Saturday, November 14, 2009


“I hate Mom. I hate Dad. Dad hates Mom. Mom hates Dad. It just makes you want to be so sad.”

- Kurt Cobain, scratched this into his bedroom wall after his parents had a fight, 1976, when he was about nine-years-old.

When I subbed at my old school last week, there was a short period called “Advisory”. The students spent the time coloring their pictures of “What a Successful Student Looks Like”, along with accompanying successful words. There were a handful of former students in this class, so it was a perfect opportunity to talk to them while they worked. I was happy that one girl, who had always been quiet and shy last year (though I’d encourage her to read and participate), had come out of her shell, chatting with and teasing friends. I asked another student if he was finally consistent about handing in homework, but he shamefacedly replied, “Not really.”

The students were asking me about subbing, and I told them that I’d been spending time at the high school. Because I knew that some parents were weary of sending their children to the high school, I decided to give a positive impression of the place, so I said, “Tell your parents I’ve been very impressed with the high school. The students are well-behaved and they’re doing quality work in the classrooms.” One student knew she’d be going because her older sister (whom I’d also had in fifth-grade and recently subbed) was there. Another said he thought he was going to private school, which I found frustrating.

A third student, who was one of my ethnic sisters in my “Race Lessons” post, with her blonde hair and blue eyes, said, “I don’t think my mother will let me go to the high school.”

“Why not?” I asked.

She gathered her thoughts before speaking. “You know how when parents get divorced, then one remarries, and then the parent hates the new spouse?”

“Yes,” I said slowly, wondering where this was going.

She went on, “Well, my dad got remarried and my mom hates his new wife. Anything the new wife likes, my mom hates. So my dad’s new wife has a daughter in the high school. Since my mother thinks the daughter is obnoxious, she thinks it must be a bad high school.”

I had talked to her mom on several occasions, and had always thought she was a reasonable woman. I nodded sympathetically and responded, “Well, tell your mother that it is a good place and she might want to reconsider it.”

This girl is a good student, who’s smart and artistic. For my goodbye, she and a friend performed, “Mirror, Mirror” by Shel Silverstein, which they also acted out at the Poetry Slam (she was the mirror). It saddened me to now see her pulled in different directions. Much of my childhood was the same, though because of different circumstances. When you love your parents, who hate one another, where are your loyalties supposed to lie?

A friend of mine became separated from her husband some time ago. From the beginning, she made an effort to make the transition as smooth as possible for her two children, which meant keeping regular communication with her ex-husband. I can only imagine how difficult that is, and I know she even consulted a book to guide her. This friend’s parents are still married, so she didn’t directly experience the strife caused by divorce, but her husband had.

I know people who succumb to pettiness, trying to make their children take sides, putting them in the unenviable position of making nobody happy, while they’re miserable. I witnessed the toll this took on two childhood friends, a bunch of cousins, and a good friend in graduate school. When the surge in divorces occurred in my generation, parents had little to guide them. I’m hoping that as adults, many of us now parents ourselves, we have learned from these bitter lessons.

Our children are not our friends, but there are too many parents who unload their burdens onto their children. From a young age, my mother inflicted that load on me. As a teenager, I had two friends who were put in positions of early parenthood for younger siblings, while their mothers became unhinged. What is the legacy those injustices have left upon us? Does it make it more likely that we won’t marry? Or does it make it likely that we too will divorce? Do we avoid having children? If we do, will we force our children to lose their innocence at an early age as well?

The depth my former student possessed impressed me. In sixth-grade, she displayed a wisdom that going through something strenuous forces upon a person. But I think that children her age, and even younger, though they often cannot express their feelings, think deeply. Their parents vent their frustrations on their children, but forget that children absorb these emotions like a sponge. Who wrings them out?

"Mirror, Mirror" by Shel Silverstein, Falling Up, Page 88


Mirror, mirror on the wall.

Who is the fairest of them all?


Snow White, Snow White, Snow white--

I’ve told you a million times tonight.


Mirror, mirror on the wall,

What would happen if I let you fall?

You’d shatter to bit with a clang and a crash,

Your glass would be splintered--swept out with the trash,

Your frame would be bent, lying here on the floor--


Hey … go ahead, ask me just once more.


Mirror, mirror on the wall.

Who is the fairest of them all?


You--you--It’s true

The fairest of all is you--you--you.



  1. Hi Theresa,

    Angela and I saw Julie and Julia yesterday, partly provoked by your earlier post. The movie was terrific. So, I guess your blog is doing what it's supposed to be doing: enlarging the experiences of its readers.

    Afterward, I glanced at Julie Powell's blog. The fictional Julie Powell is considerably more likable than the real one.



  2. Hi Aravi,

    I haven't viewed Julie's blog and have yet to see the movie. I know Julie is supposed to curse a lot, according to her book (in which her publisher didn't allow it so much). Amy Adams can probably make anyone likable.

    I'm glad that both of you were partly provoked to see the movie. You may have inspired me to finally do the same.