Okay, before you break out the pitchforks and the torches, I have anticipated you. I know exactly what you’ll say. It starts with “How can you hate a child?!” and “She knows you don’t like her!” and “She can sense your feelings about her father!” and “You might as well not even try because you don’t like her!” So you can keep that to yourself because I’ve already been through that mental dialogue. I only want helpful, constructive responses, please. Think of me what you please, but please think it to yourself.
A little background is in order. My half brother is really my adoptive stepbrother. My dad and his first wife the insane alcoholic adopted him long before I was born. I’ll call him my brother for convenience sake, but please understand that that’s a legal term and not an emotional one. My brother is a shitstain of a person. My father is the most giving person in the world - he would have given my brother anything he asked for, but my brother would rather steal it. The scams he’s pulled on my dad are essentially innumerable and we probably don’t even know about all of them. For instance, there was the time he pretended to go to college for almost four years (at 35 or so) before my mom finally found out about it. There’s the time they stole checks from my dad’s mailbox and eventually committed identity theft of epic proportions (that of course my dad wouldn’t prosecute) and my brother blamed it on his wife. There’s the time when we’re 90% sure they lied to everybody about the seriousness of his wife’s cancer. So there’s that.
Additionally, his wife is now disabled because of an actual real malpractice event (although we’ve always suspected some shadiness involved somewhere, which tells you something about these people.) She has serious short-term memory problems, among other things.
They have three children. The oldest is the girl in question, 13. Then there’s Boy 1, who’s bright but overlooked, at 11, and Boy 2, who’s delayed but very sweet, at 10. They have practically admitted they had Boy 2 to keep my dad from prosecuting the identity theft thing. They may not be the world’s shittiest parents, but they’re in the runner up group. An example of their parenting skills - when the girl (we’ll call her A) was two or so, she had one of those total meltdown toddler tantrums in our living room. Instead of ignoring it, my brother ran to her, his favorite child, and said “What did your mother do to you?”
My point, I guess, is that A’s problems are not that she’s 13. She’s always been like this. Her problems are that she’s had and will continue to have shitty parenting, and that she’s just like her father. She’s shifty. She lies. She’s incredibly abusive to her brothers, especially the younger one. She’s always “too sick to go to school” and her father lets her stay home. She’s the instigator - when it’s just the two boys together, they’re as sweet as can be, but when she’s there they pick on Boy 2 mercilessly. You get the idea that the parents make fun of him too. The amazing thing is that he remains so sweet and loving.
So, yes, I don’t like her. There’s not much to like. She got held back a grade because, well, she never goes, and she’s such a… mooncalf. She always has this “no there there” look on her face. You’d think she was borderline retarded, although she isn’t. I spent the whole afternoon with her today getting her the school stuff on her list, and she spoke maybe three words to me. All she cares about is talking with her friends, and her parents don’t make her converse like a human being. (Well, I’m sure she has no model for it.) She also had hair so matted today that my mom is dragging her to get it cut Tuesday and I can’t imagine they can do anything but shave it off - the girl is 13, but her parents throw up her hands and say they can’t make her do anything. She isn’t even a tall, burly 13! She’s tiny! I could damned well make her wash her hair and give it a run through with a comb if I wanted to, and there’s just one of me and I’m the weakest, sorriest grownup you’ve ever seen! She moons after boys like she was four years older and six orders of magnitude dumber. We fully expect her to turn up pregnant within the next few years.
So today at dinner my dad said, shockingly enough, my brother seems to realize there’s a problem with A. Just now? I’m the trustee for them and I’ve been planning for years to make sure their trusts will cover college for Boy 2, occupational therapy for Boy 3, and cosmetology school and an abortion for A. So he asked my dad if I’d consider mentoring her a bit.
Well, after our outing today I was thinking about it myself. But what the hell can I do with her? How do I fix her? I’m a grownup, I can hide my distaste for the child and hatred of her family. I don’t need help with that, although I guess it probably sounds like I do. I said I’d take her shopping for school clothes this week. But what am I supposed to do if she won’t say a word to me?
I thought maybe I could start dragging her along to dinner with me and Himself, so she can see what a real relationship between smart grownups looks like and how people are expected to converse with one another. (Himself’s take: “You better get her whipped into shape before you expect me to hang out with her. And make sure you rinse her off a bit.” He’s met her once and got the picture.) I figured maybe I’d drag her to some museum exhibits or plays or the Philharmonic or something. But that doesn’t answer the main question: how do you get through to somebody like that? How do you put a there there?
It’s not like you can just shake a girl and sit her down and explain to her that if she doesn’t start combing her hair and speaking like she has something to say that people are going to figure out tout suite what trash she is. You can’t make somebody be honest and honorable and kind if they don’t want to be, either. And you certainly can’t make somebody be well-read and interesting, or have enough respect for themselves not to get knocked up before they can actually get promoted out of seventh grade, not when their parents aren’t exactly providing a role model to the contrary. So how on earth do you do it? “Be a role model”, maybe you say - but if somebody has no respect for you and doesn’t see your path as having much value, will they model themselves after you?
Arrrgh. I read the other emergency parenting threads here about norinew’s oldest and the one about boot camp right now and realize that this is small potatoes - somebody has to work at Wal-Mart, right? Not everybody gets to be an astronaut. The world needs ditch diggers too, and people to be on Cops. And I know it doesn’t show me in a particularly good light. Please remember that this is coming from the perspective of somebody who has seen the agony her brother has caused her dad; one of his heart attacks and his stroke coincide with ugly revelations about my brother. If you have sympathy left, please spare some from my dad, who I know feels guilty and responsible about my brother and how he grew up.
But if you’ve managed to read this far, I could really use some help here. I want to do right by this kid. I don’t want to call a 13 year old girl a dull bitch, but I don’t want a 13 year old girl to be a dull bitch. If anybody’s got a chance at her, maybe it’s me, but I’ll be damned if I know what to do about it. (Paging WhyNot.)