Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Thoughts in the aftermath of Mother's Day

I've been longing to finish dissecting my 'nominees' for the Golden Cymbeline, but current events keeps distracting me. I've been waiting to give a good mauling to the likes of Jewel, but first the Terri Schiavo circus, then the papal circus (Circus Pontifex Maximus?), and then sundry smaller tragedies (RIP, Tortie-kitty) keep forcing me to channel my energies elsewhere. Not that I blog about those things, mind, but they provide a spur toward cathartic fiction in a way that the pros and cons of Alanis Morrisette's career simply doesn't.

I almost blogged about the Runaway Bride, not because I gave a darn about her, but because the whole wedding spectacle ticked me off. I don't like the Cult of the Fantasy Wedding as practiced in this country, and the idea of a 600-guest freakshow centered around an unstable little girl in a woman's body struck me as wasteful and appalling. But I didn't go there either.

Then, the current 'murdered little kid' news streak picked up. The drowned toddlers in Georgia were one thing, but the double-feature horror show of Precious Doe and the two girls from Zion finally got me going-- because of the apparent facts of these cases, and not the idea of them.

The idea of these cases-- murdered kiddies-- is perfect fodder for the culture of outrage, just as the Runaway Bride was (She couldn't have just left! Her fiance must have done it! Oh, the horrors perpetrated against women in our culture...). Dear little best friends from quiet Illinois village with Biblical theme disappear while riding bikes together over Mother's Day Weekend.

I give you quotes from MSN-blog blowhard Joe Scarborough, out of his post "Innocence lost in Illinois":

Parents should no longer feel free to let their children ride bikes with friends, unless they are accompanied by a police escort. And those carefree summer days of jumping on a bike early in the morning and riding around town until dinner are long gone...
These days our children grow up in an exceedingly grim world where all strangers are evil and all grown ups are helpless to save them from the evil beasts lurking outside their door.

Except that the guy the police arrested was no beastly stranger outside the door. The guy they are charging is the father of one of the girls, a man who searched alongside the other girl's family for the missing twosome, and was the one who discovered their bodies in Beulah Park.


I realize that the cops could easily have the wrong guy. With two dead girls in a quiet town, no motives, no suspects, and intense fear and media attention goin' on, why not collar the ex-con with a nasty rap sheet who happened to 'find' the bodies?

It's hard to believe it when people kill their own kids, even when the headlines and police blotters throw ugly, incontrovertible evidence in our faces. Like say, the evidence from the other case playing out in the Heartland-- the murder of Erica "Precious Doe" Green. Erica was found decapitated four years ago, but was not publicly identified until last week (hence the posthumous nickname). The culprits in this case appear to be her own mother and stepfather, who kicked her senseless and left her to die. They didn't call for help because both of them were wanted criminals. Instead, once she was dead, they cut off her head and disposed of the body, then brazened it out for years.

The circumstances of Erica's death are bad enough, but the circumstances of her not-quite-four years of life are really the sick part. See, Erica was born when her mother was in prison, and for most of her life was cared for by others. She'd only been in the care of her mother and future stepfather for a couple of weeks before their inability to deal with a toddler (though mom allegedly has seven kids out there besides poor Erica) resulted in beatings followed by death. Neither the Oklahoma Department of Corrections nor the Department of Human Services monitored Erica or her mother... because they don't. Not their job. The two departments don't, as a rule, correspond with one another about what happens when prisoners have babies, much less follow up once ex-prisoners and their kids are reunited. They don't have the resources to do that unless they have specific threats or instances of neglect to monitor. And Erica's mother had done time for larceny, not, say, assault.

Let me refer back to Joe Scarborough:
They (the children) are used for sexual gratification by diseased old men. They are the objects of violent fantasies that are only satisfied by blood. They are victims of a system that keeps letting them down.

In this case, a system that allowed a toddler to go back to her biological mother-- and outcome our society generally holds up as an objective good. Not that 'the system' might have worked for Erica any better if her mother's rights had been terminated and Erica placed in foster care-- like Rilya Wilson, a girl who simply disappeared from Florida's foster care system. Long before "Precious Doe" was ID'd, thanks to a tip, as Erica Green, police checked to see if the remains belonged to Rilya. They didn't, of course, and Rilya's whereabouts are still unknown.

I think the Erica Green case riles me the most because of its similarities to the sad, sad death of Ariana Swinson, a Michigan girl murdered by her own parents. Like Erica, Ariana was raised to toddlerhood by other people because her parents were, at the time of her birth, judged unfit. Four and a half months after state child welfare officials decided Ariana's parents were clear to play mommy and daddy without supervision, they beat the malnourished two-year old to death.

Both the Ariana Swinson and the Rilya Wilson tragedies resulted in big changes to the state services that should have been looking out for them, but the bottom line is that the kids' own parents and guardians were the source of the problem. Mothers kill children, or facilitate the men in their lives who do the beating and killing. For both Erica Green and Ariana Swinson, the father/stepfather gave the fatal blow, but the mothers collaborated to hide or ignore the damage. "The system" doesn't work because it's underfunded, because case-workers have too many cases, because social workers are no less blind or stupid or lazy than the rest of the populace, and because foster and adoptive parents can be scum as bad or worse as 'unfit' biological parents. The system's true Achilles heel, though, is the basic impulse people have toward believing in a sacred bond between mother and child. Who would allocate money to a government agency, even one that worked, if it took a hard line in permanently removing children from their mommies and daddies, with no second chances like the one Ariana's parents received? This is America! We believe in mom, and in optimism. We believe that parents have some inborn inclination to do right by their children, despite the evidence that some people just couldn't care less about their offspring. And when mommie dearest does kill or abuse or outright neglect, we make excuses-- it's always some man's fault.

The system lets kids down. The government lets kids down. But the people who chose to have these kids let them down first. Society celebrates mothers who "choose life," but these people chose life and then wasted it.

I refer you back to Joe the Blowhard for some closing thoughts:

No one knows all the facts of this Illinois case.

Clearly. And Jerry Hobbs, despite his rap sheet for assault, despite his tendency to threaten people with chainsaws, might not have been the one to kill his daughter and her friend. Police do have a tendency to grab scapegoats in nasty, sensational cases like this. But I think it's a lot more likely that Dad, not a vicious, drooling, DangerStranger, killed the girls. Joe Scarborough here would rather foment outrage over a decaying society filled with unseen dangers than admit that the real danger to children might be members of the sacred nuclear family.

But we do know it will happen somewhere else soon.

This, alas, is true.

Happy Mother's Day, belated.