My husband is an officer in the army reserves, so that means I have to deal with a lot of army stuff – long deployments, weekend drills, this haircut, an inscrutable language of acronyms. Recently, military nomenclature has infiltrated our family life in that Jake has taken to persuading our 2-year-old to address him as “sir.”
As in, “yes, sir,” and “no, sir.” If you feel like you’ve suddenly been sucked back in time, welcome to my house.
The first time it happened, we were having breakfast. Jake asked June if she’d like more milk. Like a lot of 2-year-olds, she doesn’t always remember to add a “please” to her yeses and “thank you” to her nos. Instead, she said, “Yeah.” Jake gave her a look and asked, “What’s that you say?” She suddenly remembered: “Yes, please, Daddy.” To which he – apparently not satisfied with this exercise in old-fashioned character building – replied, “How about, ‘Yes, sir?’”
“Yes, sir!” she said with a grin.
“For real?” I asked. “You’re going to make our 2-year-old call you ‘sir?’”
“Why not?” he said. “That’s how I had to address people at military college. It teaches honor and respect.”
“Nothing is wrong with ‘Yes, sir’ when used in conjunction with ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, Have You Any Wool.’ In any other context, it sounds Leave it to Beaver.”
“Well, I think it’s nice,” he said. “What do you think, June? Will you call dad, ‘yes, sir?’”
“Yes, sir!” she parroted.
They say in marriage it’s important to pick your battles, and this is one of those battles I don’t want to pick. If Jake wants to instill a military code of rank and honor in our daughter and turn her into G.I. Jane (G.I. June!), I say, go for it. Makes my job easier. Maybe she’ll pick up her crap when I tell her to. Me, I skew more toward Private Benjamin or Camp Beverly Hills. Between the two of us as parents – Sargent Suffering on one side and proud wearer of jeggings on the other – hopefully June will fall somewhere in the middle.
Since moving to Virginia, I’ve had to get used to people calling me “ma’am.” I despised it at first because it sounded, to my Urban Outfitters shopping sensibilities, anyway, so cheerful and patronizingly chipper coming from some young, cornfed 19-year-old cadet in uniform. “Good morning, ma’am! How you doing, ma’am! You look old, ma’am!” That was the subtext I couldn’t get away from; “ma’am” is synonymous with “not young” which in turn means “Sweatin’ to the Oldies.” But I’ve come to accept (also known as, beaten down by life) that “sir” and “ma’am” are part of Southern culture, a tie to the region’s rich, manners-heavy heritage. There’s no getting around these monikers, so I may as well embrace them while trying not to cringe.
“Do you want another piece of toast?” I asked June.
“Yeah…” she said.
“How about ‘yes, ma’am?’” said Jake.
I held up my palm. “Hell to the no. June is not calling me ‘ma’am.’ I am mom.”
I’m too much of a mush ball — and way too vain — to be called anything else.