Archive for August, 2009


Today at work, one of my coworkers got a call from the day care center, telling her that her toddler was ill and someone would have to come and get him. I heard her telling them that a good friend of hers would be coming to get the child. “Her name should be in our file. If it isn’t, then I’ll come to get him.”

In order to do something as simple as pick up a sick child from a day care center, you need paperwork these days. Oh, I fully understand the necessity. But consider this:

My Aunt Ellen… wasn’t really my aunt. I don’t know what to call her; she wasn’t legally adopted, and foster-care programs didn’t exist when she came into our family. I suppose she was the ward of my grandparents and they were her guardians, but if so, they were merely courtesy titles because there was never any legal arrangement.

It happened in 1919. The now-sprawling D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia, was then a little country town with dirt roads. Ellen was two months old, the youngest of four in a family who lived nearby. They were having a bad time; the father, who drank, had run off, and the mother’s epilepsy had worsened since the birth of the new baby, so my grandmother and the other townswomen did what they could to help….

The upshot of the situation was grim; the mother had to be institutionalized and the four children had to be what was then called “taken in.” The sheriff handled it very simply by parceling them out on the spot. The older children were easier to care for and could make themselves useful doing chores, but nobody wanted the two-month-old baby. Since Mama [then ten years old] had simply taken her home and Granny had been caring for her, it was a fait accompli. No forms to fill out, no charges of abuse and kidnapping, no armies of social workers bearing anatomically correct dolls, no petitions to recall the sheriff: They just kept her.

Memories of an ‘Adopted’ Aunt by Florence King

There was a time, when my own grandparents were children, when such things could be done without the horrific results we would expect today.

My coworker’s friend arrived at the office with the sick child in tow about an hour before the workday was over, by the way. The last time a coworker brought a sick child into the office I was sick for a week, so now I’m filling myself with vitamins and bee pollen and suchlike in hopes of staving it off. I’m sure you can all guess at my opinion of women with toddlers working outside the home, but I certainly can’t stop her.

It reminds me, by the way, of something else I read a few years ago. I traded the book in at the used bookstore, but it was one of those about how you can allegedly tell from people’s eye movements and body language if they’re lying or trustworthy and that kind of thing. I think the author was on O.J.’s defense team, which I didn’t know until I started reading or I probably wouldn’t have bought it. Early on in the book, the author said that in today’s fast-paced world, we often have to judge someone in just a few minutes to know if they are trustworthy business partners, clients, or babysitters.

I could have given the author some good advice about how to tell if someone can be trusted with your children. It goes like this: meet a young lady. Take some time getting to know her. Meet her family. Spend a great deal of time with her. Then, if you think she can be trusted with your children, marry her so no one else can hire her away from you – and so that she will share your motive of passing on her genes in the children the two of you have had. It’s a pretty good system and has worked well for thousands of years.

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