What To Do When A Kid Is Really Unlovable?


A lot of essays nowadays leave us thinking, “I really hope this writer’s kids never grow up and read this on the Internet. And they will.” Yesterday’s NY Times “Modern Love” column is no exception… but there’s a twist:

Here’s the gist: the author’s boyfriend dies, leaving his daughter, Emma, an orphan. People hope the author will take the child on; she doesn’t want to. Because she doesn’t like her.

I had tried to like her, to win her over, but I had failed. Her ability to disrupt whatever brief harmony he and I could achieve as a couple in the few months we had been together kept me one step ahead of her father’s longing to make me his wife….At 30, trying to establish myself in the world, I was far from ready to make the necessary sacrifices that mothering Emma would demand. There were many occasions when a hasty escape to the sanctity of my apartment reinforced my resolve to remain single.

People even expecting a girlfriend of a few months to take on a daughter seems pretty unreasonable – and speaks to the desperation of the situation. Where, after all, are grandparents? Finally, an aunt the child barely knows offers her a place to live; the author is relieved.

“You’re not my mother. You can’t tell me what to do,” she’d say, stamping her foot. My heart ached for her, but I longed to walk away, to hand her over to her family. I wanted my freedom back…At the airport, she clambered monkey-like up the tall, angular frame of the aunt she barely knew and clung around her neck, distributing big smacking kisses. Instantly relegated to the role of a mere chaperon, I felt the thrilling tug of my imminent release.

It doesn’t work out. The aunt asks the author to take Emma. “‘I’m sorry,” I heard myself say. “I can’t. I put my life on hold too long as it is.'” Emma goes into foster care.

At this point, it’s hard not to feel really, really bad for the orphaned child. And really, really hope she never reads this, on top of everything else. And then, the twist:

This all took place 25 years ago. Emma is now a grown woman. I have been married for more than two decades and have been a mother of two for almost as long.Yet I think often, and with astonishment, of how close I came to becoming a mother then. How I had decided, in fact, that I would be, triggered only by a sleepy embrace and a mumbled “I love you” – such a small thing and probably unintended – nothing more, perhaps, than ramblings from a dream.

And? you think. What of Emma? Yeah, you tell us she was adopted by foster parents who “by all accounts gave her a wonderful life” but she is the one whose destiny was in question here. Are you in touch? Is she happy? Does this, tangible proof of long-ago abandonment, still have the power to hurt her? And does anyone care? Because hers is a response I’d really like to see.

The Triangle’s Sharpest Point [NY Times]

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