- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Every now and again, life compels us to document our journeys. After all, we are frequent flyers, visiting the places of our desires and dreams and, of course, our destinies. Wouldn't you agree? Before you start thinking I'm a far-out sister from another planet, let me explain.

More often than not, word about the pain and ironies of life comes our way for a reason. Our spiritual leaders tell us "God works in mysterious ways." Whether you believe that or not, though, really doesn't matter. Because I'm not trying to be that deep.

All I'm trying to do is share three unintended "visits" I made during this summer, visits with families that kind of left me wondering, "Hmm."

Most recently, I traveled to Hampton, Va., through a wire-service story in The Washington Times, to meet a 20-year-old woman named Roszina Mack.

Roszina has three children: 2-year-old twin girls and an 8-month-old son. She also, her older brother said, had a "pretty rough life" because her own mom died when she was very young, she only recently discovered she even had a brother, she is unmarried, and she and the father of her children recently separated. I would say she has had a rough go of things, too.

Anyway, let me tell you why Roszina Mack made headlines. Roszina Mack faces charges of abandoning her children. She said she wanted to place them in foster care but didn't get any help despite numerous calls to different agencies. So she abandoned them.

"I didn't know what to do," she said. I was confused. I was stressed out… . I can only take so much." So she left her babies outside a library where a large sign informs one and all that the building is a "safe place," a place where "children who think they are in danger can go for help," the news report said.

Is that story worthy of a "hmm," or not?

Surely this one is. Oprah Winfrey, the queen of gab, recently had several mothers on her show who say their children have "meltdowns." In another time, such behavior would have been labeled a "tantrum." You know, when children start screaming and throwing things because they can't have their way.

Well, one of the "experts" explained to us dummies that juveniles' so-called "meltdowns" are similar, that they manifest themselves when children don't know how to express their frustrations. However, these children were far more than frustrated, and if you don't believe me let's go to the videotape.

One little boy, about 5 or 6 years old, repeatedly called his mother the "B" word and used other abusive and profane terms. Another, an adolescent perched on his upper bunk, threw things at his mom and kept screaming for her to get out of his room and out of his life.

Some of these "meltdowns," Oprah explained, last for four hours, and then Mr. Expert told us the media deserves part of the blame. No matter how you break it down, those children need counseling and so do their parents.

Hard news doesn't always do serious family matters any justice, either. Prior to visiting Oprah in Chicago, I had traveled to New York with Ted Koppel and "Nightline," where he introduced me to a "master teacher." In actuality, this teacher was educator, nursemaid, mother and father, psychologist and drill sergeant, multiple roles far too many of our public school teachers must perform day in and day out.

Anyway, the "Nightline" crew had followed this teacher and her class for some time, maybe even the entire school year. I don't recall, because the frequency of their visits is, in my mind, irrelevant. What gave me considerable pause, what made me go, "Hmm," were three incidents.

One involved a student who had already repeated the fourth grade and looked big enough to be in junior high school. He obviously will not realize his or his parents' dream through traditional schooling, yet no one so much as uttered such options as charter schools, vouchers or home-schooling for this youngster, who wept while taking a standardized test. Another girl sought solace in the hallway when she found out she failed the test. Another girl was in tears because, after bringing Daddy's nudie magazine or calendar for show and tell, Mom said doing so made her look like a bad mother.

Now as a mother, I am as much an expert as the next parent when it comes to child-rearing no more so or no better, because I have made bad judgment calls, too. But when a mother is so "stressed out" she cannot cope, and our little ones are having "meltdowns" (i.e. nervous breakdowns) and our children think handling X-rated publications is their fault, well, people, we have issues.

We have serious issues that can be exposed on Oprah but not solved on a television show. We have serious problems that manifest themselves daily in a classroom but cannot be solved by a teacher.

One of those problems, I think, is we need to own them, claim them, accept them because denial, like pain and substance abuse, is treacherous and oh so deceptive. Dulling the pain or treating the symptoms does not make them go away.

Just think for a moment. The mass media takes us on these little "journeys" for various reasons and they have nothing to do with altruism. That's where you and I come in, that's where you and I can make a difference.

And if you really think about it, you and I are the only ones who can make a difference.

Deborah Simmons is an editorial writer for The Washington Times. She can be reached by e-mail (simmon@twtmail.com).

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