Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Moral Fiber

So, the second part of Cookie Girl's visit involves more moral dilemmas (and moral failings) on my part: After we established that we would not be ordering cookies without more information, it was getting late. It was past dinner time; the meal I had been working on when she rang the doorbell was cooling in its pans on the stove. I now faced another problem: either invite her to dinner, or find a way to shoo her out the door. I told her it was 7:00, and asked her when her mother told her to be home.

"Oh, she didn't give me a time," came the sunny, cheery answer. "She never tells me when I have to be back. She never tells me when to come home."

She could have been fibbing, of course, but since she had previously spent almost seven hours at our house and nobody came looking for her, I doubted it. I didn't think this kid had much in the way of adult supervision. I wanted to be a good person, but I didn't exactly want to invite her to dinner. I tried to tell myself it was because we didn't have enough to go around or she might have food allergies, but really it was because I wasn't sure if I could handle this kid. She's not my kid, so I couldn't exactly put her in the corner if she refused to eat her nutritious meal and asked for more candy, you know? It already makes me mad when my own kid won't eat what I cook and demands other things; how would I handle it if someone else's child did it to me? She'd already gotten a Popsicle and a handful of the mints she saw in a kitchen drawer and then pretended not to know about but specifically asked for. I didn't think she'd be the kind to eat all her vegetables without a fight, and something told me they weren't big on quiet family dinners at her house.

It was also, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, because I didn't want to encourage her.

When I was growing up, my family were always the ones who had extra kids around. My parents fed everybody who showed up at our door, no matter how little we had. We never worried about bringing extra people home or inviting them to dinner. Our friends with less-than-stellar home lives always had a haven at our house; day or night, if someone needed a place to go, they could come to us. My parents treated everybody like their own kids, be it hugs or curfews that needed handing out. And I really do believe that they helped a lot of the kids who hung around. Some of those kids, now grown (and some with kids of their own!) will tell you that for themselves.

I always thought that I possessed this generosity of body and spirit. I thought that I had taken to heart their lessons about helping people because it is the right thing to do. But standing in my kitchen, setting the burners to low in an attempt to re-heat the dinner I'd spent 45 minutes cooking earlier, I knew I had not. Because I didn't want this kid. I didn't want to feed her, and have her show up at my door every other day expecting to be fed, the way she now zooms in and asks for treats because of the one time I gave her banana bread and Capri-Sun. I wanted to pretend that we could be a kind presence in her life, stepping in for her mostly-absentee parents, providing a different perspective and a little direction. I knew the reality would simply involve her showing up at our door randomly asking for cake and Kool-Aid, dragging out all Piper's toys, and forgetting to say thank-you.

And I couldn't do it.

I couldn't invite this kid to dinner, couldn't watch her pass up the healthy foods that I work so hard to make and even harder to get Piper to eat. I couldn't invite her in to occupy my daughter's made-for-tiny-kids furniture and possibly break it in the process; I couldn't watch her boss my kid around and eye Piper's toys with envy. I was not at all the good person I wanted to be, ready and willing to feed and entertain some stranger's child just because my daughter didn't mind (and maybe even liked) playing with her.

I gave them a 30-minute time limit and let them keep playing. It was 7:45 when I finally got the little girl convinced that Piper needed to eat dinner and go to bed. I wondered again where this girls parents were, that she could be in someone else's home at nearly 8:00 on a school night and nobody would come looking for her, or apparently even expect her to be home.

I re-warmed the dinner, and we ate quietly. I felt a pang of guilt with every bite I took, knowing I should've invited her to to stay. I guess I'm pretty far from the good person I want to be, because despite the guilt, a teeny tiny part of me was glad I wouldn't have to share my bacon.


Trish said...

I would feel that tinge of guilt, too, but after a while (I hope) I'd be able to get past it--I agree with you totally here; you do not need this particular kid hanging around any longer than necessary if she's going to be acting in all the ways that add stress to your life. Yes, I feel sorry for that poor six-year-old girl, and yes, she appears to be sorely in need of some guidance/parenting/friendship, but you need to do what's right, first and foremost, by your family and yourself.

You've written this story up so beautifully, I had to go back and re-read both posts twice! I keep wanting to turn the page in order to find out what happens next. Thank you.

Steph said...

Thank you, Trish! You're so sweet. :)