by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

The little girl died of starvation. She was 4 years old. Her mother didn’t like the way she looked — said her face reminded her too much of her father
— so she didn’t feed her. The child withered to skin and bones. When the cops found her dead body, they also found six other living children, who slept together on one mattress in the rat-infested New York City apartment. The 32-year-old mother, now facing murder charges, was pregnant again.

In northern California, a woman was arrested after allegedly giving birth, then placing the newborn in a plastic trash bag and burying the bag in a hole in ground. Her reason — she later told police — was that she feared her boyfriend would be upset about the child, since he was not the father. She had three other children, none of whom lived with her; they already had been taken away because of child-neglect charges.

In Nashville, Tenn., a 6-year-old boy was killed when his father allegedly beat him to death for “running in and out of the door” of their trailer home. When the police came, the boy’s body was laid out on the hood of a car. The man, now facing first-degree murder charges, has three other children.

In Virginia, a 12-year-old girl was found beaten to death, after being chained like an animal and fed scraps like a dog. When she died, she weighed 51 pounds, and had too little flesh on her bones for rigor mortis to set in, so she hung limp as a rag until the police found her. Cause of death: her head was rammed through a wall. The man who did it: her mother’s boyfriend, who along with the mother is facing first-degree murder charges. The woman had three other kids.

In the end, someone said, the world we leave behind is the one we teach our children to run.

Forgive me if I worry about the future.

Terrifying facts

In Los Angeles, just a few months ago, a woman was arrested for leaving her three young children covered in urine and feces. There was no food in the refrigerator and the kids were suffering from head lice. The woman, only 25, was pregnant again.

In Spokane, Wash., an intoxicated mother fell asleep on the couch, rolled on top of her 3-month-old daughter, and suffocated her. “I guess I picked a bad night to get drunk,” the woman said.

She had two other children, both under 7 years old.

What are we becoming? Every day we read some horrific story about parents abusing children, using them for sex objects, filming them beating one another, trading them for drugs. It’s like a bad Movie of the Week, but it’s week after week, month after month, in Detroit, Chicago, New York, LA, Nashville, Houston, Wisconsin, anywhere and everywhere.

And I don’t know which is more terrifying, the nature of these crimes, or the fact that the mothers and fathers almost inevitably have other children and keep having more.

If the job of parenting is so incredibly intolerable, then why do these people dig deeper and deeper? Is it stupidity? Poverty?

Or is it a warped sense of control, the creation of a world in which they get to be the boss, and inflict on some weaker creature a new form of the torture they feel was inflicted on them?

Sad memories

Many years ago, I took a job at a social service agency in New York City. I worked with 4- and 5-year-old kids. Most were delightful.

But one angelic-faced child, named Jeffrey, always seemed nervous. He flinched when you went to hug him. His skin was white. He was thinner than the others, too thin for his age.

One day — after a long absence — he came in with terrible scars on his arm. He said he “fell down the steps.” Later, when I had him alone, I held him in my lap and asked him again. This time he said his mother got angry when he spilled a box of cereal, and she tied his arm to the gas burner and turned on the flame. He said this in a deadened, innocent voice that makes me shiver even as a write this.

After enormous bureaucracy — the paperwork in social services is astounding — we went to the home and confronted the parents. They were angry, and denied any such action. Jeffrey hid in the back room.

I would like to say we solved the problem. The truth is, Jeffrey stopped coming. We never saw him again.

The sins of the parents, the tears of a child. A few years ago, a mother was sentenced to life in prison for hanging her 3-year-old son. Her lawyer’s defense? When the woman was young, she had watched her mother hang her daughter the same way.

I don’t know what goes on inside these terribly sick minds. But I know it doesn’t begin with them. And until we deal with the roots of such despair, it won’t end with them, either.

Mitch Albom’s radio show, “Albom in the Afternoon,” can be heard weekdays at 4-6 p.m. on WJR-AM (760).


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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