Saturday, December 11, 2010


Here is what now passes for a good time at our house: smearing ketchup on ones face, followed by jauntily chasing the cat while wearing a pair a mittens.

I would say that this is a radical departure from my former life, but then I think back to the days before we got married and had the K-Man: various cookouts, parties, weddings, post-wedding parties, holiday parties, Red Sox games, that trip to Vegas, weeks on the Cape, UFC nights at the apartment...really, this isn't that much different. Slightly less alcohol (among other things) involved now, but the spirit is the same.

This got me thinking about getting older and how much we really change over the years. K-Man, Muck and me visited my grandmother on her 85th birthday the other day. While sitting around and shooting the breeze, my grandfather and I somehow ended up on the subject of our last name.

"You know where it comes from, don't you?"

"Sure," I said, "I found that website." The website I refer to is one dedicated to Tormey Family genealogy--I think I posted about it here before--in which they explain that our last name is derived from something that roughly translates to "Thor's People," a relic of our Nordic Ancestry. Anyway, the discussion veered off into familiar territory, if you've ever spoken with my grandfather: his theory that our family is really descended from a tribe of nomadic Jews from Lebanon who fled their homeland on the instruction of a prophecy that they find a land with no snakes. Or something.

Now, I'm not saying my grandfather is wrong about his theory. He's read more about it than almost anyone I know. Instead, the point of the story is this: it would be easy to chalk this outlandish explanation of my family history to my grandfather's age (he's almost 90) but the truth of the matter is, as far back as I can remember, he's always been talking about crazy-sounding shit like this. It isn't that his brain is breaking down or what ever predictable result of living through the depression and fighting through the War and surviving disco, the '86 World Series and George Bush Jr. My grandfather is just a weird dude, much in the same way that most male Tormeys are just weird dudes. I am no exception.

For about 8 months of a year when I was two or three, I wouldn't leave the house without a towel pinned to my shirt or tied around my neck. This is one of my mother's favorite stories about me, one that no girl I brought home ever managed to escape.  The towel was my cape, as I had seen the Superman movie and become obsessed. This is a cute story if told in a vacuum, that is, if you never hear another thing about my life after I started wearing the cape and pretending that I was The Last Son of Krypton. But to anyone who knows anything at all about what happened after that, that story always serves as the "Aha!" moment, the key to understanding that yes, I have always been this way, obsessed with super-heroes and stories, since before my fourth birthday. It wasn't the result of clever marketing campaign. There was no childhood trauma that left me starved for a savior figure (my rejection of the Catholic Church, and religion in general, prove this). No, as it turns out, I AM JUST BUILT THIS WAY.

So what's really been on mind since snapping that picture of K-Mitts and talking about family history is this idea that people change as they get older. I used to think this was true, but now that I'm getting to watch someone become a person from scratch, I'm not so sure. Once K's personality began to manifest, around 6 months or so, if I remember right, he's been nothing but pure K since. He's grown a lot, got some teeth, stopped depending on his mother's milk to live, crawled, walked, run. One constant has been his obsession with letters. He can't get enough of them, especially "W." He loves books and Elmo/Ernie/Cookie Monster/Sesame Street/his cousin Charlie, too, and has for as long as I can remember.

I'm sure every parent can think back about their children from the early days to present and do something similar. If she were still around, I bet my great-grandmother Nana-Banana Tormey could do the same with my grandfather. So, what's the point? I'm not sure. I haven't thought about this enough yet. But what I'm starting to believe is this about nature vs. nurture: we are all born with specific traits--physical, emotional, psychological--that are embedded within our DNA and cannot be altered by anything but a bottle of Jameson, and even then, the change is only temporary. These traits are neither good or bad, they just are. For years I was told my ADD was a learning disability, but you know what? I learn fine. Your school just sucks for people like me. That's not anyone's fault, it just is. So while our personality and predilections are shaped from those first moments of enjoining DNA and cell division, whether we become good or bad people, whatever that means, relies mostly on how our parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, whoever, react to who we are. If we're made to feel comfortable with it, we probably do fine. If not, wires short out and get crossed, and trouble comes. You can still end up OK, it's just harder.

So does all this mean that when I see sixteen year old Kieran mowing the lawn in July with a pair of mitten on, I'll leave it alone? My guess is that if it means I don't have to mow the lawn, the kid could wear a dress for all I care.


  1. There is so much I love about this. I wish I had time to comment about it all. It'll have to suffice to say I was nodding and laughing the whole way through.

  2. Oh, and since what I'm supposed to be doing right now is writing about education, the part about ADD struck me. It IS someone's fault - maybe not any one person, but collectively, we have not gotten it right yet and it shouldn't be that way. That wasn't what I wanted to say though. I really just wanted to say how awesome I thought this line was: "I learn just fine. Your school just sucks for people like me." And I'm glad I found someone else who uses the word "just" as much as I do.

  3. Thank you. And I HATE that I use it that much. I never notice until I re-read.

  4. i already worry about school and ce, as she climbs around the house doing everything, eating, watching bird, all those things, how is she going to whittle it all down into school?

  5. The problem with school, public or private, is the model. It was constructed in a different age for a different set of needs with what information was available at the time. The way we teach kids needs to be much more open to what we know now, and maybe we always did, about how many different ways people have of learning. One kid might be good with words, another numbers, some both, some are better with hammers and wrenches. I get conflicted on at what age it's appropriate to say, "Don't worry about subject A, just focus on subject B." And how to expect teachers with 25-30 other kids in the class to devote the time to identifying the exceptions. When K goes to school I'm going to be a nervous wreck.

  6. Did you guys see this?

    Because, TOTALLY stressing Reilly as he advances. He already has issues with paying attention, and mostly because he already KNOWS things like how to count to 100, his colors and shapes, and phonetics. The only time we hear him excited about school? When he learns something new in what amounts to English class. He also does beginning addition and subtraction, and they've had him tested because he's advanced in reading. But I REALLY don't want to have him skip a grade, which I know mainstream ed is veering away from, but clearly at the kindergarten level, there's no like, advanced classes he can go into or anything, you know? So he's bored, and instead of like, cutting out the acorn so he can glitter it, he takes the scrap paper and starts creating whatever is in his mind at that moment. And I want to encourage that free-thinking, you know? But I need him to also learn that there's a time and a place and that the odds are good you will be working FOR someone eventually, and you have to understand that buckling down and doing what you're told is the way it is. It is scary, honestly. I'm just afraid that his creative soul will be dampened, and that would break my heart. But I don't want him to be without the skills necessary to be an amazing employee either.

    Incidentally John, in this household? They're called 'flies.' Hahaha! And Reilly STILL hasn't outgrown wanting to be dressed as a superhero. Liam of course wants to be JUST like his awesome big brother, and is following in his footsteps. ;-)

  7. I have seen that video! I think I posted it on my facebook a while ago...

    About the creative soul vs. model employee conundrum, I don't think one excludes the other. One thing you learn at home and in school is that there are some rules that just aren't worth breaking, and if you do, there will be consequences. I haven't always been the model employee, mainly because I hate hard-ass bosses. This is where I have to give my dad a lot of credit: he's the kind of boss who gets stuff done without having to yell or act tough, except in my case, but only when I was a 20 year old punk. And if some kid is the same way, maybe that inspires them to be their own boss?

    I've been reading a book about the civil war recently and I found the sections about what employment in the North looked like pre-industrialization the most interesting, especially since we seem to be living in a post-industrial economy. Craftsmen and tradesmen were your carpenters and bakers and such and they HATED being confined to a facorty as opposed to a shop, and equally hated having a boss setting start and stop times and telling them not to drink on the job (seriously). I think we're moving back to that type of world. Skilled workers of all kinds are going to be their own bosses more and more.

  8. Maybe I stole it from you. Hahaha! It's more that, I don't want his creative side to feel so MISERABLE in a traditional 9-5, you know? Because clearly, even as a 20 year old punk (hahaha) he'll need to earn a living. And I'd LOVE for him to be his own boss, but until that time I want for him to be, not so much a good employee, although I want that too, but not filled with pent up frustration and anger over being a square peg in a round hole.