Every time the name Madeleine McCann resurfaces in the news, I feel an overwhelming need to roll my eyes. It's unfair, I know. Maddie, as she was known, was just a little girl, just 3 1/2 years old, when she went missing from a Portugal hotel room four years ago. Today she would have been 8 years old, and by rights should be home with her parents Gerry and Kate McCann in their Liverpool home with balloons and cake and a pretty dress.
But it isn't Madeleine herself who frustrates me. It's Gerry and Kate, the parents who today are releasing a book, simply titled Madeleine, and supposedly written with help of none other than Harry Potter's real mum, J.K. Rowling. Proceeds will be put into the coffers of Madeleine's Fund, to help pay for an independent search for the missing child.
Put like that, it sounds impossible that any self-respecting mother, nay, any human wouldn't want to buy a copy just to help. What kind of monster refuses to help a child? I guess this monster.
Because this isn't about hurting for Madeleine. With my own daughter's birthday party coming up quickly, wrapped up in finding the right pinata and designing a cake that will wow, I was hit harder today by the news that it was her birthday than I was by any facet of this story. There. That's the rub.
I think about Madeleine McCann. But I can't seem to think about her parents. It's almost embarrassing to admit the hollow feeling in my chest, but here goes. My first thought in these types of cases is usually of the parents, of how hard it must be for them at this time. Since becoming a parent, it's been amplified. I think of them as me; I clutch my daughter to my chest and ponder how I could function were the unthinkable to happen. It's a coping mechanism of sorts, really. I don't want to think of her in pain, so I think of myself instead. I distance my child from the story.
And yet, with the McCanns, I find myself thinking only of the child. When their daughter disappeared, they were the prime suspects. There have always been things that didn't add up -- including rumors that their daughter's blood was found in a car the couple rented weeks AFTER the girl went missing. Again, I'm being unfair. The McCanns were never arrested, and police have technically cleared them on the case, although it remains unsolved.
But I still judge them. They left their children alone in a hotel room -- their almost 4-year-old and twin 2-year-olds -- so they could go have a good time. They were wealthy, obviously wealthy enough to enjoy a trip to Portugal from their home in the United Kingdom, and they didn't hire a nanny to come along or even a hotel babysitter for the night. I thought I'd come to terms with that, felt they'd suffered enough for their mistakes. Then I read that the book includes Kate complaining that the resort, Praia da Luz, is to blame, noting:
When I was combing through the Portuguese police files ... I discovered that the receptionist's note requesting our block booking was written in a staff message book, which sat on a desk at the pool reception for most of the day. To my horror, I saw that, no doubt in all innocence, the receptionist had added that we wanted to eat close to our apartments as we were leaving our young children alone there and checking on them intermittently. This book was by definition accessible to all staff and, albeit unintentionally, probably to guests and visitors, too.
So it's still someone else's fault? It couldn't simply be that she shouldn't have been eating out of her "apartments," leaving three small children unattended? It's that attitude that makes me look at the cover of this book and think, "Eh, no, I won't be buying it." Because four years on, this search isn't about Madeleine at all. It's about Gerry and Kate McCann making themselves feel better. And I don't think I can help them with that.
Would you give money to this couple? Do you feel sympathetic toward them?
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