A letter to Alan, my little cousin, high school graduate
June 3, 2011
Wow! You are a high school graduate. As your cousins and substitute siblings, Allison and I wanted to congratulate you on your success and take you on a walk down memory lane. We, your substitute siblings, have been honored to be a part of your life. Even though I was somewhat reluctant to share my birthday with your bris. I was excited to meet you and to learn how to change your diaper. Yes, this letter is going to be a bit embarrassing.
Do you remember that you got glow in the dark underwear for your third birthday? We hung it on the lamp in the hotel room to charge it up before trying them out in the dark bathroom. We met at Ed Debevics in Milwaukee and you flew out to Florida with us the next day. It was your first trip to Florida with the Jennings clan. You insisted on carrying your blanket onto the plane, so you had your little wheeled suitcase that you so willingly dragged through the airport. We were so impressed. You were a champion flyer from the beginning.
I was always a little concerned about you because you preferred the non-fiction picture books over the story books. But, you loved Harry Potter. I started reading it to you at night one year in Florida. You were so engrossed. I’m relieved that it was just early evidence of your science oriented brain. Could you lend me some math skills?
When you were little, I was your one and only JJ. You would pull my head into your lap in the car seat and comb through my long hair. Oh, you were angry when I cut it off.
When you would have sleepovers with us, you would always be very concerned about sharing your presence equally. You would alternate which room you would sleep in each night. But, sometimes, we would have sleepovers on the basement floor in Onalaska. And in the morning we’d wake up and play drive-thru in the sleeping bags. Your favorite restaurant was McDonalds, of course.
Our favorite memory is from when you were 4 and we were waiting for the bus in Madison. You know this story. You were wearing your favorite Michael Jordan jersey and short set, which had holes. It was raining and you exclaimed “I’m not getting wet! There are holes in my shirt!” We thought you were hilarious.
At our house, you loved to play Wheel of Fortune and with the Knex rubberband racers. It was there that you accidentally cracked the windshield of Grandpa’s car. Which, I know, is one of your major childhood memories.
One year, you came up to Madison with Grandma and Grandpa, and Grandpa got lost. He swore a lot. You listened with open ears. Upon arrival in Madison, you uttered your first swear word, “Damn”. At first, we thought it was funny, but then, you wouldn’t stop using it, correctly. The family reunion was in a few days, and the adults were worried that you would teach it to all the little cousins. They staged an intervention on the phone. It didn’t work. You used it in Galena. Thankfully, I don’t think it caught on.
After I moved to Chicago, I enjoyed going to your baseball games and orchestra concerts. And I was so proud to watch you play Buddy Ball with your buddy. I’ve been so impressed with your leadership skills and the opportunities that you’ve take advantage of throughout your high school career. You have a good, caring heart.
And now, for some advice.
- Done is better than good. This is the mantra that I lived by in college. If something is impossibly hard and keeping you up at night, just finish it. Stop agonizing, stop worrying about the A. Just hand it in.
- It is ok to fail. I don’t know if you know this, but I had to drop macro economics. I flunked the first test. I studied like a madwoman for the second, but I didn’t seek help. And I flunked the second. I went to the dean (I had already changed to pass/fail) and she said, “just drop it”. So I did, and I don’t regret it. If you fail, there will be another opportunity for success. Simply throw a little pity party, then pick yourself up and try something else.
- Seek help. Obviously, the other lesson from that last story is that you should always seek help when you need it. Don’t act all knowing. And don’t feel like a failure. Seeking help is a sign of a smart student. And developing relationships with professors is beneficial in the long run.
- Make time for fun. But not too much. Balance is important. You can’t do all school all the time or all fun all the time and still pass school. Strive for balance.
- During your first year, cautiously get involved. DO NOT OVERCOMMIT. It is the nature of the high achiever, but if you are cautious and only get involved in things that you are passionate about, you will be much happier.
So there, you go. Another thing. I know that as you entered adolescence and I entered my rocky 20s, we drifted apart. But I will always be there for you, rooting you on from the sidelines. And so will Allison. If you need something—advice, a pep talk, or even just an ear—I’m here. And I’m a good listener. And Allison is a good texter. Just kidding, she listens too.
We are so proud of you stinky boy!
JJ and Allison