Nancy Kerrigan


    To the chagrin of all my past professors and editors, I’m pretty adroit at avoiding controversy in my writing. Not a fan of the sensationalistic big headline stories, I’ll read them, but generally leave their coverage to those more itchy for a scoop than I. 

    
But the Kerrigan family story recently played out publicly in the courtroom and media has gotten my attention. Less for its front page drama splash than for the complex back story that was surely built upon decades of painful day-to-day mini-dramas. Because as many of us may see Mark Kerrigan’s sentence to two-and-a-half years in prison in connection to the death of his father as a story’s closure, I am certain those closest to the family understand that it is but another chapter in a life-long saga dictated by addiction. 

    
So much of this story’s coverage seems scripted for television. For Nancy’s sake, I hope no one chooses to further exploit what would most likely have remained a family’s personal tragedy, had in not been for the renown of one of its members. Perhaps the producers of such fare will take a pass –it does seem a bit too easy.




    Each of the actors in this particular drama played exactly the role one might expect; no plot twists, no shocking last-minute revelations.




    The sister, whose success outshone the other members of her family, stood up for her big brother. And in speaking for the victim, she said with likely accuracy that “my dad never would have wanted any of this.” 

    
The District Attorney spoke of accountability, but in the aftermath of victory, the Assistant DA acknowledged that “there are no winners here.” 

    
In handing down the maximum sentence, the judge pointed to “a middle-aged man” and his “repeated failure to address substance abuse and mental health issues.”




    Most telling, though, may have been the statement read by Mark’s aunt on behalf of his mother. Brenda Kerrigan said that she had “lost her husband and, for the last 16 months, have had only a shadow of my son.” My guess is that her son has been lost in the shadow of his addiction for much longer than that.

    
Anyone who’s been touched by alcoholism, even at its periphery, knows its cost is great. Certainly at its heart is always a single wasted life, lost potential, sacrificed relationships. But none of us is an island and the very connectedness that makes us human can also render us helplessly attached to those we love and the havoc they may wreck. The collateral damage of addiction spreads like shrapnel. None are left fully unaffected: parents, grandparents, spouses, aunts, uncles, children. And, yes little sisters. 

    
Families have a certain order to them and regardless of how old Nancy is or how well she’s managed in her life, in one facet of it, she remains Mark’s little sister. The seeds to her unconditional support for him were planted long ago. As difficult as it may be for her to continue to stand up for someone who continually lets her down, sometimes, it’s harder not to. Because hidden in the shadows of Mark’s addiction are stories that only a family can know, and which, to the chagrin of television producers, they most likely will remain unwilling to share.

Advertisements

Blame It on the Tooth Fairy


    We certainly didn’t originate the concept, but we are perpetuating it. And inflating it, apparently. My sister-in-law, who works in our town’s K-3 school, says the going rate of a lost tooth these days is five bucks. Wow. For virtue of a throw away to every other species on the planet, our kids are yielding some serious bucks.




    In the name of tradition, we’re padding their pillows with cash and sending a message: minimum effort = maximum return. 

    
Hmm.

    
Before you berate my dis to the Tooth Fairy, consider that Santa at least expects good behavior and that the Easter Bunny demands a bit of hunting proficiency. But not the Tooth Fairy. She doesn’t even grade the teeth, or consider the pain with which they may have been extracted. Based solely upon bodily function –in with new teeth, out with old- she delivers reward. Not a bad pay structure, if you can get it.

    
And they can –because we allow it. 

    
Not just by means of the Tooth Fairy but in so many other contemporary versions of the metaphor. By handing out trophies to everyone, by inflating grades and tossing accolades like confetti. And by telling our offspring that they are ALL wonderful. 

    
And they are. Just not at everything.




    That’s more the message we should be sending. Because the problem with giving them much without getting much from them is that it sets the bar pretty low. Instead of being rewarded for a job well done, they’re just being rewarded. 

    
Back in the 20th century when I grew up (makes us all sound old, huh?), my friend and I had our summers pretty easy. We’d hang in the neighborhood, ride our bikes, hop from pool-to-pool. We’d also play a lot of mini golf, hit the arcade and buy ourselves ice cream cones. But our excursions to the big dinosaur weren’t financed by our parents. Not directly anyway. Before we could head out to the links, we had to earn the cash. Okay, it wasn’t digging trenches, but it was work –we’d wash cars, most typically those of our parents. The interesting thing was that while my mom was a pushover with regard to how well we did our job, my friend’s dad was not. His car needed to be spotless and scrubbed to perfection. Our golf money wasn’t handed over until his car underwent a pretty vigorous inspection. Often, there was a redo involved. We weren’t very happy. But what a good message he sent. We got paid only for a job well done.

    
I relate the story not just in a nod to summertime nostalgia, but also because I wonder how often we demand a redo from our own kids. I know I’m too often guilty of letting things slide. As a toddler, Alex made her bed with tight corners and patted down ruffles; now there’s a tangle of covers heaped in a pile. At one time, every lego and choo choo had a set-in-stone home in her brother’s room. Those toys could very well still be there –buried under the pile of clean clothes Michael pulls from every morning as he gets dressed. Oh, how our standards have slipped.

    
I have an interesting relationship with the professors at my school. Interesting, I say, because I rarely meet them. Instead, I get to know them only through the eyes of their students. I find it particularly telling when two students give me completely opposing viewpoints of the same professor. Says more about the student than the teacher, I know. But from this limited scope, I have chosen the professors that I like best, not for who they are, but rather for how they teach. And, of course, how they treat my students. I like when the expectations placed upon my kids are clear and the deadlines are unwavering. And the other thing I really like –is when the bar is high. Because I know my students can reach it. 

    
I have two students upon whom I rely to give me accurate assessments of the professors. Both of them are bright and capable and both of them have received their share of poor grades. What is telling is that when given the recent option to opt for the easy teacher or the one with the reputation of being a hardass, they both chose the latter. Not because they’re type A or because they seek fulfillment from a teacher; they’re not, they don’t. Instead, it’s because they recognize the difference between mediocrity and the reach for perfection. Not perfection. Just the idea of it as a beacon from which to chart a course. 

    
What I’ve discovered is that our kids don’t really mind reaching to high expectations. They just need to know where they are and maybe be given a little guidance on how to get there.




Bridging Divides


    My son has a girlfriend. And I like her.

    
Which is probably okay with Michael. More likely, my input on his love life falls to the apathy pit of his emotion with regard to anything parent-related. An actual objection from him would indicate that he cared. Or noticed.

    
Way too much effort.

    
What he may not be as comfortable with, though, is that she seems to like me, too.




    And I can’t imagine that notion fits well into a world where the parent-child divide spans like the width of Grand Canyon.

    
Ah, the Grand Canyon. 

    
The family vacation which my husband still refers to as the time I tried to kill him. (He’s not much of an adventurer.)



    And which I call the trip-of-a-lifetime.

    
Because it was.

    
Not only for the photo-stop memories that set three generations against a backdrop unlike any other on the planet.

    
But also for that slice of nine-year-old boy that seems such a juxtaposition against the 17-year-old near-man with whom we now live.

    
Hard to believe that Michael is the same boy who mom and dad protectively shuffled to the boat’s rear as we settled in. Showed how much we knew about whitewater rafting and inflatable boats –we had positioned him most decidedly at the craft’s bow, the best place to enjoy the ride. And also to be swallowed whole by the mammoth rapids we would encounter. Go figure.

    
And then again, warned of an impending day of wet, wild, and frosty rapids coming our way, we wrapped Michael in a blue rubber suit that would have fitted better if he were first mate to Captain Ahab. Sure, the water was cold, but temperatures hit 116 degrees that day. The poor kid was at the mercy of his parents’ pitiful effort at protection.




    And, to some extent, he still is.
 
    
Unfortunately, today there are no guides creeping alongside the rapid-riding youngster to assure his safety from plummeting conditions. And we’ve got no trusted adult giving Michael a parental reprieve and lessons on the right way to get up close to a rattlesnake (Dad still maintains there is no right way).

    
One of my students refers to me as her life coach. Apparently, calling myself that actually would require some sort of education and certification. What I am, more likely, is a sort of bridge between her generation and my own. I get to “coach” her not by benefit of school degree, but rather by life degree. And span the chasm that could separate us by offering up a rope of knowledge without placing too much expectation upon her. Or judgment. 

    
As parents, we expect, and too often –we judge.  To some extent, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do. After all, we’re the ones who brought them into this world. And we will be judged by what impact they make upon it. But we should, perhaps, let the judgments fall away.  Our own, but more importantly, our concern for others’, as well.
 
    
Our kids would certainly appreciate that.




    Because they’re judged enough by their peers. 

    
In Michael’s case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Despite his ill-fit to the world-at-large, he seems a good fit to most of his friends. His girlfriend seems to like him. More importantly, she thinks he’s a good person. And with a maturity that contradicts her age, she says she understands my own frustration at the path he’s been heading down recently. She maintains, though, that he will find his way to the other side. I could lay off her faith in Michael on the love-is-blind foundation of young relationships or simple naiveté. Or I could attribute it to optimism, as yet unjaded by time.

    
But instead, I want to trust that this girl has insight, which I may have lost, into the young man I am still trying to raise. I also want to believe that for every guide in Michael’s life now who is introducing him to rattlesnakes, there are others still showing him how to keep a proper grip on life so he doesn’t fall too far off balance.

Ch-ch-ch-changes


    Michael didn’t transition terribly well as a child. Little things, like leaving my arms to go to another’s, getting in the tub, getting out of the tub –took actual planning . When we visited Disney with him as a toddler, he decided, pretty adamantly, that seeing Mickey simply wasn’t worth the price of not sleeping in his own bed. He staged an escape from the hotel room sometime after midnight.

    
Alex, on the other hand, slipped from day-to-day, calamity-to-calamity with little pause. With regard to travel, I may have set the stage for a bit of that non-drama because in an effort to shield her from the what-ifs of a canceled trip, I rarely informed her of plans until they were set in motion. On more than one occasion, my little girl woke in the morning with no notion that by evening she’d be airplane-delivered to a new destination. In hindsight, that bit of parental protection had its own cost. We rarely enjoyed together the fun of planning a trip. There was no anticipation –only action. But then again, that may have well-suited my always-ready-to-go kid. Transitions were no problem for Alexandra.

    
Until now.

    
Are you looking forward to graduation? is the new question with which Alex is greeted by most every adult she encounters these days. To which she gives an honest reply: no.

    
And she’s not kidding. In fact, the simple word understates the passion it belies.




    Her no is pretty resounding. It speaks to her honesty (see previous post) and contradicts her resilience (see previous post). 

    
But it really isn’t that hard to understand.




    She’s happy. Happy where she is, with what she’s doing, and most importantly with who she is.

    
Alexa (her choice of name-change, not mine) is a beautiful 21-year-old college senior. She has a good group of friends, a couple of part-time jobs, a family who loves and supports her. 

    
Life is good.




    But it hasn’t always been.




    For big reasons and little ones, Alexa has suffered her share of life’s disappointments. But she’s reached the other side of a whole lot of them, now. And the view from this end of the tunnel is pretty good. 

    
What’s damn scary, though, is what comes next.




    Mostly because she doesn’t know what that is.




    And it’s the not knowing that’s pulling her through the stages of grief she recently posted as her Facebook status. Not knowing is scary. But by now, there’s a whole lot of stuff she should know.

    
Someone should tell her.




    Oh God, that someone’s probably me.




    Sweetie, you should know, and more importantly believe, what I’ve always told you: that every day you do something that makes me proud.
 
    
You should know that, although she’s still inside you, you are not the third-grader who had to suffer the torment of other girls. You no longer have to temper your exuberance to the expectations of others; you’re not bound by their constraints. The women in your life now seem to get you and I think, love you in part, because of the very spirit that you’ve sometimes tried to hide.




    I am so glad that you believe your sisters have your back. But long before they came into your life, you had a HUGE family who would do anything for you. You got that free, had it from the get-go. 

    
All the other stuff, you earned –big time.

    
You deserve the diploma, but also a whole lot of accolades that go along with it. Not only because of who you are, but also because of who you have become.




    You are an amazing young woman. You are savvy and sure and resilient, but also warm and passionate and caring. You have a depth of emotions, and you shouldn’t fear the weight of their pull. You’re strong enough now to weather the tide and the turbulence. Literally, from the day you were born, you were fighting a battle. But you’ve always won. And you always will.




    That I believe this should count for something. I still think I know you better than anyone. That I believe in you should count for more.




    Trust me.




    Or better still, trust yourself.