Sweet Music



    Alex wasn’t a napper. Although she slept through the night early-on, she was up most all of the day.




    So, to get the occasional daylight break from my very active infant, I needed to be creative. After much new-parent experimentation, I discovered that the most effective trick in my toolbox of sleep techniques was placing Alex in her swing and playing a selection from Phantom of the Opera.

    
If you’re familiar with the musical, there is a beautiful love song that closes the first act. Alex would eventually learn All I Ask of You on piano as a gift to me. Offering protection and the soothing of wide-eyed fears, the piece makes for a beautifully resonate lullaby.

    
All I Ask of You, however, wasn’t the tune to which my daughter settled to sleep. Instead, the one surefire song that sent my baby to slumber was the powerful and loud instrumentation of the overture. To the music of a bellowing organ, a bass-heavy assortment of orchestra brass and woodwinds, a flourishing accompaniment of strings and a powerful selection of percussion that included a loudly vibrating timpani, Alex would nod off.




    A fit to her personality in many ways, but also perhaps a supporting
argument for the unwitting influence of invitro activity.




    Convinced that having babies might put a damper on my frequent theatre treks to New York (big understatement), I had to see Phantom before delivery. Paying a premium for the seats (Alex’s dad still doesn’t know just how much I shelled out for those tickets) and flying to New York when perhaps I shouldn’t have (apparently airlines discourage women from flying too close to their due dates), I made the trip, saw the play, was captivated by the music.

    
And apparently so was my unborn child.

    
Phantom wasn’t the only musical backdrop to her young life, however.




    I love music. I’ve shared that love and the full assortment of my musical library and tastes with my children.




    Soon, they began to return the favor. 

    
First it was the music of their laughter, belly giggles that bubbled from deep in their tiny bodies and spilled over in sparkles from their eyes. Then there were the school-learned ditties they performed in public and private recitals, over and over -and over. Still later, it was the litany of their conversation, a multitude of newly-found syllables and sentences. 

    
But finally, it was their own selection of radio stations and CDs that wrested away my full control of the musical sounds emanating from the stereo and the car radio.




    Being older, Alex held sway with her idolizing younger brother for a bit. Then, he fell under the more musically diverse influences of his older cousin Jonathon.




    A war ensued. And I was left to straddle a demilitarized zone between a battle-of-the-bands conflict as the clash of their tastes played out from side-by-side bedrooms. Their versions of what constituted “good” music were vastly different from one another, and neither of them had a problem with upping the amperage in an effort to drown out the musical competition next door.


 


    Michael emerged the victor. In part, because he is the truer musician, but also in a nod to the diversity of his tastes. The performers who flavor his musical palate are too numerous to list: Thelonious Monk, Stevie Wonder, Victor Wooten, Dave Matthews, Radiohead, The Beatles, The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The list is varied, wide and willingly and continually expanding.

    
Not only does he fill up and often control the IPod dock; he replicates the music of his favorite artists and creates much of his own.

    
He plays -just about everything. And brings in his friends to jam with him.




    Our house has an open floor plan. There isn’t a room from which you can escape the sound of the music.




    But then, I don’t really try.




    With the exception of his occasional drum solos, I embrace the tunes, dance and sing (poorly) along. Because, the thing is, it’s really good music.

    
I’ll admit I miss the melody of giggling babies, questioning toddlers, curious little kids. I miss my son’s voice in meandering conversation. I miss the connection, the words, the interaction.




    But for now, I’ll have to accept their alternative.
 
    
Because even in the dearth of conversation, I still hear traces of who my son is in his music. If I listen closely enough, I hear Michael -in his music.

    
Sweet, sweet music.


Keys to the Time Machine



    The keys are more likely to land in the laps of my children these days, but I doubt they notice the weight or understand its value. I’m sure the offerings would earn a much more worthy reaction if they came attached to a logo-emblazoned key chain.


    But they don’t.


    So it’s likely that the kids and their cousins miss the lead-in nuances. That they don’t sense movement of the vehicle until they’re fully onboard.


    Once strapped in, though, they’re in for the full ride. Usually, quite entranced and willing.


    I’m still a kid in the eyes of the next generation up, so I’m able to enjoy an occasional trip on the time machine, myself.


    Always a treat. Often a surprise.


    One of my students was recently assigned an audio project whereby he would record an interview with someone who had been a “witness to history.” His particular task was made more difficult because he didn’t have a means off campus.


    No worry, I assured him, among my peers and me, surely we could find a witness or two.


    Not so easy.


    The lot of us proved just a little too young, and a little too lacking in the pulse-of-the nation experiences that might have set us front-and-center at a few world events. Collective minds together, we came up with the one person who perhaps had the right resume.


    It worked. Norm at least had the college campus recollection of listening to the somber toll of bells that indicated President Kennedy had been assassinated.


    When I shared this story in a family setting, my mom, aunts and uncles, offered their recollections of where they were the day that Kennedy was shot. They each remembered. Vividly.


    But it was my uncle’s nonchalant memory of his buddy rushing to retrieve him with the statement,  Jack’s been shot. C’mon we’ve got to get back to the White House.


    What? Huh?


    You were in D.C. when Kennedy got killed?


    A shoulder shrug.


    How did I not know this? How did WE not know?


    (I called my cousin on the way home; she had no idea.)


    Let me explain. My uncle is not some political stalwart. He’s not a diplomat or a dignitary. This was merely one of those place-and-time situations. He was stationed in D.C. Just happened to be there as history unfolded.


    (Btw, he also attended the funeral, but I’m getting too far astray of the time machine message.)


    My uncle and his siblings hold keys.


    Last Thanksgiving, the same uncle regaled with stories of the Lavadora man, who rounded the streets of Boston selling his magical bleaching water. Holding court around a table full of food and family, he took us all back. To another time, to a different era.


    It was as if Einstein’s musings on the fluidity of time travel were being tested outside the lab, fueled on a satiated hunger, a bit of wine, and a rapt audience.


    The kids were enthralled. Some of the big kids were, as well.


    I wonder that we don’t appreciate the treasure chests available to us all while we still have access to their keys. What’s so easily unlocked with a small prod or a simple question can also be too easily lost. Unless we’re wise enough to grab a hold of the keys and give the time machine an occasional spin.







   




Motley Crew


    My brother and I were standing at the back of the room when I looked to the people gathered around the family members.


    What a motley crew, I whispered to him.


    He glanced up, nodded and chuckled.


    We weren’t being unkind or inappropriately disrespectful in such a somber setting. It was merely an observation.


    And an accurate one, at that.


    Surrounding the casket of Mikey Fat (seriously –his lifelong nickname) were an assortment of my father’s childhood friends. Among the dignitaries were a construction worker, an accountant, a bachelor who’d managed to live unemployed until his forties, an attorney who’d gone afoul of his clients and the law, and the now-passed Mikey Fat –a much overweight gentle soul whose idiosyncrasies would have had him diagnosed with server neurosis if such  a term were used in his day.


    The commonality for these men was the corner in Eastie on which they all stood as boys. Hanging out, shooting hoops, shooting-the-shit, as my father might have said.


    That my father’s loyalties to this mismatched mix of men never wavered said something about the time in which he grew up. It said, I think, more about him.


    I remember my dad asking me to pen a letter in his name on behalf of the lawyer friend. The fact that my father’s own moral compass couldn’t have tolerated such a transgression didn’t matter. His friend was in trouble. You do for your friends. Like you do for your family. You stand by them, no matter what rules they had broken, no matter what mistakes had been made.


    The ideal may sound quaint in today’s world of ever-altering alliances.


    But I wonder often about that very simple premise –of standing up for and by someone, of having his back. And why it is today on such infrequent display. I see so little evidence of it in the world, in general, but more sadly in the generation of children who have become adults under my watch.


    When I asked one of my students recently how many of her college friends she expected to keep after graduation, she said she wasn’t sure, then quickly turned the question back to me –how many had I continued to call friend?


    None.


    Not the answer she had expected.


    Nor was its addendum –probably because I kept my high school friends.


    The fact that many of the people who remain most important in my life have known me since I was a kid probably says something about me. I’m not sure what. Am I unadventurous because I live within a 25 mile radius of where I was born and hold onto the connections that geography makes easy? Does my still dependable circle of friends indicate that I’m loyal or lazy?


    Hmmm.


    My friends would likely form a line alongside allegiance. But they can hardly criticize my long-term fidelity without calling into question their own.


    My father, my mother, my brother –all share this bent toward long-lasting relationships. Even my oldest brother, who traveled the world, brought along with him on his life’s journey a few of his closest hometown friends. I think he was better for it.


    I think we all are.


    My kids and my students seem to understand the bond of family. They get the idea of unconditional love from/to a parent or a sibling. I don’t know, though, if they see the potential for it elsewhere. Or rather, maybe they think they do –but then are too often disappointed. They either feel first-hand betrayal, or are themselves too quickly willing to forego effort for expediency.


    Maybe it’s all part of their hyper-connectedness beyond small circles. These digital natives seem to communicate well with the world. They do less well, however, communicating across a room. And the speed with which they do most everything seems to foster impatience.


    And if a relationship is truly going to stand the test of time, it demands a certain measure of patience.


    And perseverance -and loyalty.


    I  understand that  my young charges cannot fully fathom the notion of having friendships that have lasted as long as they have been alive.


    Makes me sound old. And maybe a bit naïve –because I still hold dear to a long ago ideal of loyalty that my father taught me so well.

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.

Unrivaled Siblings


    But then they’re supposed to be circling wagons of their own.




    I missed the lead-up to my nephews coming near blows with one another. And I wasn’t in the kitchen when my daughter fell to “ratting out” her brother via text.




    But something’s atilt.




    In the Us vs. Them ideal that set off this blog in the first place, our kids are supposed to stay the “them.” And when they cross over enemy lines, even if only for reconnaissance, something’s not right with the world.




    An editor friend who follows the blog and knew of Michael’s ironic help in its development, suggested I offer him his own forum. A rebuttal of sorts, for him and his kind.




    When I threw out the idea, I received a shoulder shrug to the notion of work.




    C’mon, I urged, it could be your very own parents-suck-dot-net.




    But that pretty much says it all,
he assured.




    And, of course, that was the appropriate response.




    What isn’t is silence between brothers or tattles from sisters.




    I could leap to the obvious and pull from the song   –you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone- but that too-far-off concept is likely as lost on them as it would have been on me.




    I was in college when I first got a clear picture that my family might be different from those of my peers. Not in the solidarity they had among their own siblings but rather in the harbinger of their future in the form of their extended families. Everyone back then assumed I had a huge family. I didn’t. But while they had cousins they sort of knew, mine were like siblings. Second and third cousins along were still included in our family gatherings. Bonds that were long ago formed in my family had apparently been set in concrete. On the contrary, their families seemed small –they weren’t- because aunts weren’t talking to aunts and uncles had forsaken their brothers.




    Huh?




    I still don’t get that.




    Family comes first. Those weren’t just words my father said. They were condition and creed. Fact. As sure as the sun. Family before god, before country, before anything else. Always.




    My brothers and I fought as kids, didn’t always see eye-to-eye on our way to adulthood, but there are no take-backsies with family. You get what you get –and you stand by it. No matter what. For my brothers and me, we knew the drill like we knew our name. Family first.




    So when our kids are fighting, although I know that they’ll land where we did, I still take pause. Because I look to the too many others with whom they’re surrounded. Girls who don’t talk to their sisters; boys who can’t stomach their brothers. And I look to the adults in my own life who’ve left behind siblings like neighbors from first neighborhoods. For reasons espoused, laid well and sure. Someone wronged, slighted or slurred. It’s money or rivalry or challenges or lack of support.




    And I hear. Really, I do. There are so many shades of gray that can splinter a family.



But in spite of the rainbow that acts as my Facebook photo, there are areas where gray isn’t my favorite color. Black and white are the only shades I understand when it comes to family. You stand by them, no matter what.



    And whether it’s in mimicry of Joan Baez or Counting Crows or the next generation of singer who follows the mantra, I’ll reiterate the line: you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone….