Monday, September 26, 2011

Daddy's Girl

I was standing over the sink in the restaurant bathroom contemplating how I was going to tell my father I was pregnant.   I had tried other times that evening - seeing the window of opportunity open and close before I could get the words out.  My heart was pounding and my legs felt shaky.  Max knocked on the bathroom door and asked if I was okay.    I walked out to the corridor that was dimly lit between the kitchen and the place where they stacked the high chairs. 

"What are you waiting for?  Just tell him." Max said matter of factly.    
"It's not that easy, what is my dad going to think? I mean I just graduated from college." I said nervously.   
"Really?" Max replied, "Kel, it's not like your 19 and  he's going to throw you out of the house."
"Okay, but the fact that I'm pregnant means that I've probably had sex," I countered. 
"Probably?!  We've been married for three years and live in our own place.  I think the idea that we might have done it might have crossed his mind by now!" Max said somewhat exasperated. 
"Stop it, my dad would never think that," I said, feeling queasier by the minute.  
"Your dad has five kids, I think he gets how it works," Max said trying to comfort me.  
"Okay, that is just so wrong and it's not helping,"  I said somewhat weirded out. 
"Well, there's still dessert and coffee, if you don't tell him by then I'll just slip a picture of the ultrasound and wink.  Is that how you want to tell him?"  Max looked into my eyes trying to sense why I was so apprehensive about sharing such wonderful news. 

"You're right.   Get back to the table and I'll be there in a minute, I just need to put my game face on."  I kissed and sent him back to Mom and Dad.  A woman with a small infant passed me just as I was going back into the dining room.  The baby cooed and smiled at me over his mother's shoulder letting me know that I needed to start this rite of passage. 

Looking your father in the eye and telling him you're pregnant is the moment in a women's life when she grows from being daddy's little girl into a woman.   Hopefully before this moment,  she has taken control of her life, stood up for herself and taken a few of the lumps and bruises from the curve balls in life.  Hopefully, she's found another man in her life whose job is to be there for her when she comes home and needs someone to hold her and tell her it's going to be alright.  From this moment on, your relationship with your dad will never be the same.  Gone are the days when my little sister and I could sit on our dad's lap,  hug his neck and say "Aren't you glad we married you?"     

I think the transition of girls growing up is especially hard on Dads.   To have a young girl idealize you and see you as her hero and the guy she can count can make even a mild mannered guy feel like Superman.   As the protector of his  daughter, he would take on a 1,000 Lex Luthers then to see her hurt by a mere boy.  According to the book Father, Family Protector, "A father goes out of his way to size up the young man his daughter is going out with. He insists on meeting him--to look him in the eye and intuitively size up his intentions and his worth. An unspoken message seems to pass between them: 'She's my daughter. Treat her nicely, kid, or else'...."    I see this circle playing out now with my own husband as our 15 year old daughter takes those first tentative steps into dating.   The idea that his little girl is growing up is not sitting well with him.   They have a special bond and one that he's not ready to share just yet.   But the reality is that she is just starting the road of what will hopefully be many dates and young men before she finds the person that she'll want to spend the rest of her life with.  After a few hits and misses (there will be hits and misses before the Miss becomes Mrs.), our daughters figure out for themselves who their Mr. Right is.  

My father took the news of yet another grandchild very well (at that point between the other four siblings, they already had 12 grand children).   My mother was overjoyed and my dad gave me a big kiss and a hug.  When I did look my dad in the eye, he did not yell, "You harlot, you've only been married three years and you're pregnant already?!  I smite thee, I smite thee to the bordello of hell where you belong!"  No, he was beaming, happy and even gave Max a hug as well.    Sure, I knew I'd always be his daughter, but by becoming a mother, I acknowledged that I was becoming a parent and joining their elite club.   Before long, he was bringing all sorts of fruits, vegetables and other wholesome foods for his daughter plus one.    He was still taking care of me, but with the help of Max who is a personal chef.  I was lucky that they could work together like that - from one  senior superhero to another superhero in training who was about to discover that amazing journey of fatherhood and how a little girl's smile is a good kind of kryptonite. 

In an ideal world, your father is the one man a girl can count on.  He's the guy that helps set your self worth.    If it's a good relationship, he's your Superman - the one guy who would leap a building in a single bound to keep you safe - to do anything for his little princess.   He's the guy that all the other men in your daughter's life need to measure up to.   If they're smart, they'll bring their capes.   

Sunday, September 18, 2011

First Sight

The first time I saw the love of my life Max, he was wearing a t-shirt that said "I'm not wearing any underwear, film at 11:00!"  His long wavy brown hair was flowing over his shoulders right to the top of his tattoo of a pig devil named Hot Stuff holding a musket.    He was cutting up with his friend Richard, smoking a cigarette and going over his lines.    I had never really been into heavy metal bands, but was pretty sure this guy was probably in one. 

I was 24 at the time and dressed in a white shorts, a white shirt that was tied in a knot at my waist, white sneakers and my long blond hair was spilling over my shoulders (apparently I wanted to play the part of the vestal virgin).   I asked if this was the place for the auditions and expected to be condescended to  (as a life long blond, folks generally assume you're not very bright right off the bat - a big mistake).   But instead of making fun of me, he made eye contact briefly, immediately looked down and said "Yes" quietly.     "Oh, my God, he's shy.  That's so cute," I thought as we waited to go in and read for the show. 

We both got cast in the show All Men are Whores, (that was the original name of the play) for the FIU Playwrights' FestivalAs the weeks of rehearsals progressed,  I found myself drawn to this man who smelled of cigarettes and Wella Balsam.   For a guy with long hair, it was always very well conditioned and soft.  Best of all, I could talk to him easily.  But because I was dating another actor in the improv troupe Mental Floss, he had to remain my buddy Max.   He was also dating someone else, a gorgeous actress in Miami, so our relationship had to stay friendly and nothing more.   Ironically he played the two timing lead with me as his thing on the side.   

One day, we were rehearsing on the set with the rest of the cast watching and we had to do a long passionate kiss.   We had been just stage kissing in the other rehearsals, but something about that day - his minty fresh breath, the cream rinse in his hair, the warmth of his neck and the fact that he never treated me like a dumb blond converged into the moment when I forgot where I was.  I genuinely kissed him - a full on french kiss.  The scene ended and I felt mortified.  "That was so unprofessional, what must he think of me?" I thought as I hastily got up from the couch, shook his hand and said, "Good working with you," and then left quickly, my heart ready to pound out of my chest.   How could I have done that?  He's my buddy, nothing more I told myself and didn't say anything to Patrick, my boyfriend.  He was an actor too, but he wouldn't understand - our relationship was tentative enough as it was.   We had a five day break in rehearsals so I was hoping that Max would forget all about it. 

A few days later, I was auditioning for another play, called Raining Backwards.   I did my monologue and afterwards talked to the producer and then saw Max talking to the director.  It turns out he was also a designer and would be building the set.   I said a quick "Hi" and felt my face starting to flush.  "Hey," he said and we exchanged some quick pleasantries about the play we were in.   It seemed weird and random to see him there.  I had not mentioned this audition and he hadn't mentioned that he was the designer.  "Okay, what's going on?" I asked the universe as I drove home that day.  

I got over the tonsil hockey incident and we kept rehearsing  All Men are Whores.   One weekend, shortly before we were supposed to open, I auditioned for another play called Robin Goodfellow which was the children's theater version of A Midsummer's Night Dream.   I was auditioning for Titania when Max walked in.  "My God, does this guy know everyone in town?" I thought.  Again, another random meeting that neither one of us had mentioned.   We both got cast as the fairy queen and king for this show which had a six months month rehearsal schedule which under normal circumstances I would have objected to -- but it gave me an excuse to see Max on a regular basis.    On the drive home from this audition it was clear that the universe wanted us to be together.  

Whore Dogs  opened and was pretty well received (we had to change the title from All Men are Whores since the playwright had stolen the original name from a David Mamet play).   Patrick broke up with me shortly after it opened.   I was a little sad but not devestated.  It had never really been a good relationship from the start, just convenient.  I grew tired of his passive-agressive behavior.   I called Max that night using a ruse about starting an improv group and pumping him for information about decent theaters to work with.  He sensed that something was wrong but didn't press me for details.   The last thing I wanted to do at that point was date another actor - I just needed my buddy Max to talk to.  

As the rehearsals for Robin Goodfellow continued, Max and I got to know each other better and I let him know after six weeks that Patrick was no longer in the picture.   He told me that his girlfriend had gone to New York, but hadn't called in two weeks and it was pretty much over over.   So we went out, had chicken wings and talked about acting, our lives and the future.     

If you had told me 25 years ago I'd be married to a guy who was a dead ringer Ted Nugent, I would have said "Who the hell is Ted Nugent?"  Then after finding out,  I would have said, "No freaking way!  I'm going to marry a yuppie like Miles Silverberg," who was a character on Murphy Brown.    That was supposed to be my type - the career driven guy that would work all the time, be a little neurotic and make tons of money - that guy was supposed to make me happy.    But I wonder how many women have walked by guys like Max and never given them a second look in their quest for a doctor or a lawyer who could give financial security but not much else.   I've been around tons of women who had the nice house, cars,  and vacations.   But after being around them and their husbands for 10 minutes, it's pretty clear they've sold their souls for designer clothes, handbags and lunches at Bal Harbor.   I used to come home from work and think they could buy and sell me 10 times over but I wouldn't trade my life with them for anything.  Of course not all women who are married to well to do men end up like that,  but I feel for those that didn't give themselves a chance to be happy with someone who was not their "type."

In our 19 years of marriage, we've survived Hurricane Andrew, the deaths of three of four of our parents, a malpractice lawsuit, Max's near death from chicken pox, a child diagnosed with autism, and moving to Georgia without really knowing a soul.    It's been a challenge at times to make ends meet and we've had our fights along the way, but everyday I look at him I thank God and our guardian angels for those random auditions.  He's still my lover and my best friend - my buddy Max.  I think tonight we'll cuddle on the couch, say how much we love each other and watch a film at 11:00.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Laughing at Bullies

My bully Lisa stepped out onto the sidewalk just a few doors down from my house.  She had been bullying me since elementary school.  But now at 11,  I was taller and she was nastier.  I never knew what I did to make her want to bully me.  The first time it happened we were both in the first grade and I got a Partridge Family lunch box and apparently she hated the show (okay - in hindsight I understand why).  I had my cherry juice in the matching thermos and she grabbed it and smashed it right on Danny Bonaduce's face.   The red juice spattered everywhere like a bloody scene right out of the movie Scarface.  I told my Mom, but Lisa's family was the one house on the block with the lawn that was never mowed and the dad with the notoriously bad temper - so the whole neighborhood stayed clear.  They were never invited to the Friday night dinner parties.   I tried to avoid her, but she'd pick up my scent and track me down.   I didn't have to track her scent, it was pretty bad and the sight of her made my eyes water.   My stomach became an instant gas chamber. 
She stood there in her popsicle splattered t-shirt.  The juice had run down her arm which was stained red and mixed with a light dusting of dirt, her hair filled with sticks and leaves.  Apparently she had to wrestle that popsicle to the ground to eat it.   I should have taken the long way home, but it was starting to thunder and I needed to get home quickly.   Rain storms come in fast in Miami around 4:00 p.m.   I had about 5 minutes before it would pour.  Lisa wouldn’t budge and was making it a point to tell me how fat and stupid I was, even through I had lost weight and was an honor student.   But each word made me doubt my weight and my intelligence - that's how bullies wear you down. 
I tried to walk around her but she kept getting closer.  Sensing that I might be cold cocked in the stomach once again with her sticky juice stained hand – I decided to try a different tactic.   I put out my butt, started to walk funny and taking my cue from a Carol Burnett sketch, said “Mr. Tudball – I have pencils to sharpen!”  Lisa stepped back and looked at me with eyes as big as golf balls.  "What did you say?" she asked.   "I have pencils to sharpen!!" I replied, sticking my butt our even further.  I heard a boy laughing behind me and turned to see her older brother Michael watching the whole thing unfold.   He was the one nice person in the family who got along with the rest of the kids on the block.  "Carol Burnett - Mrs. Wiggins, I love that sketch."  He then turned to Lisa, "Good God, haven't you ever heard of a napkin? C'mon Mom wants you home before the storm hits."  Lisa turned still looking at me with my butt sticking out.  They both started to laugh and I ran home just as the first drops were beginning to splat. 
Making people laugh has always been a refuge for me whether I was that chunky little girl with the David Cassidy Tiger Beat magazine or the girl in Junior High who had lost a ton of weight over the summer vacation.   Just like a runner who gets that endorphin high after a run or a heroin addict that needs that rush from their next fix, comedy is my drug.  It just makes me happy.   I get a heady feeling and a blast of energy after a show with my partners at the OTC Comedy Troupe.  Whether it's doing improv for an audience of 300 or a show for 10 people in a coffee shop - just bringing laughter into someone's life is something that I take very seriously.  I've seen it heal me.  I've seen it heal others.  
I've seen the parents of children with developmental disabilities hire my comedy troupe for a show and then ask us to do some really blue comedy that was totally politically incorrect because they just needed to escape for a few hours.  One night, we performed for two hours straight - not stopping for our usual intermission because the comedy and the healing needed to keep on going.  The energy of the room was transformed and their faces were brighter -- ready go back home and deal with a child that they loved dearly but who was not emotionally equipped to communicate that love back.  
I've seen my actors who had a piss poor day at work revive at workshop and feel renewed after a "play-date" with the other company members.   I've pulled my self out of painful funks and crying jags by dragging myself to the web show and getting a rush of energy from our audience.   
I'd like to say that once you leave school, you leave the bullies behind.  But as any women whose been at the mercy of the Mean Girls can tell you, it doesn't always happen.   It still pervades at our colleges, social circles and workplaces, but I've found that doing comedy is a good escape for that.   Ironically, I am considered a dead ringer for one of the biggest bullies out there- Ann Coulter.  My various video jabs at the conservative cougar have brought accolades and condemnation from both sides of the political aisle.  Sometimes it's pretty vicious and obscene.   It's very clear that those cyber bullies really need to get a life which is what I tell them right before they are blocked forever from my YouTube channel.  If only it was that easy in real life.   
As far as dealing with bullies goes, you get better at handling it as you get older, but there are times when those mean girls or guys can make you feel as small as that little girl with the broken thermos.   You can either go back there and believe all those bad things about yourself, or move forward, learn to laugh and feel some compassion for those bullies.   Lisa didn't have a great home life, felt ashamed and took that anger out on me.  After the Mrs. Wiggins episode, she bullied me less and less until it stopped - she just wasn't that scary anymore.   
The cyber bullies don't have a real way of communicating with real people so they grind their angst anonymously on any internet venue they can.   The mean folks confuse passivity for weakness which is a mistake because sometimes you just have to pick your fights.  The quiet ones can strike out with terrific and focused strength when they are pushed too far.   My tongue can be a real dagger when it needs to defend me - when the nice Kelley has to be protected by the sardonic Kelley.  It's not something I like to use very often, but it's nice to know that I have it in me when it's needed.  
For me, laughter is the best medicine and comedy is my drug of choice.  It helps me keep a stiff upper lip and gives me the courage to stick my butt out.  After all, I've got pencils to sharpen.