How Well Do Kids Know Their Parents?

*Warning: Mild spoilers about The Descendants*


They live with us and see us at our best and our worst. They note when we’re curled up in a ball and ill, and when we’ve just gotten up in the morning, cranky, because we haven’t yet had our requisite cup of java. They witness our behavior when we’re happy and, in our lightness of heart, embarrass them by singing aloud all the wrong lyrics to pop songs, but only after having had that cup of java.


Aside from their ordinary, daily observations, do children ever truly get to know who their parents are? When parents attempt to shield their offspring from adult disappointments, fears, desires and their own character flaws are their children then prevented from knowing who their parents are as people, rather than just their caretakers?


Why all these existential questions? Well, in the span of one week, I finished reading Aimee Bender’s fascinatingly weird book The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and saw the new film The Descendants starring George Clooney, who sported a series of really ugly Hawaiian shirts. Both the book and movie prompted me to ponder whether my husband and I allow our children to see who we really are, and whether complete parental honesty is a good or bad thing.


First, the book, which I gobbled up quicker than my Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing, and not just because there was a picture of scrumptious looking slice of cake on the cover. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake followed Rose Edelstein through the years, starting when she was 8 years old and she became aware that she had the power to discern the emotions of the people who prepared her food and what they were feeling when they handled the food. For example, if the person who whipped up the lasagna at the school cafeteria was angry, she’d taste the anger. If the folks who picked the lettuce in the fields were mistreated, she could tell. Ditto for the animals, and if they were free range and happy or not.


Most disturbingly to young Rose, though, was the fact that when she ate a slice of the lemon chocolate cake that her mother had made especially for Rose’s birthday, she gagged on it because all Rose tasted on her tongue was despair and the dark, desperate feelings that she had no idea that her mother was secretly carrying around inside of her. Rose was astonished at the depths of her mother’s melancholy.  This knowledge ate away at her and worried her immensely. Consuming fare prepared by her emotionally distant father or her disturbed older brother was likewise unbearable for her as the feelings were too weighty for her to shoulder. By comparison, Rose’s heart ached when she sampled a friend’s lunch and she detected love and contentment, sentiments which were absent from her family’s meals.