February 5, 2004 Toledo Ohio: Nine-year-old orphan, Talea Olsen, may seem like a cute, precocious girl on the verge of adolescence, but she’s actually a self-centered, unfeeling bitch. That is, at least, according to her foster-parents’ neighbors, Jennifer and Richard Cumberland. The Cumberlands have babysat Talea several times over the past four months since she was placed in the home of Barbara and Gary Meyer, but that won’t be happening again, Mrs. Cumberland reported from the couple’s den.
“The evening was going fine,” Jennifer, recalled, her eyes glossy and moist. “The three of us were watching a movie we’d rented for the night, just like the other couple times we’d watched Talea. Then, my watch alarm went off, and I got up to take my fertility pills.” Here, the 32-year-old sales assistant stopped and bit her lower lip.
Richard, 35, put his hand on her shoulder, explaining “We’ve been trying to conceive for a while now. Several months ago, Jen started on the pills, and we’re hopeful that will work. If not…” his voice trailed off.
“Talea saw me take the pills and asked if I was ill,” Jennifer continued again. “I told her I wasn’t and explained what the pills were for, in a very basic way since she’s only nine. I figured she wouldn’t be interested and that would be that.” The couple exchanged a weary look, and she continued. “But Talea started asking me all these questions.”
“At first, I was pleasantly surprised,” Richard, a local claims attorney, broke in again. “I thought, ‘hey, this kid’s actually interested and wants to know more about the process…that’s pretty cool’. But then…very quickly, I realized that she was taking this critical, holier-than-thou tone with Jen.” His face darkened, and he shook his head at the memory.
“She said, ‘why are you doing that?’ in this really nasty, hateful voice,” Jennifer recalled, bleary-eyed again. “I started to explain to her that Richard and I want to share the joy of life with a child just like any other couple, and she interrupted me and demanded to know why we didn’t adopt a kid.”
“I guess it’s understandable, considering her background…you know,” Richard said quietly. “But…I don’t know. She’s such a smart kid, I expected her to have a little compassion. It’s really hard when you’re struggling with fertility, when you want to have a child with the woman you love and can’t.” Jennifer reached over and squeezed her husband’s hand gently.Talea was orphaned at the age of five when her mother overdosed on heroine in their rent-controlled apartment with Talea there in the same room. Since then, the girl has lived with five different foster-families—counting the Meyers—and been abused physically and sexually by two of her previous foster parents. She was also separated from her brother Silas, a year older than Talea, and the two haven’t seen each other for four years.
Everyone had thought Talea was handling the rough start to her life with surprising bravery and fortitude, but the cruel outburst at her neighbors’ house suggests otherwise. The ordeal has apparently hardened her heart to such a degree that she can’t even feel basic sympathy for the pain of others.
“She just kept asking me over and over,” Jennifer recounted, raising her voice to imitate the little girl, “’Why don’t you adopt? Why don’t you adopt?’ And when I said something about how we wanted our own child, she got really irrational and started throwing statistics at me. She said, ‘do you know there are 100,000 children in this country waiting to be adopted?’ How does a little kid know something like that anyway? I’m sure she just made it up…that can’t be right.”
In fact, according to the National Children’s Defense Fund, there are more than 120,000 children waiting to be adopted in the United States.
“Talea was getting really irrational and started ranting about the fertility industry,” Richard remembered. “I mean, she didn’t use those big of words, but she said something like, ‘how can women pay all that money and doctors put six or seven babies into them when there are already so many kids alive who need parents? It’s so wrong.’”
“I’m afraid I finally lost my patience with her,” Richard admitted sadly. “I just couldn’t stand seeing her disrespect Jen like that. So I told her, ‘Look. When you get older, you’ll understand that every woman has a right to have a child of her own, even infertile ones.’ But she wouldn’t listen. She was completely focused on herself and unable to feel anything for anyone else.” He shook his head with a mixture of regret and disgust.
Nodding, Jennifer continued, “At that point she was crying, and she just kept saying, ‘What about me? What about the kids? Don’t kids have a right to have a mommy and daddy? Why can’t you share the joy of life with us?’ If it hadn’t been so self-centered and insensitive to our situation, her pleas would have been sweet, I think.”
“Yeah, but as it was, she was way out of line,” Richard concluded. “I understand that the issue can be controversial, what with frozen embryos and the possibility of cloning and all, but to come into our house and insinuate that we don’t have the right to have our own child…I mean, even if she is only nine, the kid’s got to learn.”
Jennifer finished the account by adding sadly, “When Gary and Bar came to pick her up at the end of the night, we had to tell them we couldn’t watch her anymore. I felt terrible, but what could we do?”