Essie Summers tries — and fails — to explain unconditional love to her daughter

I am immensely enjoying Essie Summers’s autobiography. She is best known as a romance novelist from the pre-pornography days of Mills and Boon / Harlequin Romances, but she was also a prolific writer of poetry and newspaper columns, and — more importantly — a minister’s wife and mother of two small children. Here’s one vignette from the childhood of her daughter Elizabeth:

Our children always went to bed fairly early, but never to lights out immediately. They always read till sleepy. This was the time when they both used to think long, long thoughts. Sometimes Elizabeth’s resulted in confessions. Sometimes in questions. One night, in answer to her, ‘Mummy, I want to ask you something,’ I went in, to have her say: ‘I just can’t understand how God can love us when we are naughty.’

‘It’s easy,’ said I, rashly, sitting down on the bed. ‘When you and Billy are naughty, I’m sorry, very sorry, but it doesn’t alter my love for you. I love you very much then. Now do you understand?’

‘No, I don’t. I don’t see how you can love us when we are like that.’

I tried another tack, sure this would work. ‘Well, look at it this way, love. You know sometimes when Mummy’s had a bad day, and things have gone wrong, and she gets a bit grizzly and cross with you at tea-time? Well, you love me just the same, don’t you?’

The look I dreaded crossed her face, the tell-the-truth-and-shame-the-devil one. ‘Why, Mummy, I just can’t stand you when you’re like that.’

I staggered out and into the kitchen close by to find Bill rolling with mirth on the couch. ‘You sure asked for that one, Ess,’ he said.

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