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Jewish World Review March 31, 1999 /14 Nissan 5759

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Children need attention before they cry out for it

(JWR) ---- (
BY NOW I THINK I SHOULD BE ABLE to qualify for the bar exam considering the extraordinary number of times I've watched each A&E rerun of "Law & Order." It takes a few viewings of each episode to glean all the clever lessons and understand all the intricacies of the lawyers. Sometimes, as in a recent "nanny killing" episode, the messages go far beyond issues of the law.

It seemed like a slam-dunk: The imported nanny has been fired once for "not being kind to the baby," has written in her diary how much she hates caring for the now-deceased child, has an ex-boyfriend who verifies her depression and anger at being "trapped" in her circumstances (for only one year). The aphid (bug) poison used to kill the baby is sitting in plain view in her plant-filled room, and the receipt for the poison, dated the day before the death, is in her trash. What more do you need?

Next comes the legal wrangling over such issues as whether finding the poison was a legal search, considering the police did not have a warrant but were given permission to enter by the owners of the home (the dead child's parents) in which the nanny had a room. This is usually the part of the show that demonstrates the power of nitpicking over truth and justice for the victim. Nonetheless, I find the legal chess game fascinating in addition to being infuriatingly frustrating.

Cast of "Law & Order"
For this particular presentation, the conclusion was more something out of the old "Perry Mason" days, where the real bad guy is never the defendant and is "made" while testifying against the always innocent defendant. This day, the murderer turns out to be the adolescent son of the dead baby's father. His motive? He killed his half-brother because he mistakenly blamed the baby for the lack of attention he got from his father. Irony? The baby was faring worse than he. The only reason the father knew the baby was dead was that he stopped by the house to change his shirt and had the cabby leave the meter running. This plot line was an indictment, all right, not against a juvenile criminal, but against our society's current mentality about family and children.

The defense attorney, a tough and clever lawyer, cross-examined the dead baby's mother. First, the lawyer established that the husband was really, really rich, and that the "mother" didn't have to work. The mother admitted to loving her work and traveling an exceptional amount of time. When the lawyer questioned her about who chose the nanny and how, the true crimes against this baby revealed themselves.

The mother asked her secretary who had a friend who suggested the nanny company. When questioned, the mother did not even know the name of the friend -- that's how important it was for the mother to ensure proper, loving care for her infant. She hadn't checked references.

It got even better. On the day her baby died, the mother did call home. This was testimony supposedly demonstrating that the nanny was with the baby when the baby died. The mother said that while talking to the nanny, she heard the baby giggling and (dramatic pause) this was the last sound she heard him make. The defense attorney asks an interesting question. "Why did you call home?" The mother, now sobbing, admits that she called to find out if some business papers had arrived on time.

Before we find out that the adolescent boy did it, there is a scene with the female defense lawyer and the female assistant DA over some drinks. The DA laments that it should be the decision of each woman whether to work and pursue a career. The defense lawyer has to leave to go home to her kid, who, like all kids, doesn't have choices, just needs.

The adolescent, caught in his lies, admits that his need for his dad "made him do it." I guess he thought that killing the competition would get him more quality time with his dad. Wrong. His dad wasn't absorbed in the baby. He, like his lovely new wife, was absorbed in their money, power and position -- commonly accepted as self-fulfillment.

The adults made their choices: divorce, remarriage, new babies, careers, surrogate parents and the myth of quality time. Unfortunately for the children, the choices of parents often ignore the needs of children, but don't eliminate them.

These children's needs are all too often met by gangs (a surrogate family), drugs (surrogate feeling of well-being), sex (surrogate love and bonding) and violence (surrogate feeling of power and importance).

Oh, yes, by the way, the father's reaction to finding out that his first son killed his second son was that he'd like to break his neck. Sadly, hugs and kisses on that neck a few weeks earlier could have changed that family's history.


03/29/99: Family values fall victim to advertising whims
03/19/99: Snooping can be healthy if it saves a child in trouble
03/05/99: Traditional religions offer optimism to adherents
03/05/99: Tearing down foundations, brick by brick
02/26/99: With power comes obligation to lead by example
02/19/99: National Prayer Breakfast inspires public servants
02/12/99: Overcoming selfishness leads us closer to human potential
02/09/99: Youth's difficult lessons make us better adults
02/02/99: Rituals, icons remind us of our obligation to G-d
01/22/99: 'Consenting adults' don't always examine consequences
01/18/99: Day care no substitute for love of mom and dad
01/08/99: Don't use others' misfortunes to build your self-image
12/31/98: Tracking HIV-infected people makes good sense
12/24/98: How can we teach ethics without defining morals?
12/18/98: Parents afraid of firm values leave their children adrift
12/11/98: Spread righteousness by refusing to accept the 'code'

©1999, Universal Press Syndicate