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November 26, 2006


Today on This American Life I learned that Warner Brothers Studios has made a movie of my childhood. Unaccompanied Minors is a fictionalized account of the 1988 snowstorm that stranded Susan Burton, her little sister Betsy, and several other "divorced kids" in the Chicago O'Hare Airport on their way from Denver to visit their father, who lived in Michigan. No, I wasn't there in O'Hare Airport with Susan and Betsy, but I easily could have been: I flew back and forth as an unaccompanied minor between my mom in Los Angeles and my dad in Boston twice a year from the age of eight until I was no longer a minor. Once I did get stuck on the runway in Los Angeles for two hours while snow was being cleared off the runway in Boston, but I never got stranded overnight.

As I listened to Susan's story on This American Life, I hit on the difference between her childhood and mine: she had a sister with whom to share the experience of being shipped back and forth across the country. What made my childhood so tragic is that I had to go through it all alone. As a child, I loved to read stories of parentless kids, like the Boxcar Children. In these stories, however, there are always siblings. There are no books about only children who are abandoned or neglected by their parents and have to make their way in the world. Susan recognized how important Betsy's companionship was to her as an unaccompanied minor and ended the story by acknowledging that "on these trips to visit our father, more than any other time, all Betsy and I had was each other" (Unaccompanied Minores). As a child, I always longed for a sibling, believing that, with a brother or sister (preferably a twin -- someone my own age!) one is never truly alone in the world.

Posted by eklanche at November 26, 2006 04:49 PM


"Tragic"? How about "character building"? I for one am happy you turned out just exactly the way you have. I wouldn't want to risk any revision of the past that might have made you a better adjusted person. Besides, the only real advantage I can see that Susan Burton had over you is that one of her parents lived in Michigan, so she got an earlier introduction to the awesomeness of the Big Mitten. So what if she has a book and movie; you've got me, Babe!

Although it might have been nice if you'd collected those frequent flier miles over the years....

Posted by: dmerch at November 28, 2006 12:35 PM

If it makes you feel any better, the one review I saw of this movie said it was a pretty dreadful comedy, focusing more on the "wacky comedian" who is put in charge of the kids rather than what could have been a poignant story about the kids.

Mind you, that's my impression from skimming one review. We could always Netflix it.

Posted by: dmerch at December 13, 2006 08:58 AM

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