Teri Orr: My favorite person
It starts with a mistake, or wrong-headed action, or judgment — or when my kids were teenagers — with the scrape on the side of the car. It starts with something gone kinda wrong. Wrong in a way you know in your heart was wrong and there might even be evidence (see sideswiped car).
But in the place or the moment (where there are no witnesses) where you could walk away from the deed or the comment or the action and not be … responsible. What do you do?
You are only cheating yourself out of the whole human experience if you don’t admit a mistake and ask for forgiveness. It is a kindness to yourself and others. We have made this so unpopular — to be decent and upstanding — even law-abiding. We talk about idiots or suckers — who openly face the music when caught. Lawyering up is often the answer and the lesson we teach our children — plausible deniability.
In every embarrassing awkward demeaning circumstance — my favorite person is always the one who says — without a prompt or a lawyer — I made a mistake.
It is so rare something touches us as a shock in a moral failing way anymore. … We kinda already knew about it — expected it — we’re not surprised. The Catholic Church covering up anything related to sex and sexuality of humans. A culture of rape and abuse and lies and secrets. Then all that becomes public and undeniable. But shocking? Not anymore.
Misdeeds by politicians of any party — no surprise … those are simply the cost of doing the people’s business — we have come to expect nationally.
In education we look away at grades given for maybe not checking all the boxes. Helicopter parents and buzzsaw parents and now a national scandal of “pay to play” parents with fake sports scholarships for sports those kids never played. We understand the primal desire to see our children launch into the world … and the slippery slope becomes allowing the space for our kids to learn for themselves. The detachment goes two ways in child rearing — right from the start — our children’s accomplishments or failures — get mixed up with a reflection of ourselves.
I was a single mom with a son who was an all-star in all sports — soccer, basketball and football. He also was a straight-A student. Captain of the Academic Decathlon team. We also called him Crash at home. He was a terrible driver. Terrible. And so his part-time job in the ’80s? He drove a van for a property management company … full of tourists … in the winters. I, of course, was just grateful he had a part-time job. (Thank god I never dated a lawyer.) All the “crashes” had zero injuries to the humans or other vehicles but, oh, the sides of those vans! His boss always forgave his scrapes with snow banks and rocks. He was — after all — a reliable kind kid and there are always points for that.
I remember a football game his senior year — he played tight end. He was 6-foot-3 by then. He would later be named player of the week because he caught all the interceptions and made touchdowns and really had a great game. I remember some dad — very excited Park City High had won (we didn’t much back then) and he slapped me on the back — yes, he did — and said “You must be living right — you had a great game!” I looked at him dumbfounded. And I might have just smiled and walked down straight away on the field to congratulate Randy. But I couldn’t. I turned and said — “His great game had nothing to do with me.” And then I left the stands.
I hope if Randy had been a goat and had had a bad game and we lost — I would have responded the same way if someone had blamed me for the loss. I never was my kid. Not when my daughter won awards statewide for her drama presentations or Academic Decathlon awards when they won the national competition for schools our size. When she got off the plane as the only girl on the team and they gave her the crystal trophy to display for the television cameras — the superintendent at the time said how proud Park City was of all the hard work the boys had done and … wasn’t Jenny “so pretty.” It had been her extemporaneous speech that won the final points for the team. She made the final touchdown. I was furious. When the superintendent asked if I wasn’t proud of my beautiful girl — I said I was very proud of the hard work of the whole team. Because I was.
We are almost — to a person this week — not surprised people of means have paid into a system of bribes and altered grades and created blurry videos showing fake athletic feats of under-achieving students.
Like all parents — I want and wanted — what is/was best for my kids. I didn’t/they didn’t have resources to help make their lives easier. They had student loans, lived in crappy campus housing, worked dumb low-wage, part-time jobs and drove banged-up crappy cars. They are now good parents of complicated teenagers who are trying to find their way. And the rule books all changed from then to now — on how to parent. The cellphones and broken education systems and national leaders who appear completely rudderless. The drugs, the gender fluidity — all make just day-to-dayness — pretty confusing for parent and child.
Here’s what I still know — if you made a mistake — there are always points for fessing up. Always. And if you can’t figure out a moral compass, ask yourself the eternal Grateful Dead question — but are you kind? If the answer is the same — most days — you and your kids are gonna be fine any day … including Sundays in (and out of) the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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