December 15, 2008


I'm heading back home today. I use the word "back" both literally and figuratively. I am literally flying home today, as in traveling. But I am also heading "back" in the sense that I am going to regress. You see, I have noticed that every time my family is together, we regress into our childhood roles. When we're not home, we're mature, grown ass people. I'm in law school doing real law school things, my brother is in business school learning about accounting, and my sister is in college engaging in philosophical discussions about social constructs. And then we get home and every day is 1989.

Scene from 1989: I'm staring into the camera, doing a choreographed dance to a "A Tisket a Tasket." And I'm really good at it... I even adlib some "doo dah doo dahs" as I shimmy my shoulders and whip my chicken legs around. My brother proceeds to run across the screen, making weird noises and holding some type of concocted gadget. He's a ghostbuster, obviously, and he's fighting the bad guys. He throws a pillow in my face and yells "you got slliiiiiimeeeedd!" "BREN-DDANN," I shriek and elbow him in the stomach. Pause. I turn back to the camera with a sickeningly sweet smile and continue dancing. My mom laughs at me (not with me) and then scans the room with her camera, wondering aloud, "where's Shannon?" And sure enough, the camera scans to little Shannon, alone in the corner, rocking away on a plastic pony, talking to herself or one of her imaginary friends, it's too tough to tell. Soon after, the camera zooms in on my dad, and he makes a goofy face, which is kinda funny, but no one really laughs (it's better not to encourage him), and the scene ends.

Not much has changed almost 20 years later. I still seek validation from my parents and try to entertain them with my trivial accomplishments (look mom! I have a blog!). Brendan spends the day playing Xbox and seeking to live vicariously through a character in a video game (He's 27, but that's ok). My dad putzes around the house making horribly corny jokes that are almost funny. Shannon is in her room, doing her own thing, and giving two shits about the scenes unfolding around her. And my mom walks in and out of each room, all up in every one's business, making comments that she thinks are funny, and laughing at us.

Part of us can't help it. We are who we are! But then there are times when we're being OTHER than who our family THINKS we are, and our family still responds as if we're the same. For example, just recently, when my parents came to L.A. for Thansgiving, I turned to my mom, gave her a big hug, and genuinely told her how much I loved having them here. My mom looked at me and responded, "Ohhhhh, you suck up." I'm sorry....WHAT??!! "Mom!" I exclaimed, "I'm not seeking validation, I'm simply expressing my love!" To which my mom laughed.

Here's another example. I come home from exams. And I'm feeling pretty good about myself and slightly knowledgeable about the law. We're at the dinner table having a conversation about politics. Somehow the law comes up. I think to myself, this is the perfect opportunity to contribute a small piece of the plethora of knowledge I have accumulated this semester. So, I chime in something about civil liberties and tell my family a story about a prolonged detention of an American citizen in Iraq. It sounds like a pretty good law school story--legal jargon, political relevancy, and exemplary of a civil rights impact litigation case. The only problem is my speech dyslexia kicks in and I add, "You can read the guy's biopsy online." Pause. "Biopsy?" my family responds in confusion. I stare blankly. "Yeah." I respond, "biopsy." "You mean 'biography'!?" they shriek and laugh hysterically. "Oh Kerry..." they say patronizingly, shake their heads, and smirk in that "you're such an idiot, I can't believe you're in law school" type of manner. And suddenly, any small bit of pride I had in my law school education has disintegrated. And I've returned to the characterure of myself from 1989.

What's so interesting about this regression is that it is actually more symbolic than I would like to believe. It doesn't just happen with family, but it happens to each of us, every day of our lives. Each day we wake up and we regress into the role we played the day before. We wake up believing that we are a certain way. Because we have told ourselves so. Because our family sees us as so. Because our friends see us as so. Because society tells us we should be so. And somewhere along the line, we started to believe that we are fixed characters. And so we start playing the part. And suddenly, we are not just playing a character, but we ARE that character.

And then we label ourselves based on these traits: I am Kerry, I am a girl, I am 25, I am straight, I am a law student, I interned here, I will be working there. And then, we begin to tell others how they should perceive us: "Oh, I'm fun, but I don't do fun things," "I'm a morning person," "I don't like watching tv," "I always do this, but never do that," "I believe in this, but not that." And the next thing we know, we've created a nice little image for ourselves. And two things can happen, we cling to the constructed roles we've created or try to free ourselves from them.

But if we're not these roles, then who are we? That's what I'm trying to figure out. I'm trying to let Kerry just be Kerry, but struggling to free myself from the confines of constructed roles. I'm trying to learn how to work outside myself, but still remain connected to my inner-being. I'm trying to be just here, in the now, but find myself creating a persona for later.

When Buddha was asked, "What are you? Are you a God or a man." He responded simply, "I am awake." And I think at the start of each day, that's all we can ask ourselves to be. Awake. Nothing else, no one else, but awake.


  1. I cannot wait to read more from you. I've had many discussions with my family and my husband about the roles that we've played since childhood (as well as the roles that we think we should play as adults). Keep it up!

  2. Thanks Jesse! I think it's great your communicating with the family about the roles, I feel like a lot of times we don't even get that far. Let me know if you have any breakthroughs and then you can share your wisdom with me:)

  3. Oh, so true! I totally relate. Thanks for laying this out so (painfully) clearly. I've talked with my sister about this same thing - it's one of those quirks of human nature I'd rather be rid of.

  4. Ker -- I have made my entire family read this. I couldn't agree more. Sometimes I feel like a prisoner in my own home because of how I have been labeled (which is largely true, but not nearly as true as my parents/family thinks it is). Anyway, I LOVED reading this, and cannot wait to read more!! Love you.

  5. Ker! Tal and I just read your entries...and Cate and I were just talking about family roles the other day at lunch! Home at the holidays and we're all feeling these things...loved reading your take on them. Miss you! xoxo