Even though North Country School had to shut down a little early because of that thing that begins with “c” and ends with “d”, the sixth graders and I were able to read One for the Murphys (OFTM) by Lynda Mullaly Hunt before the end of spring term.
The complexity of mother-daughter relationships, a hefty dose of domestic violence, and navigating a foster family placement hooked us all.
This year’s group of sixth graders heard more about my grief and loss than my first year’s class (check out my piece in Oh Reader), so when I read the following passage from OFTM aloud, the student directly across from my desk locked eyes with me, arching her eyebrows and sucking in a breath.
I wish the author or the editor had removed the reference to suicide. It’s not a joke, and this passage wouldn’t lose any value if they’d omitted that dialogue.
The main character, Carley Conners, is looking for a Mother’s Day card with her friend, Toni. Carley ends up purchasing a card for her foster mother, Mrs. Murphy. I understand this is a tricky passage because you can picture real eighth graders having this exchange in the Hallmark aisle. Throughout the book, Mullaly Hunt writes a meaningful and sensitive portrait of Carley’s relationship with her mom and yet, this section warrants revision:
I nod, thinking about how much I would miss Toni if I ever have to leave. I grab a card quickly. “Oh my God. Look at this one. Warm and tender?”
“Sounds like fried chicken,” Toni says, leaning in.
“It does!” I say. “They should have a rotisserie chicken in an apron.”
“Pulling a roast out of the oven,” Toni adds. “The chicken would probably make beef, don’t you think?”
“Or it could pull out another chicken with a suicide note stuck to it.” I’m laughing. Laughing really hard, but it scares me, like I’m walking a fence between laughing hard and crying.
Toni is talking, but I can’t listen. There isn’t enough air in the store. These cards are a slap in the face, listing all of the things that real mothers do. Knowing that I have a mother who does so little of it. It’s not like I’d expect her to stay home at night or join the PTA. I mean, all I want her to do is look at me the way Mrs. Murphy looks at her kids. Like I’m the best thing ever. Like she loves me more than anyone else.
I reach for a card, and decide to buy it no matter what it says.
“C’mon. Let’s go.”
Toni grabs it and reads it on the way to the register. “Hey, nice card, Conners.”