Dear Amy:

I haven't had a child in my life for many, many years, and the likelihood of my becoming a grandma in the foreseeable future is exceedingly slim. I pine for a granddaughter.

One of my cleaning ladies occasionally brings her oldest daughter with her to our home. Jenny is a lovely, bright, well-mannered 7-year-old. Her folks have several kids, very little money and extremely limited English-speaking skills.

When Jenny comes to our door, I instantly envision all of the things that I experienced years ago with my three little boys. I would dearly love to have a lasting relationship with her, doing fun and enriching things together. My only motivation is the selfish one of satisfying my grandmaternal instincts. My problem is there's no reason that her parents should "share" her with me on an ongoing basis.

It occurs to me that Jenny deserves to have a college education, and that my husband and I could help substantially.

Is it nuts to think that an arrangement could be made with her folks to gradually fund an investment account in Jenny's name in exchange for spending a day with her every now and then, at her discretion? I know that I could never presume to impose myself into her real family life, and that any funds that were invested in her name would have to remain available to her for college, no matter what.

Is this foolish and/or unethical? Is it "renting" a little girl? I talked to my husband about it, and he had no objection other than that it was "pretty pathetic."

Pining for a Granddaughter

You sound like a nice person, and an arrangement such as you propose might have worked in a Charles Dickens novel, but it is unethical.

You could assure this girl's future (as well as her siblings' future) by helping her parents to succeed in this country. You can sponsor them for citizenship (if they aren't already citizens), help them to receive English language and job training, and mentor them.

All of her children deserve a college education, and the great thing about this country is that they can most likely get it. You and your husband could help by contributing to a college fund as a compensation bonus.

I'm sorry to tell you that pining for something doesn't mean that you get to be unethical -- if well-meaning -- to get it. You might enjoy volunteering at your local Head Start or after-school program, and as long as you can keep your grandmotherly pinings under control, I think they'd be extremely lucky to have you.

If you can't find a way to compensate for these feelings, it would be a good idea to talk it out with a counselor. This longing might be a sign of depression.

Dear Amy:

As president of The Jane Austen Society of North America, I compliment you on what Emma Woodhouse would call your "capital performance" in suggesting to the "Advice Goddess" that she read "Emma."

Indeed, it is a truth universally acknowledged that despite being a spinster-writer from the 18th-century English countryside, Jane Austen knew a great deal about male/female relationships. Your writing, "Don't even get me started on the horrifying prospect of 15-year-olds having sex," reminds me that Jane Austen actually dealt in "Pride and Prejudice" with the problems of a 15-year-old having sex.

Not every 15-year-old has Mr. Darcy to ride to the rescue. This is why a good dose of Jane Austen or even Jane Austen "lite" (the films) is always good for you!

Joan Klingel Ray, Ph.D.

Jane Austen's current popularity proves that her favorite theme -- love (both familial and romantic) -- is timeless.

Write to Amy Dickinson at or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

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