Child of My Heart is a middle-aged woman’s reminiscence of her fifteenth summer, when she was in charge of “four dogs, three cats, the Moran kids, Daisy, my eight- year-old cousin, and Flora, the toddler child of a local artist.” Theresa’s recollections of that momentous summer possess a dreamlike quality, as if life in early 1960’s East Hampton was slightly removed from reality. The youthful characters are clearly delineated, their daily rounds meticulously described, while the portrayal of the adult world is sketchy, vague, and short on names. Unfortunately, adult reality impinges upon the idyllic realm of childhood as the teenage Theresa bridges the gap between youth and adulthood.
Theresa’s parents, in their mid-forties at her birth and knowing she would be their only child, moved from Brooklyn to East Hampton, Long Island, when Theresa was only two. Aware that their daughter possessed an unusual beauty in the mold of Jackie Kennedy or Elizabeth Taylor, they relocated to this summer enclave of the rich to maximize her opportunities for success. Being working-class Irish Americans of limited education, they could envision future success for their daughter only through an advantageous marriage. To maximize her contacts with the wealthy, they enrolled Theresa as a day student at a boarding school for the daughters of wealthy South Americans and Asians during the school year and in the summer encouraged her to hire herself out to the wealthy as baby-sitter, dog-walker, or mother’s helper. Proving equally popular with adults, kids, and dogs, Theresa became from the age of ten the most sought after baby- sitter in town. Her knack with children and animals was such that they often preferred her company to that of their own parents or owners.
This particular summer, Theresa is charged with the daily care of Flora, the two-year-old daughter of a famous seventy-year-old artist and his much younger fourth wife. She is also dog-walker for Dr. Kaufman, a recently divorced, lonely, middle-aged man, and an older couple, the Richardsons. By default, she often also tends to the severely neglected neighboring Moran children. Most importantly, however, she is companion to her eight-year-old cousin Daisy who, at Theresa’s invitation, has come to spend the summer with her, escaping Brooklyn and her seven siblings, strict father, and tired mother. Daisy accompanies her cousin on the daily round of baby-sitting and dog-walking while the two girls weave a wonderful private fantasy world around themselves as they perform their duties. Entering into this private domain, however, is the increasingly evident fact that something is seriously wrong with Daisy. She has bruises on her feet, back, and arm, suffers from fevers, and appears pale and weak. Theresa, sensing that Daisy’s summer idyll will be over once the adults notice her condition, tries to minister to the eight-year-old herself, feeding her liver and spinach and sneaking her children’s aspirin.
In Theresa’s world, adults appear to have abdicated responsibility for their children. Her own parents are barely a presence in her life, leaving for work early in the morning and returning home late. Even while at home, they seem to form a close bond which does not include Theresa. At breakfast, “when they saw me, my father would pull out the third chair and my mother would stand up to get an extra plate as if I were an unexpected guest.” Theresa realizes that she is destined to separate herself from them, as “the best assurance they would have that I had indeed moved into a better strata of society would be my scorn for the lesser one to which they belonged.” She notices that in “[t]urning away from me in anticipation of my turning away from them, they left me more alone that summer than perhaps I’d ever been.”
Daisy’s parents also form a close unit which tends to shut out their children. Theresa notes that in her aunt and...
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