Nails in the Fence Featuring Jenny Zigrino

Comedian Jenny Zigrino is from a broken home. Like, basically, everyone else in the millennial generation. Including myself. But her experience was complicated in its own, multicultural way.

Jenny grew up Jewish. Her mother Russian and her father American. When her parents divorced, dad converted to Islam to match his new wife’s religion. Her mother, remaining Jewish, was not amused. And to add an extra dash of fun, Jenny spent her summers at Hindu camps. You know, typical Midwestern childhood. 

“I grew up in a Jewish household celebrating Christmas, while my dad doesn’t eat because it’s Ramadan.”  

She spent most of her childhood with her dad. The two enjoyed a close bond. He is charismatic and supportive, and her mother is...well, Russian. She is not a bad woman by any means. On the contrary, she loves her children dearly, but with a tough, soviet-style love. Her thick accent punctuated her broken English, meanwhile, Jenny’s dad could help her with homework with ease.

When Jenny’s mom moved to Boston with her older brother, Jenny wasn’t exactly running from her cozy Minnesota lifestyle to experience life in the big city. Nevertheless, summer came, and Jenny was scheduled to spend the whole break in Boston. She dutifully packed up and arrived only to find a surprise from her mother. She was going to Hindu summer camp.

Hindu camp was super fun. What eleven year old isn’t dreaming of being forced to be a vegetarian and do yoga at seven o’clock in the morning? Right?” 

Once camp was a wrap, Jenny thought she was done with her summer adventure. A few days passed. She was miserable and missing her father. She finally asked her mom about when she would get go to “home.” Her mother didn’t answer. She changed the subject. 

This went on and on for a few days till her mother revealed the secret she’d been trying to hide from her ex-husband, her lawyers, and Jenny. She was not sending her daughter back to Minnesota. 

She was (technically) kidnapping Jenny.

Jenny was devastated. And a cold war descended on their Boston home. Jenny was eleven and didn’t understand why she couldn’t see her dad. Her mother was protecting her family the best she knew how and couldn’t understand why Jenny didn’t want to live with her. 

“I was writing notes to my mother like, ‘I hate you… I want to go home…. Why can’t you send me home? I hate it here…’ And looking back on it now, it had to be heartbreaking for my mother to read those notes. She had to think to herself, ‘Why doesn’t my daugher want to live with me? Why doesn’t she love me like she loves her father?”

Three months and a contentious custody battle later, Jenny’s mother was forced to send her daughter back to Minnesota. In their kitchen, she explained to Jenny that she would soon be returning home. Her mother looked crushed. And Jenny was left confused. She was finally getting what she wanted, but her mother was a good mother. Jenny didn’t hate her. She just wanted to return to the home she knew with her own school and her own friends.

Jenny and her mother’s relationship is much better these days. Although her mom still uses tough love to parent, Jenny is old enough to understand it. There is no animosity between them. But the pain is still alive in other ways.

Her mother recently shared an old Russian proverb with her daughter. Jenny retold it to me imitating her mother’s thick, Russian accent.

“There is a story of a man who have very troubled boy. Every time the boy hurt the father, he would take nail and hammer it into fence. When the boy gets older he says, ‘Papa, I am so sorry. I was so young and stupid and I love you.’ The father says, ‘Okay, let me show you something.’ He takes the boy to see the fence. He starts removing the nails as the father says to the boy. ‘You know, I forgive you. The nails, they represent what happened. I forgive it. But the holes… The holes will stay forever.”

I think a lot of times we refuse to look at a situation from another point of view. Especially, when we are hurt or angry. Remember, it’s important to have empathy for others, but It’s even more important to have empathy when they are giving you every reason not to. 


Written By : Michael Malone

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