Our children may be the best advertisement I can think of for the kind of advice I give. They never said “I hate you!” when they were little or rebelled as teenagers—or went into rehab or had anorexia or got themselves arrested—and when they married, they stayed married. So far the eight grandchildren, from 16 to 31, are doing pretty well too.
Although Tom, our children and I have quit a lot of jobs—my husband once said that we were downwardly mobile—we’ve never been out of work and in retrospect, we’ve achieved quite a bit. Four of us have published seventeen books; three of us—but not me—have been nominated for the Pulitzer a twelve times and one of us has acted on Broadway (and Moscow), won three Emmys and is starting a TV production company. We’re particularly proud of our youngest child, however, because 1.) she quit a lucrative career in the film business; 2.) she became a kindergarten teacher and 3.) she gets a regular paycheck.
Over the years people have asked us why our children did so well. Was it because I am a ‘parenting expert’ or because we pushed our kids? “Was it nature?” they ask us, “Or nurture? Or was it the fine schools they attended? The people we knew? The jobs we helped them get?
Not likely. Our kids had books and good times, but they also had chores by the age of two and they started baby sitting when they were 13. The girls were also soda jerks at the drugstore every weekend and our eldest daughter became a ‘knee-high spy’ for Lord and Taylor in high school—although she never caught a shoplifter—and Mike painted all the rooms in our house. He never got paid for it, however, because we said that a family is not a business, but he learned his trade quite well and he was paid to paint many houses in the neighborhood when he was in high school and college.
We made our kids work quite a bit but we didn’t push them at school. They stayed home if we thought they looked particularly bedraggled and we didn’t fuss about their grades or pay them for getting A’s on their report cards or punish them for getting a B in math: In fact, each time they brought home another D, my husband would say, “Who needs math anyway?” or he’d shake his head and say, “I hope school is as close to prison as you children ever get!”
Our college expectations were pretty limited too. I never went at all, except for two night courses in graduate school at Tulane when I was 18, and my husband and three of our four children went to good but inexpensive colleges. We did let our youngest switch to NYU however, but only because I thought that anything with three initials had to be a state school, and we let our middle daughter drop out of Catholic U. so she could go to an acting school in New York, because we thought it was sometimes better to learn a trade than to get a degree.
We also didn’t use well-placed friends to help our kids get ahead or push them to be interns or volunteers because it would look good on their resumes and we never read their essays to get into college or told them that they should be doctors or lawyers (or writers). They just did what appealed to them at the time and if their choices were safe and legal, we said, “Go for it!” And they usually did.
Tom Kelly, the father of this family, was into stability. He lived on the block where he was born, up the street from the U. S. Capitol, for 75 of his 86 years and only left it long enough to serve on a three-masted schooner in World War II—the only Navy defense of the United States north of Boston until 1943; to attend Penn State and to work on a couple of Louisiana newspapers, where he met and married Marguerite Lelong. He brought his wife back to The Block for Christmas in 1953 and we stayed there while he covered the White House and wrote investigative stories and features for the Washington Daily News, for which he won many awards. Tom was also nominated for the Pulitzer three times. The first nomination came from the New Orleans Item, for his sweeping investigation of the N. O. police department; the second came from the Daily News for his expose of the D. C. health department and the third came from the New York Post even though he was working for the Daily News. Apparently the editor was amused when he, another Daily News reporter and their friends joined the White Citizens Council, then merged the chapter with CORE: the Congress for Racial Equality.
Tom was also president of the Newspaper Guild in New Orleans and later of the Washington/Baltimore Guild where he negotiated the highest pay in the country for journeyman reporters in 1965: $200 a week at the Washington Daily News.
Tom left the News to work for the new War on Poverty in 1965, and then became a free-lance writer four years later. He wrote and edited Canada Today/Aujourd’hui, a prestigious monthly magazine for American news makers, as well as articles for the New York Times, People, Nation’s Business, Nation and The Washingtonian, which published some of his stories in a book called Washington Murders. In 1983 Morrow published his second book, The Imperial Post—a biography of the Washington Post–which was well-received except by the people who ran the paper. Tom was finishing a book called Family Business, about our son, Michael–the first U. S. journalist to be killed in the Iraq war–when he died in 2010.
Katy Kelly, our eldest child, got her degree in art from Virginia Commonwealth University and illustrated for newspapers and magazines before segueing into journalism, where she worked for twenty years. She was a reporter at People magazine before becoming a feature writer at USA Today–where she was nominated for the Pulitzer six times–and then a health editor at U. S. News and World Report. During that time she also illustrated my second and third books, The Mother’s Almanac Goes to School (Doubleday) and Marguerite Kelly’s Family Almanac (Simon & Schuster) and illustrated and co-wrote a column with me for Family Life magazine. Katy left the news business to write prize-winning children’s books for Random House, which has published four books in her Lucy Rose series for grade school girls and six books in her Melonhead series for boys. (www.katykellyauthor.com)
Katy is married to Steve Bottorff, who is the art director of ABC-TV in Washington, D. C., where they live, and, I’m pleased to report he also gets a regular paycheck, and runs a business, By Hand Invitations, on the side. Kate and Steve’s two grown daughters live in Washington too. The younger one has an art degree from the College of Charleston, works at a school at the Smithsonian and has an organic baby food delivery business too, while her big sister, who studied musical theater at the University of Michigan, has gotten her Equity card, gotten married and is working for an event planner.
Michael Kelly, our only son, went from the University of New Hampshire to Good Morning America, working up from intern to associate producer of news before starting over as a cub reporter at the Cincinnati Post. From there he went to the Baltimore Sun, then became a free-lancer for major U. S. magazines before sending himself to Iraq to cover Desert Storm in 1993. Mike, one of two U. S. print reporters still in Baghdad when that war began, dictated prize-winning stories to the New Republic and the Boston Globe while the bombs were falling, then left Iraq, rented a car and drove into Kuwait on Liberation Day. His coverage of Desert Storm won major magazine awards and was the basis of a prize-winning book, Martyrs’ Day: Chronicle of a Small War (Random House), which has been compared to the war reportage of Stephen Crane, Evelyn Waugh and Ernest Hemingway. After that, Mike worked as a reporter for the New York Times and the New York Times Magazine then became bureau chief for the New Yorker in Washington, the editor of the New Republic (briefly), and the editor of the National Journal, while also writing a weekly syndicated op ed column for the Washington Post, for which he got three Pulitzer nominations. He continued to write that column while also becoming editor of the Atlantic but dropped back to editor-at-large so he could go to Iraq to see the downfall of Saddam. Unfortunately his Humvee came under enemy fire on the way to Baghdad and Mike became, at 46, the first U. S. reporter to be killed in that war. After his death, his boss there established a major prize to be given to writers and editors in his name and his wife, Madelyn, who had been an Emmy-winning producer for CNN and then a producer for CBS Evening News, chose his best magazine and newspaper stories for the posthumous publication of his second book, Things Worth Fighting For (Penguin). It is used as a textbook in many journalism schools today. Since then Madelyn has also co-authored A Parent’s Guide to Raising Grieving Children (Oxford) and free-lances as a book editor in Swampscott, Mass., while their older son goes to Georgetown and their younger boy wins statewide prizes for his high school debating team.
Meg Kelly Rizzoli was 12 when Arena Stage, a regional rep company in Washington, D. C., asked her to be in “Our Town”, first in Washington, D. C., and then in Moscow and Leningrad the following year: the beginning of detente. She went to drama school at Catholic University and to Circle-in-the-Square in New York, then acted in a number of plays on and off-Broadway and in regional theaters and she did voice-overs and TV work in New York and Los Angeles. She later became a scriptwriter for “As the World Turns”—for which she won three Emmys—and was co-head writer for “Days of Our Lives”. She is now raising money to start a TV production company and if she can’t do that, she says that she’ll be a nanny. Meg is married to Tony Rizzoli, who acted in New York and Hollywood before the family moved to Washington and bought a house within walking distance of The Block. Their son is now in college in Alabama and wants to be a professional soccer player, and their daughter, who majored in architecture and minored in jazz studies at Mt. Holyoke, is now designing uniforms—and furniture—in New York City.
Nell Kelly Conroy worked for two network TV shows after she graduated from the Tisch School at New York University and then became an assistant film editor for several major films, including Scorsese’s “Cape Fear”. At 27, however, she wrote to Bank Street College and told them that she was tired of making good money and bad movies. “I want to be a school teacher,” she said. It took all of her savings as well as a loan to get her master’s degree, but she, and we, were delighted with both the decision and the results. After finishing Bank Street, Nell taught public school in a housing project in the Bronx for several years, then moved to a charter school in Norwalk, Conn., where she still teaches kindergarten and first grade but says that she’s going to write a book just as soon as she has a minute. Nell is married to Dennis Conroy, a free-lance producer of TV commercials, and the family lives in Darien, Conn. Their older son, who is now at Emerson, plans to go into film in some way, and their younger son is still in high school where he is on the track team and is the drummer in a band that’s good enough to get paid sometimes.