Advice For Yesterday, Today, the Future

“How old will Haley be when Aidan graduates from high school?”

One of my brothers, I can’t remember which one, sincerely asked this question last year while all eight members of our nuclear family sat around our kitchen table eating dinner. Though I hadn’t been paying attention to the conversation, I began to answer.

“I’ll be,” I said.

“Thirty,” Aidan finished.

Aidan is the youngest.

“No, I’ll be twenty-nine,” I said. “You’ll be seventeen. I’ll be twenty-nine.”

“Yeah, for like one more month,” he said.

My birthday is August 3. Aidan’s birthday is August 5. We were born almost exactly twelve years apart.

“Still, I won’t be thirty yet,” I said.

***

Aidan is still a few years away from graduating from high school. I’m still a few years away from turning thirty. But I thought of that exchange while I was sitting at my brother John’s graduation last week. Nine years ago, I sat where John was sitting, on the steps to our high school, sweating through my white satin dress while speeches were made and honors awarded. I’d imagined what it would be like to graduate from high school since I was little. I’d also thought about the graduation days of my siblings and wondered what my life would be like when I watched each of them receive their diplomas. I would be twenty when Jim graduated. Twenty-one at Tori’s graduation. Twenty-four at Dayton’s. Twenty-six at John’s. Twenty-nine at Aidan’s.

Now: Four down. One to go.

Has my life on the day of these four graduations resembled anything I had imagined?

Well, no. Not really.

As a teen, I thought that after one graduated from college, all of the things that were supposed to happen in life just happened. Kind of like The Game of Life. Get a job, make money, find a partner, buy a house, have children. Or whatever the order is.

I certainly didn’t consider the possibility that these things wouldn’t happen easily or at all. I thought that by now, I’d be zooming along that road, maybe stopping on the “Get Married” tile. (I don’t need to tell you this, but I had a very skewed sense of when certain milestones should occur.) I wonder what seventeen-year-old Haley would think of poor (literally poor), partnerless, twenty-six-year-old Haley. She’d probably judge her. But I – twenty-six-year-old Haley – would tell her to calm down. (Even though she hates it when people tell her to calm down.) Like, you’re going to do some fun, weird, interesting stuff in the next ten years. Also, some shitty stuff will happen. But it will make you wiser and a better human! And also, you’re never going to “figure it out”, so just enjoy doing the things you like to do and stop worrying.

All that being said, I still worry. But not really about achieving adult “milestones”. Mostly about if I’m spending my time wisely, how to fix perceived mistakes, and whether I’m drinking enough water.

***

Perhaps this isn’t the most fitting time for me to be waxing philosophical about life and my past and current selves. This year isn’t a big anniversary of my own high school graduation. My youngest sibling doesn’t graduate for another three years. And I am a few years from finishing out my twenties.

However. There is a reason I was thinking about all of this and I’m getting back to it now.

Again, I was thinking about all of this because my brother John graduated last week. He’s going off to college – Go Irish! – in less than two months. I didn’t give a toast at his graduation party last week and I probably wouldn’t be able to say in person the things I want to say to him as well as I can (I hope) here.

As the fifth of six, John’s in kind of a tough spot. He’s not the baby – though he was for four years – and he could never hang with the big kids, as hard as he tried. Growing up, he took endless shit from those of us at the top. We demanded that he leave us alone, stop telling us pointless stories, and accept defeat in the epic wrestling matches that took place in our basement. And then, after being horribly mean to him, we’d ask him to love us. (He was very cute and also the best cuddler.)

Somehow, John made all of that work for him. Today, at eighteen, he is a kind and loyal friend. An improved storyteller. A fierce-as-fuck competitor, a runner who is always thinking about how to win. And also, still very cute and the best cuddler.

I don’t know how much John thinks about the future. Probably at least a little bit, since the future plays such a huge role in the last few years of high school. But if I could give the John of today a little bit of advice – and I only will if he’ll let me – I would tell him to chill out on thinking about the future. Or I guess, think about it, just don’t have any expectations. Literally, nothing ever turns out the way you thought it would or wanted it to turn out. Learn from the choices you make and the things that happen that are out of your control. And – this is lame but I’m going to say it anyway – always try to find the humor in whatever situation you’re in. It makes things easier.

Good luck, Johnny. (Even though I don’t think you need it.)

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Moving On Up

me + aidan at middle school graduation

me + aidan at middle school graduation

Last night, my brother Aidan graduated from middle school. As we all know, middle school graduations are bullshit. They are ceremonies that mark the end of one harrowing phase of existence and the beginning of another, hopefully less difficult but probably just-as-good-at-draining-any-self-esteem-you-possessed, phase. Therefore, I was prepared to be bored and annoyed and awash with feelings of second-hand embarrassment for Aidan and his peers last night. But instead, I found myself surprisingly entertained and feeling very proud of my brother.

I arrived at the school 30 minutes before the ceremony and sat in the seats my family had saved. I quietly read a book as hundreds of parents and friends of the graduates buzzed all around me, as if they were attending a coronation. (Props to my mom for that comparison. It was spot on.) At one point, a parent sitting near us asked me my name. She knew I was a Flannery, but didn’t know which one. This is a common observation, often made to my face. As soon as I told her my name, another mother, seated behind us, jumped in. “Oh, you must know my kids,” she said. She gave me their first names, which were fairly ordinary and therefore not totally recognizable to me.

“Uh,” I said, my face likely contorted in confusion. She repeated their names. Still, nothing. She gave me their last name. I had never heard of them. I told her that I graduated from high school in 2005 and that I’m almost 26, hoping that would help her.

“Oh, you look so young! I thought you were in 11th grade.” Everyone around her agreed. I told her that I would take that as a compliment, which I do, because there are plenty of people my age who are starting to look not-so-young these days. It turned out that her kids were like 14 and 16 and one of them was graduating with Aidan. So yeah, I definitely don’t know them.

Once my mom reappeared from flitting around the crowd, saying hello to everyone in attendance that she has ever met, I asked her when the ceremony was going to start. Apparently, she told me, the principal had told the boys at their practice session that there was no dress code, so some of them showed up without jackets and ties, while others did because that was the dress code printed on the invitation. Of course, some of the mothers would die rather than see little Winston or  Thatcher graduate from the eighth grade in just a dress shirt, so they took them home to get a jacket and tie and held up the beginning of the ceremony for a few minutes longer than I would have liked.

Finally, it began and we watched Aidan, dressed in a dapper new bow tie and Nantucket reds, process in with the rest of his classmates. The ceremony started off with the Pledge of Allegiance, which for a moment I was afraid I had forgotten, and an opening speech by Aidan’s principal. I have to say, I tuned out for most of this speech. Earlier that week, I’d learned that the principal had “changed” – and by that I mean, censored – a short speech that Aidan was to give later in the ceremony. He took out any specific mentions that Aidan made of classmates and teachers and events, nearly ridding the speech of its context and originality and transforming it into a collection of empty statements about the meaning of middle school. All of this was apparently so that no one’s feelings would get hurt. I think, though, if someone’s feelings are hurt by a mention or non-mention at a speech given during middle school graduation, the memory of that will fade quickly enough. And if it doesn’t…Well, kid, you’ve got a rough life ahead of you. Anyway, I did not clap at the end of the principal’s speech.

When the six or seven kids chosen to share their remarks spoke, they were perfectly poised and lovely, delivering ruminations and a few extended metaphors about friendship and growing up to the crowd. If I may say so, I found Aidan’s speech to be the best. (This statement was not made with the intention of hurting anyone’s feelings. It was truly good. Also, he’s my brother.) He was witty and thoughtful and he even called out a teacher by name, because it was important to his point about learning about integrity during his eighth grade year. I was so proud of him for not letting anyone get him down. It’s one of his greatest qualities.

Soon, the ceremony was over and we joined the reception on the school lawn. It was amusing to reflect on all of the times I stood on that same lawn, all dressed up like an adult like Aidan and his classmates were, with my own friends and classmates. I’ve watched many of Aidan’s peers grow up over the last thirteen years, either because they’re friends of his or because I babysat them long, long ago. I sincerely hope that they continue to enjoy one another’s company – or at least, aren’t too horrible to one another – during the next four years they have together.

We ended the night without Aidan, who attended a party with his entire class at our country club. We happened to eat dinner downstairs from the party on the terrace, looking out on the pool where I spent most of my days during the summers of my childhood. If I’d let myself reminisce anymore than I did last night, I probably would have gotten sentimental. But I didn’t, really. I was too busy laughing along with my family and all of our weird memories of days past and stories we’ve recounted a thousand times. No one mentioned that we’ll never have another middle school graduate. I think this was for the best. We’re all ready to move on to the next chapter.

bonus photo: me & aidan back when i was 13. oof.

bonus photo: me & aidan back when i was 13. oof.

Donna Martin Graduates

 

congrats tori!

Photo Credit: Dad

 

On Monday, my sister Tori graduated from Yale University. My family celebrated her four years of hard academic work, athletic achievement and partying for three days in New Haven.

I joined them one day into the festivities, after having been heartily overserved on Saturday night. I drove to the Yale Class Day ceremony on I-95 in the pouring rain, which is literally my worst nightmare as I’ve become terrified of driving on the highway since I stopped getting behind the wheel regularly. When I finally arrived in New Haven after a three-hour journey – it should have been about ninety minutes – I parked near campus and started on my way to the ceremony, to which I was already late. I asked my brother Aidan where I should meet them. He gave me the wrong location. I ended up walking around a deserted part of the Yale campus in the rain for about 30 minutes – this includes a stop at a cafe to go to the bathroom since I actually was worried that I was going to pee my pants after drinking about a gallon of coffee and a large, blue Gatorade in the car –  before my mom called me to tell me where they were.

 

100% Incorrect Information

100% Incorrect Information

 

I joined my mom and my grandma to watch a bunch of graduating seniors in crazy headgear – my sister was wearing a white pillbox hat with plastic flowers all over it – give short(ish) speeches to the crowd. I had missed the first half of the ceremony, including Cory Booker’s speech.  (My family spent the rest of the weekend talking about it. One of my brothers said he would remember it for the rest of his life. Ugh.) I sat for about an hour in the pouring rain, an umbrella hovering just above my head, occasionally glancing to my grandmother on my left, who was wearing three sweaters and a plastic bag over her hair.

Finally, my mom dispatched me to get the car I had driven so that I could drive my grandma back to my sister’s apartment. I met my family there, where everyone gorged themselves on snacks and took naps until it was time to go to my sister’s get-together with her track team at a pizza restaurant called BAR. (I’d been there before and I highly recommend it if you find yourself hanging in New Haven.) Of course, my family was late and we each got like one sliver of pizza.

 

My grandma, Kay, and me, chilling at BAR

My grandma, Kay, and me, chilling at BAR

 

Afterward, we went across the street to Geronimo’s, where we enjoyed some food and drink and so many laughs that I was crying at times with our great family friends, the Hudsons, whose daughter Caitlin was graduating along with Tori. The re-telling of the story of how several of our (collective) brothers were swarmed by a hive of bees when we were kids up at our lake house was a highlight, but there were many, many great moments that night.

 

Flannerys & Hudsons Hanging Together

Flannerys & Hudsons Hanging Together

 

I drove back to our hotel with my mother, who was liking every Instagram photo ever in the passenger seat. Again, I was terrified while driving on the highway, even more so at that time, because it was dark and rainy and I couldn’t see any of the lines on the road. We got back to the hotel safely though and I slept cozily in a bed with my grandma, who kept me awake most of the night with her snoring.

My alarm went off at 6:30 but I snoozed until 7, when my mom knocked on our door, already full dressed and ready to head back to campus to save seats for the official commencement ceremony. My brothers, my grandma and I all rushed to get ready. About 30 minutes later, we were all packed up and ready to go.

 

In our seats on Old Campus. Dayton gives the name "Peter" at Starbucks to avoid confusion.

In our seats on Old Campus. Dayton gives the name “Peter” at Starbucks to avoid confusion.

 

We arrived at Yale’s very muddy Old Campus to sit in the cold and wait for over an hour before the ceremony began. It took the students like one hundred years – really, close to forty-five minutes – to process into the area. We were able to spot Tori on her way in from our seats as her residential college, Morse, was waving foam battle axes in the air. When it was announced that the undergraduates had officially been given their degrees, my sister and her friends shot off confetti cannons, which was maybe my favorite part of the ceremony. Well, other than the announcements of this year’s honorary degrees, as the recipients were super impressive. (Examples: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and very talented writer Edwidge Danticat.)

After that, we went to Morse College for Tori’s diploma ceremony. I obviously misread the program and thought the ceremony was at some church and my family listened to me so we ended up really far from where the ceremony actually was and before we realized I had made a mistake. And then on our way there, two of my brothers fell behind us as they were walking with my grandma, so I stood on a corner to wait for them and ended up waiting for ten minutes before realizing they must have gone another way. It turned out some woman had given my grandma a ride in a wheelchair. Anyway, I got to Morse just before the ceremony started and scarfed down a pain au chocolat while standing under a tree. By then, it was hot and sunny so this ceremony was just as uncomfortable as the other were, but for opposite reasons. We heard some speeches from the master and dean of the college before the diplomas got handed out. Finally, Tori got hers and could move her tassel or whatever!

 

The Scene at Morse College

The Scene at Morse College

 

Our whole family took some pictures in the Morse courtyard before we headed to Yorkside Pizza for lunch. Then, we all said goodbye to Tori and headed back to New York! (I am happy to say that, two days later, I think I’ve fully recovered from the weekend except for a mysterious bruise all over my left foot and also, a mysterious series of pulled muscles on the left side of my body.)

 

All of the Kids Post-Graduation

All of the Kids Post-Graduation

 

Anyway…CONGRATULATIONS, TORI! I couldn’t be prouder of you.

Team: Look out for my interview with Tori, which I hope to post sometime in the next week. (If she still lets me interview her. She hasn’t answered my email yet.)