Wednesday, December 12, 2007

you can just send a bill at the end of the month

I fear that I have misled people about Iris, painting a picture of a saintly waif in tragic circumstances.

All that stuff I told you about Sonia--I made it up. She is just about the kindest, most loving person I know. Iris' room is overflowing with toys and clothing. When the weather is warm and the windows are open, all I hear from their home is laughter.

Actually, everything I've said is true, but I've neglected to say it all. Iris is indeed a wonderfully upbeat girl with a big heart. But she can also be extremely pushy, possessive, and downright rude. I don't know how many times she's just come right out and asked me for money, or even told me I "need" to give her money--money for her birthday, which is next week, money for Christmas, money just because she happens to be fondling the coins in our change bowl and wants some of it for herself.

If she ever found a toy in some random corner in the house (this when she was still allowed to play over here), she asked if she could keep it. When I told her that she was welcome to play with it but it belonged to one of my kids, she became petulant. "But I found it!" she'd say. "I should get to have it."

She also kind of beats up on me. She and the other neighborhood girls often engaged in an elaborate game of school/house with Ezra and Levi. The girls were always the teachers or moms, and the boys were always the kids. On many occasions, if I appeared on the scene in the midst of their play, Iris would wave her hand dismissively at me and tell everyone, "She's the maid."

And that is in fact how she often treated me, leaving food wrappers and other trash on the floor, when--being almost ten, and given the very rigorous training she's gotten at home--she certainly knew better. I once walked in on the kids in the bathroom and discovered the cat food dish on the vanity. I asked how it got there, and Iris explained that was the only way they could lure Eloise into the room with them. When I told her the cat food dish needed to stay in the pantry, she said, "Well, can you just bring it downstairs for me?"

Part of me is like, Fuck you! when she acts this way. But I manage to have some restraint, and instead I try to set clear limits with her. I do also tell her when her behavior is bugging me. Because while on the one hand I want to give her some leeway given the hell she goes through next door, making excuses for her isn't going to help her in the long run.

See, but then I start to wonder whether I actually expect more of her than any other kid (that's not mine). Even nine-year-olds living in the best of circumstances aren't perfectly behaved and always considerate. Certainly some troubling behavior from Iris is to be expected. I even understand it--or at least I think I do. I figure I must be the safe mother on whom she can act out some of the hostility and rage she feels toward her real mother. And all the hoarding of toys and obsession with money--that makes sense given that her mother is constantly denying her what she wants and methodically taking away what she has.

So why is Iris' bad behavior so loaded?

Part of it, I believe, is that I've grown really attached to her. She isn't just someone else's kid. On some level, I do think of her as mine.

But when I dig down, I realize I have this expectation that she should be nicer, more generous, more grateful, because she is easier to love that way. Her plight becomes so much more compelling. She turns into a fairy tale character, a better story to tell. And I am folded into the tale, the good witch, pure of heart, who looks out for her and keeps her safe. I don't think it's a coincidence that I haven't mentioned any of this here before--here on this blog, where I spin captivating yarns.

So I'm coming clean. People--we are so very complicated.


BrianJ said...

i figured she wasn't as cherubic as she was portrayed and i really appreciate your balance and honesty about her and you. it's a pleasure to read and feel a remote witness to.

Paida said...

I love this post.

family-of-five said...

this is good stuff. all the better for her not to be perfect, of course. the complexity is what makes us interesting, right?