Raising “That Kid”

My brothers-in-law gifted me a copy of Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree a couple of years ago. (Thank you!) My BILs were reading the book to help them think through some of the large ethical questions that can specifically go hand-in-hand with adoption. Indeed, Solomon’s piece is truly an extraordinary resource for anyone trying to open their heart to children who are different in some significant way from their parents. Or really, anyone trying to be more of a human—which includes me.

If you don’t have time to read such a large book, thankfully Director Rachel Dretzin recently made a movie version of the book, which is a pitch-perfect condensation of Solomon’s sprawling collection of family stories. I managed to get my kids to watch (most of) it for the much-despised parent-selection round of Family Movie Night, though I think my husband and I did all of the crying and one of my kids only made it half-way. (I recommend watching it by yourself first, so you know where to fast forward through a few especially mature moments.) All caveats aside, dinner time conversation that night was heavy on the questions. And I loved the pink tank.

Indeed, Dretzin gravitates to the more positive, heartwarming stories in the Far From the Tree movie, with one notable exception. (This isn’t ostensibly the dark part of the narrative, but I should warn you that you will be forced to sing along with “Let it Goearly on in the film: Own it.) There’s pain, trauma, angst and a fabulously relatable conversation between a mother and daughter over whether or not to do the daughter’s hair. But you will come away feeling hopeful, intoxicated with hope really. 

So if you are the parent of “that kid”—we definitely know who we are—you may also want to check out Liz Garbus’ HBO documentary, “A Dangerous Son,” which is a punch-in-your-heart look at families struggling to live with a son with a serious emotional disorder. Where hope is much thinner in the air.

I’m writing this while I'm slowly chewing through a banana, but, look, if you have “that kid,” even if they don’t have an emotional disorder, this film will also dredge up every feeling. All the years of shame, frustration, hurt, love, hope and incredible loneliness. This film sees us. Yes, I have one. My “that kid” is actually at a very stable, happy place in his life right now, and generally passes as just another kid. But he is someone who rubs raw against formal schooling/programs and certain types of adults for reasons it took us a long time to understand, and still can do little about. 

So in an act of potentially terrible parenting, I ended up asking my “that kid” to watch the film with me so that he’d understand what other adults and kids experience when he’s at his absolute worse—which, again, is very very rare these days. I didn’t know if he’d be willing to watch it all the way through, but he did, and it was really eye-opening for him. For both of us. It’s a hard movie to watch no matter what your age, and, like the movie version of Far From the Tree, there were a few sections that had me hitting fast forward because I judged it too mature for my kid (I talk to him about Nazi rallies and structural racism, but I’m still not ready to tell my kids the truth about the pervasiveness of school shootings--sorry not sorry). But I deeply appreciate that it gave us some common language to discuss a spectrum of anti-social, violent behaviors, at least for the White kids profiled. 

Indeed, Garbus, to her credit, does profile one Black family as part of the film, and many of his experiences and issues are similar to the other boys featured. But ultimately the child’s combination of severe adolescent depression and—honestly—rightful rage about his father being murdered by the police should really be one story in a whole series of films—or, rather, legislation and well-funded programs, amiright? Why wouldn’t that poor child be devastated and furious? Wouldn’t you? I can barely wrap my head around it.

These books and movies are a heart-wrenching reminder that we parent both across the dinner table and through government. If we want the best for our kids, then we have to want the best for all children, too. All.