Springfield Family: Mack and Laura

Springfield Girls 2

The Springfield Family Girls: Laura, Maggie, Nell, Mack, Mandy, Savannah

I had the incredible fortune to raise my girls within a loving inner-circle of friends in Springfield, Illinois. There were ten adults and ten children in our close-knit group. Standing Friday night dinners at D’Arcy’s Pint, frequent Saturday nights hanging out in each other’s homes and backyards, annual New Year’s Eve celebrations, and occasional weekend excursions filled our calendars with good and clean fun since 1995. The close relationships we formed over the years also afforded moral support and encouragement in achieving personal, academic, and professional goals and provided emotional support during times of illness, disappointment, and heartbreak. We laughed together, we played together; we shared time on bleachers together, watching our kids play sports; and we communed over shared interests in politics, literature, food, and the high hopes for the future of our kids, our families, and the world. Our Springfield circle was not just a close group of friends. It was an extended family for all of us. My girls not only had two parents and a sibling who adored them, but they also grew up in the loving embrace of eight adults who loved them as if they were their own children, and they came of age among eight kids who were as close to them as siblings.

In the past few years, this Springfield family of ours has become somewhat geographically disbursed. Yet the bonds have remained ever strong. It is upon this twenty-year-old group of friends—this extended family— on which I now so mightily depend. WE lost OUR Macko. She is our first shared loss. Together we grieve and together we search for solace. Over the past several months, I have focused much on my amazing Springfield family, seeking comfort from them and providing it where I am able. I have been buoyed by the knowledge that each and every member of our tight-knit Springfield family carries Mack within their hearts, remembering in their own ways her life and the imprint she made upon them. In their loving hearts, Mack lives on, and this knowledge brings me some comfort.


Laura, Savannah, Mack in purple, and Laura’s brother Matt

I have been thinking lately that I want to write about Mack and the members of our Springfield family, to tell funny stories about her time with them, to share details about their relationships, and to reflect on how they enriched her life and how she influenced and inspired them as well. Last week, a member of our Springfield family faced a devastating medical diagnosis, a difficult surgery, and a lengthy recovery. So it is with Laura that I will begin an intermittent series of essays about Mack and these wonderful and special and amazing people who shaped her growth and development and gave her twenty years of unconditional love and support.

Laura was just nineteen months old when Mack came into the world. For a very brief time, Laura was a little jealous, and she heartily objected when her father paid any attention to Mack. “NO, baby Kenzie,” she would scream, “MY daddy!” But it was not long before these two silly little girls were friends. They played basketball together, they gorged on candy together, and they spent hours playing the board game “Life” together. At Friday night dinners or Saturday gatherings, they were inseparable as toddlers and as kids. They shared babysitters when the grownups went out alone, they shared each other’s clothes, and together they conquered the Nintendo snowboarding game SSX Tricky. Laura and Mack also became famous for their undying devotion to the movie My Cousin Vinny. They laughed hysterically every time they viewed it, sometimes viewing it multiple times in one night. They recited the lines as the movie proceeded, and they frequently acted out the best scenes, even when they were way too young for some of the content of the dialogue and, of course, the profanity!

Laura was a year older in school, and she and Mack had mostly separate circles of school friends. So, naturally, as they grew into their teens, they spent less time with each other. In high school, middle school, and college, they sometimes went for a few weeks without seeing one another, but they remained in touch through text messaging and they never stopped caring for each other. They always made an effort to schedule “dates” to catch up on each other’s lives. If it had been a couple of weeks since she had seen Laura, Mack would say, “I need me some Laura time.” Then she would summon Laura to our house, and the two of them would bake some terrible cookies or pig-out on unhealthy snacks and stay up all night watching My Cousin Vinny. In 2014, Mack was at Truman State in northern Missouri and Laura was at Milliken in central Illinois, and it had been some time since they had seen one another. So in April, Laura spent a couple of days with us in St. Louis, because Mack needed some “Laura time,” and I am so thankful they had that last special time together.

Mack and Laura 2

Mack and Laura, who is wearing one of Mack’s soccer team shirts.

on couch with Laura

Sugar coma? Or all-night SSX-Tricky marathon?

For eight years, Laura has suffered from Crohn’s. The disease interfered with her adolescence, subjected her to long stretches of horrible pain, and forced her to endure numerous hospitalizations and inconvenient medical treatments that sometimes thwarted her ability to live the life of a normal kid. After the most recent flare-up of the disease, Laura’s specialist in Chicago told her that medicinal treatments would no longer provide any remedy or relief and that the removal of her colon was the only option. A twenty-two-year-old kid should never have to face such a serious diagnosis. She had to consent to the drastic surgery or risk losing her life. It took several days for Laura to process the news, but she decided to have the operation.

Last Saturday morning before her surgery, Laura was resting in her hospital bed, scared as she waited for the nurses to take her to the operating room. She turned on the TV, and after flipping through the small number of channels that were available, she found My Cousin Vinny. On a Saturday morning on one of just a handful of channels, her favorite movie and the favorite movie of her lost “sister” quieted her fears. Mack and Laura were together again. As Laura told me later, “I felt so much more at ease, feeling Mack’s spirit.” Laura went to surgery with a calm and hopeful attitude, and her surgery was a success. She will face a long recovery and adjustment period, but the doctors are very hopeful that pain and suffering are in Laura’s past and that health and happiness await her. One thing is absolutely certain, Mack was in Laura’s heart at the very moment she needed her most, and those two girls had a family bond that will last forever.

mack and laura

Laura and Mack, two special members of the Springfield family that consists of the McDermotts, the McKinneys, the Ericksons, the Mutman-Doyles, and the Parsons-Mosers. I love them all!

Permanent Mack

Even though she is physically gone, Mack’s spirit lives on in the hearts of those whose lives she touched. She really did make a permanent mark upon many of us, and we are better people for having known her and loved her. Mack was an extraordinary person, and she made an enduring impact on my life and on my soul. She is in my daily thoughts. She continues to inspire me. And I am still, always and forever, her momma bear.  mack and momma bear

Since losing Mack, I have searched for ways to honor her, to celebrate her life, to keep alive her memory, and to emulate her spirit. I am writing this blog to share stories of my life with her. Her father and I have put in place a memorial scholarship in her name at Truman State University so that she can continue to make a difference in people’s lives. And I am striving each and every day (with varying degrees of success) to be more Mack-like—to be more gentle and less judgmental, to be more patient and less persnickety, and to take some joy each day in at least one of life’s simple pleasures (like gummy candies, a conversation with a friend, or a silly television show). All of these efforts—big and small—have brought me varying degrees of solace.

Yet there is one simple act that lifts my own spirits as much as it gives wings to Mack’s spirit as well. Talking about Mack—sharing a memory, relating a Mack-antic or a Mackism, or chatting about my love and respect for her—helps me breathe, helps me smile, helps me survive in the world without her. Remembering her is key to my mental health, and putting voice to my memories is a soothing elixir to my grieving soul. Of course it is easiest to talk about Mack with my family and my close inner-circle of friends. Most of them are eager to share their own stories or to reminisce with me about “our” lost girl. I love to talk about Mack with people who knew her best of all, but I also want to talk about Mack with people I will encounter in the world for the rest of my life. I want people who will never know Mack to know she was here and to know that she was a significant inspiration in my life. I want them to know that to know me is know that I was her momma bear.

For several months, I have toyed with the idea of getting a tattoo that Mack herself never had the opportunity to get. She often talked of a small, simple shamrock on her foot or ankle to celebrate her Irish heritage and her St. Patrick’s Day birth. Yet the more I considered it, the more I moved away from choosing for myself a small, discrete tattoo that most people would never notice. I began to think that an honorary tattoo in a visible place would not only be my own personal memorial to Mack, but it would also serve as a conversation starter. It would provide opportunities for me to tell the world that I loved and raised and lost my younger daughter.

So, I have done it! There is now a memorial inked on my right wrist. It is a permanent homage to my indelible Mack. It is a conversation piece, inviting people I meet to ask me about my wacky and wonderful daughter. Like Mack’s spirit, it is bright and bold, a stylized Celtic clover made up of four leaves, for luck, in the shape of hearts, for love. The rich greens represent Mack’s Irish heritage and charm, the purple shadows pay homage to her favorite color, and the fierce “M” in her name above the clover reflects her confidence and her courage. I am delighted with my personalized memorial to Mack. It promises to provide me with many random opportunities to tell people I meet that Mack was here in the world and that she mattered to me. It will offer me many chances to share an apt or funny story about my girl. And, most importantly, it will give voice to her memory and lift my spirits in the bargain.

tattoo 2

Dreams at 11: Addendum

In my recent “Dreams at 11” blog, I featured a letter that Mack wrote about her basketball dreams. In that letter, she noted that Diana Taurasi was her favorite college and WNBA player. And in the photograph I included of the 11-year-old Mack in front of that giant basketball, she is wearing her Diana Taurasi jersey.

Of course, I had no idea how timely this post would actually be…

Yesterday, the Phoenix Mercury, Diana Taurasi’s team, drafted Mack’s friend and former basketball teammate Alex Harden as the 18th overall pick in the WNBA draft! Mack played recreational ball with Alex and they were teammates at Franklin Middle School. Mack thought the world of Alex as an athlete and as a top-notch kid with a great deal of character. Mack would be absolutely over the moon about this exciting news. Mack’s best friend Justice Collins agrees: “I mean Alex gets to be Diana Taursi’s teammate'” she said, “doesn’t get much better than that. Mack would have been stoked.”

I cannot help but believe that Mack’s spirit will be on the sideline when Alex takes the court for the first time as a teammate of Mack’s childhood idol.

Talk about basketball dreams!

Franklin Team

Congratulations, Alex! I am so proud of you; and Mack would have been so proud of you, too.


Dreams at 11

Among Mack’s school mementos, I found this sealed envelope inscribed in her handwriting:

do not open 2015

A few weeks ago, I opened it. And within it, I found the dreams of an 11-year-old girl written in her handwriting, addressed to her future 21-year-old self:

do not open 2005

4/8/05 I am 11 years old. I am triing out for the Predators B-Ball team I want to go to UCONN, and then play in the WNBA. My idol is Diana taurasi, that’s why I want to play for UCONN. My good friends are Elyse, Ashley, Amy, Nytro, Laura, Maggie, Nell, Bridget, Hana, Sierra, and Elya.

This is just one of those silly school assignments torn out of a printed activity workbook, but it really does capture the brave hopes and wide eyes of my child. It allows me to know Mack’s dreams at a fixed moment in time. At 11. When the most important thoughts in her head centered on basketball and her friends. What a special memento this is to me now. I wonder if Mack would have remembered writing it. Would she have recognized those dreams of her eleven-year-old self?

Mack worked very hard to achieve the innocent goals she had put into this letter, making her first competitive basketball team just days after writing it. After joining the Predators, Mack dedicated the remainder of her childhood to honing her basketball skills and improving her basketball knowledge. She lived her life with a basketball in her hands so much so that it became a natural extension of her. She bounced it at all hours in her bedroom, making us all crazy. She walked everywhere she went with a basketball tucked between her torso and her inner bicep. And on those rare occasions when Mack was standing still, she loved to entertain with her fancy, ball-handling skills, spinning the ball expertly upon her long fingers. For years there was a basketball rolling around in my car, so Mack could seize every opportunity to bounce it, spin it, or shoot it. She lived in basketball shorts, she gave up her evenings and weekends practicing with her team and shooting hoops in the backyard, and she kept her basketball dreams alive. Mack worked hard and sacrificed much, and we spent so many weekends and so many summers driving her all over the Midwest with her competitive teams that it is sometimes hard for me to think of the young Mack as any other than a basketball player.

It is so sweet to me now to know how important it all had been to her at the tender age of 11. When I think of that kid, full of basketball dreams and sporting the apparel and swagger of an athlete, I cannot help but smile. Here she is at the Fieldhouse in Indianapolis one summer weekend when we attended a WNBA game, where she was in awe of Tamika Catchings, the Indiana Fever point guard. In this photo, she is 11, wearing her Diana Taurasi jersey and her Predator shorts and high-tops. She is, indeed, a basketball player.

wnba basketball

gus macker champ

Mack, Mariah Bond, Corrine Brent, and Justice Collins.

Mack played competitive basketball for three very successful competitive traveling teams, playing point guard and winning numerous local tournaments, several regional championships, and one international event. She played in two Gus Macker summer championship title games, winning one and lifting what was always her favorite trophy. It was winning Gus Macker with four of her very best friends that left her with her proudest and happiest basketball memory. Mack did well in school ball, too. She was a two-time all-star player at Franklin Middle School, she earned MVP honors of her 8th grade team, and as a freshman she made varsity at Springfield High School, which went to the Illinois state tournament each of Mack’s four years. Mack had fierce dribbling and ball-handling skills and was a lights-out three-point shooter with a sweet, long stroke. By all accounts, she succeeded in the game. Her hard work served her well.

But like most childhood athletic dreams, Mack’s basketball dreams faded as other interests crowded into her busy life. By her junior year of high school, Mack was losing the desire to put in the hard work needed to play to the best of her abilities, and instead of dreaming of UConn and the WNBA, she was dreaming of college and of her intellectual future. When Mack returned to the Fieldhouse in Indy with her last Predator team the summer before her senior year of high school, she already believed the time was coming for her to leave the game she loved behind her. Posing in the lobby of the arena this time, Mack is 17. This time, that basketball is not quite so big in comparison to my nearly 5’10” girl; nor is it so big in Mack’s more grown-up imagination, either. That weekend tournament was more about hanging with friends than playing ball, more about making memories with her teammates than about improving her jump shot against Indiana’s best players. big bbal with aau team

By senior year, Mack knew in her head and in her heart that she had lost her desire to play competitive basketball, and a tyrannical high school coach made her decision to give up the game even easier. She toyed with playing at Oberlin, a Division III school; but in the end, she was ready to hang up her high-tops and ready to focus on her intellectual skills instead of her dribbling skills. I questioned Mack’s decision to stop playing, and I applied a great deal of pressure on her to make her change her mind. I had a hard time understanding why she would put in the years of hard work and then stop short of playing in college. But I soon realized that Mack was ready for a life without the game, she was dreaming about life without the game, and she was open to a future beyond it. It took me some time, but I ultimately accepted her choice, and I was proud of her for having the courage to make it.

You know, Mack never regretted her decision to stop playing basketball, but she never regretted the sweat and sacrifices she had made for basketball, either. I think Mack would say that she had not failed to achieve the dreams of her 11-year-old self, but rather the dreams of her 18-year-old self had changed. Basketball dreams had inspired a wonderful childhood journey, and pursuing the game played an important role in the young woman she had become. She was proud of that, and she knew that basketball had served her well. But basketball did not define her, nor did she want it to define her. She wanted to be more than just a basketball player. And in her mind, and in the minds of everyone who knew her, Mack was oh so very much more than just basketball player.

Mack on Sexism and Sports

I miss Mack’s goofy grin. I miss her humor and her charm. I miss her joyous approach to the simple things in life. I miss her freckles. And I miss her intellect, too. Mack’s outward demeanor may have been silly and light-hearted, but she possessed a quiet intelligence, and I loved to engage her in serious conversation. At Truman State, she was blossoming into a social philosopher and a writer, and I lived for our late-night discussions about her coursework in gender studies, creative writing, and literature. I always relished our debates about social issues and pop culture. She was witty and so damn smart. I cherish the conversations we shared. I grieve for the loss of the conversations we will never have.

In the last six months without Mack, there have been untold moments when a news story, an NPR interview with a new author, a Buzz Feed quiz, or some crazy highlight on Sports Center has made me yearn to text her or call her and ask her opinion. I have even, in my head and under my breath, had discussions with her about Ferguson, about the Rolling Stone rape story, about Hillary’s emails, and about the abysmal officiating in the Indiana-Wichita State game in the opening round of this year’s NCAA tournament. In each of these moments and in so many others, I have closed my eyes and tried to hear Mack’s voice. I imagine her serving up an intuitive quip or providing an insightful reflection, because I know that is exactly what she would have done. I valued her opinion in all things, and I am now deprived of her keen insights on all things.mack and me 7

One of Mack’s most admirable traits was her fierce sense of equality and justice, and her sensible feminism always inspired me. Last week, the NFL hired eight new officials for the 2015 season; and one of those new hires is Sarah Thomas. A woman. This news is precisely illustrative of one of those times when I craved Mack’s opinion. I mean, I think it’s great that the NFL has hired a female official, but I want to know what Mack would have thought about it. I want to know how she would respond to the critics who accuse the NFL of political motivations based on a year’s worth of bad publicity. I wish I could talk to Mack about the issues of gender and violence and responsibility surrounding NFL football, a sport we both loved and enjoyed together. If Mack had come home from Spain, she would now be mid-way through her second junior semester and she would have resumed her columns for the Truman State Index. I suspect she might have written about Sarah Thomas. And I have no doubt she would have offered insights born of her intense sense of equality, informed by her personal experience as a football player and a female athlete, tempered by her deep skepticism, and infused with her wit.

In missing Mack’s intellectual voice, I have read and reread her social commentary in the form of her college newspaper columns and class essays and research papers. I have taken some comfort in reading her words, in remembering her voice, and in reflecting on that quiet intellect that I so admired. Mack was still learning and growing as a writer, but she was making an impression on her peers as well as on her momma bear. In remembering Mack, her editor at the Index noted: “She always was a lively participant during our weekly meetings, unafraid to interject her opinions. Mackenzie enjoyed writing about feminist issues, current events, and social issues. She was a skeptic at heart—an important quality for a writer and a thinker.”

I saw Mack as a budding philosopher and a blossoming writer. Mack’s editor valued her opinions and her writing. And I think many others appreciated her wisdom as well. In the absence of Mack’s analysis of the hiring of Sarah Thomas, I am honored to share the following piece of Mack’s work with you now. It is not the cleanest writing she ever did, and it reflects the casual character of a hastily written weekly column by a college kid who always waited until the last possible minute to meet a deadline. But Mack’s voice is there—strong and principled and a bit sarcastic—and I think it provides a window into her smart, feminist soul.

“Sexism is rampant in sports,” by Mackenzie McDermott, Truman State University Index, 11 April 2013

My mother subscribes to the NFL Sunday ticket and watches every game of every season. I also grew up playing almost every organized athletic sport known to man, including tackle football and Taekwondo. Because of my involvement with and knowledge of sports, I never saw or understood that most girls don’t get the same opportunities I did while growing up. It was unusual that I got the opportunity to try my hand at anything I wanted. It was lucky the boys’ teams I joined had supportive and open-minded coaches, children and parents. That’s usually not the way it works. Sexism might be waning slightly, but it certainly still is present and visible when considering sports.

Stereotypes associated with women in sports create a hostile environment. Girls have to break social norms and be subjected to scrutiny to be involved in many of the more “boyish” sports. Because of lack of interest, there might be fewer opportunities for girls to get involved with sports even if they want to. Fewer opportunities perpetuate the idea that girls don’t have a place in sports. These ideas mean NBA players out-earn WNBA players by 200 to one, according to a May 2012 USA Today article. These ideas kept the stands of my high school basketball games empty and those of our male counterparts filled to the brim.

Anyone who says sexism is a thing of the past has never been to a women’s basketball or softball game. Sports should not be dismissed as forms of sexism, but should be observed as a model of the way society regards women and men. A society willing to pay hundreds of dollars to watch a men’s football game obviously has some opinions about the status of men in society. Athletic prowess is characteristic of a strong male, but somehow it is not admirable when seen in women. Male athletes are adored and deified to a ridiculous extent while female athletes are barely recognized. When women are considered, it is with a small shrug and the thought, “She’s good, I guess, for a girl.”

Brittney Griner, a star basketball player for Baylor University, for example, is one of the best female players ever to play college basketball. This isn’t what you hear about, though. Instead, she is criticized for being “manly” by sexist fans. An amazing athlete, who would be looked upon with awe if a man, is instead subjected to discriminatory criticism because she is a woman. This blatant sexism aside, there are undertones even in the language of sports. Everything positive is related to masculinity. You want to be physically strong and emotionally tough, traits seen as positive for men but unladylike for women.

I didn’t know about this type of discrimination until later during my life and for that I’m lucky. I got to have fun the way I wanted to and define myself as an athlete without scrutiny. That opportunity should be given to every girl the way it is given to every boy. Also, boys shouldn’t feel the need to define themselves as athletes just to stick to the status quo either. More opportunities increase interest and thus more understanding about the way women too can be strong, tough and entertaining. Until the stigma about athleticism disappears, sexism will stay alive and well, thinly veiled by the excuse that the men’s game is just more fun to watch.

Sexism is sports column