Thursday, November 13, 1997
The big story closer to home
than au pair


BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Why were we so transfixed by the murderous, no, the frustrated British au pair?

Court TV? Was it part of a residual fascination for all things O.J., which would include the remarkably unlikable Barry Scheck? Do all the network anchors employ foreign teen-agers? Why on earth did this story get so much attention?

Judge Hiller Zobel's decision to reduce Louise Woodward's second-degree murder conviction to manslaughter was televised live and released on the internet. Katie Couric was still wringing her hands the next day. National Public Radio broadcast from the Rigger Pub in Elton, England, hometown of the 19-year-old girl. The Enquirer gave up the top of its front page. Talk radio blathered. Oprah rolled her eyes.

Why?

Lemmings: film at 11

Were we media lemmings, drowning in the same sea of excess? Were we supplying the news you demanded? Or did we create the demand? Were transplanted Brits working at U.S. tabloids responsible? If you have the answer, let me know.

Meanwhile, there is the matter of thousands of children much closer than Cambridge , Mass., and Elton, England. Beginning with DeSaun and Dontai Wadley.

The two little boys - 2 and 3 years old - were found wandering in morning traffic. Their mother, 21-year-old Celine Wadley, is working and going to school. She got a list of licensed child-care providers in her neighborhood and chose one.

She chose wrong. Brenda Jenkins, who was leaving the kids with her boyfriend while she went to her full-time county job, has been charged with two counts of child endangering. (STORY)

''I feel so guilty,'' Ms. Wadley says. ''All I know is that I want to go back to school, but I am scared to drop my kids off.'' She says she doesn't think she has a choice.

She is right.

Working moms' nightmare

A friend of mine, an accomplished professional, calls Louise Woodward ''every working mother's nightmare.'' Well, hardly. Most working mothers do not have a spare bedroom for the au pair. Most would find it tough to feed an extra mouth, not to mention the $125 a week Deborah and Sunil Eappen paid their au pair.

And these are the middle-class mothers. The next rung down the child-care ladder is the working poor.

Right now, this morning, women will be putting their children in the hands of care-givers - boyfriends, cousins, aunts, grandmothers, occasionally day-care centers. These are the women we are moving from ''welfare to work.'' This is a very good idea that has a lot of loose ends.

We are helping these women go to school. We are helping them to find work. Mostly, this is not out of the kindness of our collective hearts. It's a practical matter. We don't want to support them any more. We want them to learn how to fend for themselves. But what about their children?

Middle-class America, which pays the bills, doesn't like the way these children were born. Fatherless. To mothers who don't know how to care for them. That is not, has never been, the point. The point is the children and what they will become. They are the real beginning of welfare reform.

''Turning the tide of welfare dependency more than justifies a few years of higher costs for support services,'' Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus said last December, pleading with Ohio Gov. George Voinovich for help with child-care subsidies for people making less than $8.17 an hour.

Louise Woodward has a mother and a father who sat in that courtroom every day and who took her away in a limousine with tinted windows when she was set free. I suppose she'll sell her story to Hard Copy. I don't actually care.

But I really want to know how the Celine Wadley story turns out.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

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