more time with you but you thought nothing of it.  All your friends insisted that he wanted more but you wrote them off.  You liked his company and felt really close to him but that was all.  Aren’t there supposed to be fireworks or something?  You ignored reality for a long time.  And then, one day, you decided to try it:  maybe this is how it’s supposed to be.  Maybe those feelings would change if you started dating.  You finally had someone who appreciated you and you couldn’t let that chance pass you by.  So you dated your best friend.

And it was perfectly fine.  Nothing more.  Your feelings didn’t change and you felt badly because he deserved better.  But you kept up appearances because everyone loved you as a couple.  And having a boyfriend made high school more fun!    You inevitably broke up after graduation and stayed friends, but your first relationship made you wary.  You decided not to date a guy just because he liked you.  Your life would be one extreme or the other:  fury and fireworks or cool aunt with lots of cats.  Lukewarm wasn’t your style.

College was good for you:  you had a good reputation, you knew a lot of people, and you were happy.  You had crushes but didn’t act on them.  You gave your guy friends advice and helped them with their own relationships.  A few brave souls tried but you considered them “just friends.”  You focused on developing your friendships instead of giving any one special guy the time of day.  There were some close calls, a fling here and there, but you stayed true to your vows and didn’t settle.  College was a success and so were you.

And then you gave in, but you didn’t really commit, did you?  You enjoyed his company and he looked great on paper, but it was high school all over again.  You put on a good show and hoped that you could change:  you wanted to love him, you really did.  Eventually he cheated on you and you ended it, but it wasn’t as painful as it should have been.  He was clearly a jerk and you dodged a bullet by holding back.

But then you screwed up.  You felt the fire.  That bullet caught up to you in the form of a guy who you knew was all wrong.  You swore you would never do anything this rash but you couldn’t help it:  you were no longer in control.  You felt completely unlike yourself and you didn’t know how to handle it.  The situation was completely foreign.  You got a tingling down your spine when he entered the room.  His car jumped out at you in the parking lot.  Every time your phone went off?  Your heart jumped at the thought that it might be him.  Who was this girl, this new person you’d become?  She wasn’t protecting herself.  This new girl threw logic out the window and started dating him.

You knew deep down that it wouldn’t last but you still had hope.  You gave your heart away only to have it broken, and in the aftermath you learned a lot about yourself and about the inexhaustibly fickle nature of life.  You cried a lot at first.  You had Shakespeare in Love on repeat in your apartment.  You scrolled through texts and replayed intimate conversations in your head, wondering when his feelings had changed.  Wondering what you could have done differently.

And then you remembered yourself.  That girl who weathered the storm of adolescence with no validation or feelings of love from the other sex?  The one who swore she would never settle for less than she deserved?  She was back.  And she was ready to continue her journey, wiser and more aware of herself.  You decided to join her:  you curled up on the couch, alone, with a glass of white wine and a bottle of nail polish as the NFL playoffs blared from your television.  That little girl caught between two worlds became a woman with a firm grip on who she is and always will be, regardless of who tells her she’s beautiful.

Of Zombies and David Guetta

Lists

Trends. They come and go, some more fleeting than others, but are always popular for at least a little while.  Most of the time it’s just easier to pretend I like things rather than fight them, but I’m tired of pretending.  Some things that are “in” and I’m supposed to like but I just don’t:

WINE:  It’s classy, it has antioxidants, it was Jesus’ drink of choice.  What’s not to love about wine?  Besides the funky, syrupy texture, the bitter aftertaste, and the hangover from hell, wine is AWESOME.  As a classy lady I know I’m expected to drink wine, but I can’t fake it anymore.  Just get me a Jack Daniels, neat please.

EDM:  A lot of my friends like it and that’s just fine.  You do you.  But I would rather hear a cheese grater and a chalk board grinding on the dance floor to a bad Nickelback cover band than listen to EDM.  In college I tried to enjoy it, I really did:  I went to Electric Zoo, danced in the front row right in front of David Guetta, and bought the album of every headliner at the festival.  I forced myself to listen to each of them and, once my ears could take no more torture, promptly trashed them.  EDM is a pounding hangover headache mixed with a fork stuck in the garbage disposal.

EGG WHITES:  Egg whites are to eggs what Nick Carter was to the Backstreet Boys:
bland, white, zero substance, and tried unsuccessfully to have a solo
career.  That thrill you get when you poke a sunny-side up egg and you have to
race to mop up the runniness with your English muffin?  Remember that?
You don’t get that with egg whites. Give me back my calories,
cholesterol, and dignity please, I like to live on the wild side.

ACTING LIKE SOME BOTTLED WATERS ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS:  They aren’t.  They just aren’t.  To anyone who says one brand tastes better than the others:  you can kiss my ass as I’m wheeling a mega-pack of the cheap stuff out of Costo.  We both paid $4:  I paid for an 18-pack of life-sustaining tap water and you paid for pretention in a bottle.  Only one bottle, I might add.

ZOMBIE MOVIES AND SHOWS:  My dear friends Rob and Savannah are going to hate me if they ever read this but, alas, it needs to be said:  zombie movies are not awesome.  Or cool.  They’re not even tolerable.  On a scale of one to The Big Lebowski, zombie movies get a high zero.  To give you a clue, Britney Spears’ “Crossroads” gets a one on that scale and the only movie to score lower than the zombie genre is Catwoman with Halle Barry.  Zombies are disgusting and I don’t understand why anyone would want to watch them for the duration of a feature-length film:  they’re constantly throwing up, they walk like they’ve got something stuck up their ass, and they’re always ripping people’s heads off for no reason.  Seriously, just go backstage at a fashion show and you’ll get the same spectacle from the models.  Bottom line:  I would rather become a zombie than watch a zombie movie.

Phew. Glad I got that off my chest.

Mean Girls and Shapely Lips

Rants

The women of today’s world have a problem.  I’m not talking about negative body-image or self-confidence:  we’re moving in the right direction with those issues.  For decades the women of my generation have wanted smaller noses, darker skin, and leaner figures:  anything to look like someone else.  Female-empowerment campaigns, celebrities, and media outlets are slowly removing the “skinny=pretty” and “model=beautiful” stigma from women’s minds and I’m over the moon about that.  We’re finally being told that our uniqueness is what makes us beautiful and WE BELIEVE IT.  A huge step!

But there’s a catch.  A significant catch.  And it’s perfectly illustrated in one of my favorite movies:  Mean Girls.  The collaboration between SNL greats Lorne Michaels, Tim Meadows, and Tina Fey not only satirizes the jungle that is high school, but also raises some issues that transcend the teenaged generation and apply to greater society.  Specifically, the film addresses the concept of “putting yourself down.”

Regina:  “So you’re like, really pretty.”

Cady:  “Thank you!”

Regina:  “So you agree.”

Cady:  “What?”

Regina:  “You think you’re really pretty.”

Cady:  “Oh, I don’t kn-“ (cut off)

Remember that scene?  Lindsey Lohan’s character is gorgeous and was thankful for the compliment, as any normal person should be.  Should is the key word.  The acceptable response to this praise is more along the lines of “oh you’re just saying that” or “thanks, but you’re SO much prettier!”  As far as we’ve come in the realm of body-image, we still have one final hurdle to clear.  It’s like when you’re asked to think of a number between one and ten:  you’re supposed to think it but not say it.  It’s become an unspoken rule that we are allowed to think that we’re attractive:  we’re just not allowed to say it.

There is something inherently wrong with a society in which a woman cannot publicly admit that she is beautiful.

I’m not talking about tampon commercials or plus-size ad campaigns in which the women showcased get to say “I’m comfortable in my own skin and I feel beautiful.”  I’m talking about real women in everyday life who pretend to shake off compliments even though it makes them feel special.  Real women who won’t say “thank you, I’ve been working out” when an old friend says they look like they’ve lost some weight.  These women know that they’re beautiful but are hesitant to say it.

Dove recently came out with an ad campaign in which a sketch artist draws a woman twice:  once from her own description of herself, and once from the description of a total stranger seeing her for the first time.  The portraits on the left are the product of each woman describing herself to the sketch artist, while the portraits on the right convey how a stranger sees the same woman.

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The results, though not surprising, make me really angry.  The women in these sketches don’t believe that they’re ugly.  I truly believe that the majority of women believe that they are beautiful.  So why can’t we say it?  Is it human nature to default to the negative?  Why is it that when I’m asked to describe myself I immediately jump to my squat, flat nose, the abnormal amount of space between my eyes, and the fact that one corner of my mouth is perpetually higher than the other?  I believe I’m beautiful:  I should be telling the sketch artist about the shape of my lips (which I love), the crazy blue/green/gold color of my eyes (which I love), and my strong chin that makes a V when I smile (which I love).

Maybe it’s human nature to dwell on what’s wrong instead of celebrating what’s right.  Or maybe we fear what others will think if we pass on self-deprecation in favor of self-affirmation.  Admit it:  when I described the things I like about my face, you thought I was being a little vain.  That’s the mentality we need to change!

Ladies, we need to stop dwelling on what we don’t like and start focusing on the parts we love about ourselves.  More importantly, we need to stop fearing the judgment of other people:  it’s not vain to accept and truly believe a compliment someone gives you about how you look.  You’re not self-absorbed if you can describe yourself using the attributes you like.  Let’s celebrate our beauty instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.

Don’t Worry, It’s German.

Anecdotes

Resurrected the blog and this is my first post back on the job.  Something nice and light, enjoy!

For people with unique last names, the military uniform becomes a vessel for shouting to the world “Yep, here I am, my name is plastered to my chest solely for your viewing and inquiring pleasure and all I want is for you to ask me about it.”  For the Smiths, Johnsons, and Williamses out there who have no idea what it’s like to feign patience, here’s a conversation I had just this morning, an example of the fun some of us endure every time someone attempts to pronounce our difficult name:

Mrs Nosy:  Stares intently at my nametape, conveniently located below eye level on the right side so that people actually have to make a concerted effort to look DOWN at my chest.

Me:  “Ma’am, can I help you?”  Oh God, here we go.

MN:  Still staring.  Don’t worry, not awkward at all, it’s just my chest.  “That’s quite a last name you’ve got there!  Can’t say I’ve seen that one before.”

Me:  Can’t say I’ve heard that one before.  Dear Lord, the reading glasses are coming out.  “Yes Ma’am, it’s pretty unique.”

MN:  “Is it You-En-Gurt?”  She distinctly pronounces each syllable with a pause in between them.

Me:  Well, it’s good to know your phonetics are on point, I’m sure that’s how it was meant to be pronounced Mrs. Will-I-Yams.  “No Ma’am, it’s actually pronounced Yen-Gurt.”

MN:  “Yun-Gurt?  Am I saying that right?”

Me:  Seriously?  I just told you.  “No Ma’am, Yen-Gurt.  Take out the U and then try it.”

MN:  “Ohhhh YANG-Gurt, that’s strange.  Well why is it spelled that way?”

Me:  Yet another intelligent question from my new friend, how the hell should I know?  I wasn’t around 200 years ago lady, seriously, you’re killing me.  “Beats me Ma’am, it’s German.”  That’s my excuse for just about everything, “It’s German.”

MN:  “Ahh yes, German.  I’m sure you get lots of people asking about your name, am I right?  And pronouncing it wrong, you must have heard everything in the book!  Yong-Gurt, I see it now.”  Still. Staring. At. My. Chest.

Me:  “Yes Ma’am, well it’s actually Yen-Gurt, like I said before.  But don’t worry, it’s German, nobody gets it right the first time.”  Or, in your special case, the second, or third, or fourth time.

MN:  “Hmmm well if you’re going to be in the military, you might want to think about changing it dear, nobody likes a name they can’t say.  It makes people uncomfortable.  (Oh wow, this conversation is going downhill.)  Or at least get married dear, and to someone with a simple last name.”  

Me:  …Blank stare.  Absolutely speechless.  How the HELL do I respond to that?  Quick, say something!  ANYTHING!  Before she starts talking again!

MN:  “You know, (NOOOOOOOOOOO how could I let this happen?!?) my nephew is single and-”

Me:  “Sorry to interrupt Ma’am, but I have somewhere to be, it was nice to meet you.”  Nice recovery.  A hasty getaway is better than a blank stare.

MN:  “Oh yes.  Well have a lovely day Miss Yoon-Gurt.”  I’m done.  Please walk away now.


Wow, that escalated quickly.