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How Do You Say No To a Kid With Cancer?

ina garten barefood contessa

Is Ina Garten busy with book signings like this one?

Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten has gotten herself into a bit of a PR pickle this week.  The celebrity chef apparently received a request from Enzo, a 6 year old boy with terminal cancer who had become a fan of her Food Network show while watching it in bed with his mom. When Enzo, who has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, was contacted by The Make a Wish Foundation, he wished to make a meal with the Barefoot Contessa. Ina Garten turned him down—TWICE.

Ina’s people cited “Scheduling Conflicts” on both occasions. But her rejection has spurred a certain amount of outrage. How can you not make time for someone who has so little time left—a child, no less? And a child who, when given the choice of anyone on the planet, chooses YOU? Enzo, tragically, supposedly asked his parents, “Why doesn’t she want to meet me?”

Apparently this kind of celebrity snubbing happens a lot more often than one might hope.

When TMZ took the matter up with the Make a Wish Foundation, here’s what they said: “From time to time, planning for wishes doesn’t turn out as originally envisioned, despite people’s best intentions and efforts throughout the wish-granting process.” When the story was posted on Gawker, a commenter reiterated this, saying she’d worked at the Make a Wish Foundation and that wishes are turned down fairly frequently.  Often, she said, it’s a matter of the celebrities’ handlers poor communication. Sometimes, it really is a “scheduling conflict”, and sometimes, who knows, maybe it’s just a celebrity who doesn’t feel like dealing with it.

Maureen O’ Connor at Gawker asks whether it’s really ethical to expect celebrities to pony up with themselves just because they’re asked: “Why should Make-A-Wish get to choose random celebrities and hold them hostage in a prison of public opinion until they agree to hang out with some random kid, anyway?” but she goes on to answer her own question with “Oh, right. Terminally ill pediatric cancer patient, heartbroken and bereft, wants one tiny favor to give his tragically short life the tiniest piece of joy in its final hour. You really can’t say [no? sic] to that. Ever.”

Apparently you can—and I’m not sure you shouldn’t be able to. It’s beyond heartbreaking to think of a dying child, period. But a dying child’s dying request being turned down? Come ON.Still, how can it not happen? These wishes don’t happen in a vacuum. They involve other people, busy, important, self-important people. Our obsession with celebrity gives famous people the superpower of making people happy with their very presence. But they have not been imbued with super-morals, or even super-generosity.

Perhaps just because this is the kind of neg-head I am, this is something I’ve always wondered about the Make a Wish Foundation. What happens if the wish is impossible? What happens, it seems, is that the child is encouraged to make another wish. That’s what happened with Enzo when he was turned down the first time, but he stuck to his guns, saying he wanted to wait for Garten to be available.

Note to commenter who said: “a 6-year old’s dearest wish is for time with a tv cook? I ain’t buying it. This is mom or dad’s wish, not the kid’s.” You obviously haven’t spent any time with children in the age of the celebrity chef. There are legions of kids for whom cooking shows are a primary source of entertainment. Still,  maybe you’ll be more satisfied with the more stereotypically childlike choice Enzo eventually settled on once Ina rejected him AGAIN (for real, Ina? I get that you’re busy, but the kid asks you TWICE and you can’t work it out?) Enzo has now decided he wants to swim with dolphins. I’m betting his parents are pretty relieved about this one. It may require travel and training, but at least there’s a low possibility of rejection.

[via TMZ, Gawker]

photo: Therealbs2002/wikimedia commons

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