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Vertical Stripes and Looney Tune Polos

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Vertical Stripes and Looney Tune Polos

Tami Inoue

This story is anything but glamorous...because I was 14 years old...and nothing in my life was glamorous at 14.  

14 is the very peak of those lovely years where awkwardness is a way of life and it's only accentuated by mood swings.  It's like, you want to tell that 14 year old you, "Trust me, the only thing that has a chance at resuscitating these years of uncomfortable hormones, bad fashion, and even worse hair...is a good attitude" Oh but no...somehow acting aloof, shy, or hyper was the better response.  

So that's where I was in life when I found myself shopping for "Family Camp".  

You see, one weekend a year, our family would attend the most intimidating and nerve-wracking event where all the coolest, most beautiful, athletic, musical, hilarious, spiritual, and confident people would show up.  It was basically the Oscars of my life...but instead, it was called "Family Camp"...and no one was giving me any awards. 

I remember having the thought, "Why is it that none of them sweat...or if they do, it just looks like an amazing glisten?" as I would nervously be wiping the sweat from my upper lip hoping people weren't noticing the sweat-stache.  There was a year where I remember sitting on the bottom bunk watching two girls in my cabin "primp" before dinner.  There was teasing, curling, spraying...and all I could do was wish I had thought to bring a curling iron and hairspray for this new thing called "primping" I'd never heard of.  You're welcome for the visual image I just gifted you of the three of us walking into dinner. 

But this year was going to be different.  I was going to show up to family camp like a superstar.  I wasn't going to be caught in some stupid outfit...or the SAME outfit.  However, this became a bit difficult when I had a mother who wasn't going to feed into my vanity by buying me a new wardrobe and instead would give me some talk on "just looking out for others who need a friend as well".  Ugh. Why? Why do I always have to be that person?? Can't I, just for once in my life, be the cool girl?? 

So, my task at hand?...create 4 outfits with $27.  What do you do at this age?  You head to DOTS in our local stripmall...where everything is $9.99 or less. I walked out of that store so pleased with myself having bought a navy polo shirt...but not to be mistaken for RL Polo. Oh. No.  

On the front was a picture of Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny playing polo and in big cartoon lettering it said, "LOONEY TUNES POLO CLUB". I figured, it was basically the same thing as a Ralph Lauren Polo; a tiny little man on a horse playing polo...two huge cartoon characters on horses playing polo.  It seemed logical to me.  So I bought it...with a very satisfied grin on my face.  

And Oh! I also found the best pair of bermuda shorts to go with this outfit as they were green, navy, and white stripped...vertical stripes...as I was taught vertical stripes were slimming.  That's exactly what you want...to accentuate the "bermuda" in shorts as a 14 year old.  

This was the outfit I was wearing when I climbed out of the van on that hot and muggy day in Indiana.  We were one of the last ones to arrive to Family Camp and as soon as I looked at the group of teenagers standing there...my heart dropped to the pit of my stomach like a bowling ball and I began to sweat as I realized...this year, Umbro shorts were the thing.  Not bermuda shorts. Umbros.

Were bermuda shorts EVER a thing? I wondered.  (No, Tami-girl. They weren't.)  

There was no mistaking these looong cotton shorts (that felt like 15 lbs of cloth) for the short nylon ones EVERYONE ELSE was wearing.  Suddenly my stripes felt veeeerrryyy vertical and anything but slimming.  

And no.  No one was wearing a collared polo shirt.  They were ready for sports and activities.  They had tank-tops or t-shirts rolled up and tucked like you do...and guess what you can't roll and tuck? A polo shirt.  Here came the sweat-stache.

This was me at 14...standing on the gravel driveway in Northeastern Indiana at Family Camp.  I swallowed a very huge lump I could feel forming in my throat.  This was going to be another hard year at Family Camp.

Now, if my life were a movie, this story would end with a cute boy falling for me and somehow me being crowned prom queen.  Even if there were no prom...somehow, I'd be crowned queen.  

But this wasn't a movie...and I think the weekend went much like that moment.  I think I found myself hiding out in a bathroom stall a few times, being the outside person to a deep and intimate conversations being had around a campfire, being "that girl" in a volleyball game who's trying to act like I'm not terrified of being hit by the ball.  I'm a bad actress.

In fact, if I remember right, I didn't pack enough outfits and had to end up wearing the vertical stripes again...because, as hard as it is to believe, it was the best of my outfits packed.  What could be worse you ask??  Two words: Iron-ons + Norman Rockwell.  Yes, I was also in an "iron-on" phase of my life...but that's for another post at another time. 

I had to wear those shorts for the next couple years...and never with the joy in which they were purchased.  

From time to time, I still find myself wearing my hypothetical bermuda shorts showing up to a party of Umbros.  It may be a financial, relational, or family status I think I'm not meeting...just anything that makes it feel like I can't quite hit some perceived standard I think others have set.  And it can feel very similar to when I was standing there on that gravel driveway.  

However, if I could walk up to that girl 20 years later, first, I'd put my arm around her and say, "Nice shorts." ;)

...and then I'd say, "It's okay. It really is...and the truth is? No one cares." 

It's true.  No one cares.  Because we're all too worried caring about our version of bermuda shorts and Looney Tunes Polos.  Sometimes, it's easier to offer grace and kindness to the 14 year old me...but I'm still that 14 year old and have to remind myself that "It's okay.  It really is."  I'd say, "Lift your head up, rock those vertical stripes and trade embarrassment for loving on others...trust me.  That's the better investment."

...and truth be told?  It can also make for really funny stories. ;)