10 Questions: My friend Kerri from Queens
I am of the firm belief that every woman should have a friend like Kerri, and by the time you finish reading her answers, I’m pretty sure you’ll understand why. Kerri is a very good friend of mine here in Queens, and she is one of the most capable, confident, down-to-earth and genuine people I know. Kerri says what she means and means what she says, and it always, always makes sense. I’m not sure I know anyone who is as passionate about her work as Kerri (she’s a kick-ass high school English teacher/vice principal), and I’m continually amazed and inspired by her devotion to her students and her school. To sum it up: She is wise and she is wonderful, and my life is richer with her in it. Her husband Nick–also a good friend–is fantastic too (you’ll agree with me quickly once you’ve read about the day she fell in love with him). Enough gushing…meet my friend Kerri!
Would you rather meet your great-great grandchildren or your great-great grandparents?
I would rather meet my great-great grandparents because I would love to know more about what and where I come from. Growing up, my grandparents lived with us and I heard lots of stories from them and from my father about growing up in Ireland, farming, and in the case of my grandmother, about not having enough to go around in a family with 14 children. I took that presence of the past for granted and now that they’re all gone, I find that when I reflect on their life experiences, I would love to know more about how the day to day unfolded, how hard decisions were made, etc. Turn of the century Ireland lives in my mind darkly and I’d love to illuminate the corners and understand.
Do you possess any of the qualities of your astrological sign?
Pisces are creative, loyal, sensitive and in need of the help of others to keep them grounded. I think I neatly fit the bill for all four of these characteristics.
What perplexes you most about motherhood?
I’m 7 months in and motherhood has been more wonderful and terrifying than I could have possibly predicted. I could not have imagined how amazing it would feel to see joy on my son’s face because I’ve come home or how natural and important simple things like nursing him or holding him when he’s upset could feel, like suddenly your primitive self remembers what you were really designed for. I am inclined to make a flip joke here about how perplexing it is to function with little or no sleep, but if I answer seriously, then what perplexes me the most is how to make peace with the arbitrariness of the world that I am entrusting him to. Carrying and birthing and then day-to-day caring for this little person – it marries my life to his. If you think of the risk you take by loving a partner (or even a close friend) and making them such an integral part of your life experience, try on for size the risk you take by going into this parenting business and get ready to be blown away by the vulnerability.
What one goal do you hope to accomplish this year?
In the next calendar year I want to accomplish the goal of completing my dissertation. I have done all the coursework for my doctoral degree in English and I’ve taken the comprehensive exams, but the big written project that caps the requirements is still looming over me and between my job and having a baby, I keep letting more and more time slip by without completing it. My goal is to submit it in the fall 2014 semester and to finally complete the journey to that degree.
What do you think is the ideal age?
Although I particularly loved my mid-late 20s, I think the ideal time is still ahead. I want to say 40 but perhaps older than that. My reason is that as we go along we figure out more about ourselves and if we pay attention, hopefully find and grow ways of living that are more compatible with health, peace and fulfillment. I was on the phone with my oldest sister tonight who is turning 50 next month and she sounds happier and more at peace with herself and her world than she ever has. She takes time to do things for herself, she doesn’t seem to stress over inconsequential things, and she knows who she is. She goes to the beach in the middle of a weekday and stays until she feels like leaving. She really enjoys her days. She makes 50 look great, in more ways than one.
Which is more important–intelligence or common sense?
Common sense is more important than intelligence. And rarer. The more people I meet, the more groups I work with, the more kids I teach, the more I notice how many people can’t make a simple judgment call, how often folks get in their own way, how often things go awry for being unable to see the forest for the trees.
What do you like most about your husband?
My husband is the most competent person I know. Whether it’s pitching a tent, building a deck, assembling a computer, swaddling a baby, speaking Chinese, installing an attic, he can do it and do it well, even if he never has done it before. He’s confident in his ability to complete projects big and small. He does what it takes to figure out or learn the necessary steps and then he gets to work. There have been countless times I’ve thought, “You can do that?” in response to a proposed solution to a problem at hand. The day I fell in love with him was in high school when my favorite ring slipped out of my hand and bounced below several levels of choral risers in the chorus classroom. I finished up the school day sad because I had lost it and when I told him why I was upset, he marched me back to the chorus room and proceeded to dismantle the risers one by one until he found it and then put them all back in order as they had been. I was amazed that this 17 year old kid could do that and that he would do that for my little ten dollar ring. Most people would have thrown up their hands and said, “Aw, that’s too bad,” but he’s just not like that.
What experience has shaped you most as a person?
Becoming a teacher has most shaped me as a person. When I was younger I used to have a very rigid worldview but teaching has taught me to be flexible, to value the varied talents people bring to a table and I think to understand the world, society and people better. To be a successful teacher you have to marry assertiveness to patience and approachability. I think I do a good job of that. And I like who being a teacher has helped develop me into – someone who is not quick to anger, who tries different methods of solving or explaining rather than getting frustrated when one doesn’t work, someone who can roll up her sleeves and work and someone who can laugh at absurdities. Teaching has also taught me just how far respect can get you – if you show students that you respect them consistently, the leeway you get back in terms of being able to push them to work harder, do more, etc. is tremendous. The same goes for the rest of life – if you respect the cashier, the gas attendant, the pharmacist, the nurse, the insurance agent, they sense that and your interactions with them are infinitely smoother because of that reciprocity.
What advice would you give to teachers just getting started in their careers?
Buy in. Don’t be an 8 to 3-er. You’ll never get financially wealthy in this profession but you can get wealthy in other ways if you choose not to hold back. Prepare yourself so you can prepare the kids. Tutor after school. Coach. Volunteer to help out with community service on Saturday. Ask the sad kid why they are sad. Ask the mad kid why they are mad. Call home. Go to the basketball game. Wear the school colors. Attend prom. Be a real person for your students. I promise you, the rewards are tenfold.
Which Steel Magnolias character do you most strongly identify with?
Melynn … She’s not the easiest character to like and she’s not my favorite character but she’s the one I identify with the most. It’s not exciting or sexy to be strong when shit gets hard but it’s a position I’ve been in a number of times. And like Melynn, I’ve realized that strength doesn’t inure you from pain. So, she has my respect big time. That said, I will never wear my hair in a brown football helmet
Jenn: (See what I mean? Kerri rules.)