Crocodile tears. Hypocrite.
That was my reaction when I read about the mother of the foster child who committed suicide on Facebook Live.
Naika Venant, you might recall, was the 14-year-old who, after a short horrible life, hanged herself in a foster care shower stall in January. That desperate, pitiful act tore at my heart the minute I read about it. That feeling turned into a knot of anger — and a discomfiting sense of helplessness — when details of her life emerged.
Naika, as my Miami Herald colleagues have written, simply wanted her mother to love her. A need so human that it transcends generations, culture and geography, so vital that children rarely thrive without it.
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Naika wanted this love so badly that four months before she killed herself she made a last-ditch attempt for a reunion.
“I wanna make this work betwn us...” the child texted. “Tell me what I gotta Do & iLL Do iT Im Tired Of Us Fighting We Needa Make This Work Im Ready for Us to be a Team AGAIN.”
Her mother, a woman named Gina Alexis, however, “wanted very little to do with her daughter.”
Three days after the suicide, Alexis made her grand entrance as the distraught mother. An attorney accompanied her. She sobbed. She blamed everyone but herself.
“Naika was my baby girl,” she said between gulps of breath. “I am sick and devastated. I have trusted Florida foster care people to care for my baby. Instead she kills herself on Facebook.
“I have to bury my baby.”
So stricken was this woman that she had to be ushered out of the room. An Oscar-worthy performance, to be sure.
At that time no one had turned to Merriam-Webster to check if Alexis’ face matched the venerable dictionary’s definition of hypocrisy. It would have.
Records now released by the Florida Department of Children & Families reveal that Alexis beat her child 30 times with a belt. She abandoned her to the black hole of the system after Naika had been raped in a foster home. She answered the despairing teen’s entreaties with taunting text messages of her own.
And, when the DCF case manager tried to set up a visit between mother and daughter for the Christmas holiday, the mother declined, saying “she had been drinking and smoking and therefore was not in a presentable condition.”
In an interview with the Miami Herald, the 31-year-old Alexis has defended herself, saying she has been wrongly recast as the villain in this sordid tale. It is also true that Naika was not an easy child to love. She ran away, danced in her underwear on Facebook and sent explicit photos to other teens. Her journey through foster care made her even more disrespectful and rebellious, too. Her behavior, however, was an expected result of the great trauma she endured.
As a mother who has weathered her fair share of rebellion and disrespect, I can kind of, sort of, almost, maybe empathize. What mother wouldn’t?
But this understanding lasts all of a nanosecond. A mother’s love, I believe, should be unconditional, not tied to a child’s appearance, intelligence or behavior. Alexis seems to have shown no sense of this. At one point, she even texted a caseworker: “Naika is y’all problem...I’m done with the games.” And when Naika asked to visit her brother, Alexis answered with a row of emojis in the shape of a hand, its middle finger extended.
So if this underserving mother wants comfort and sympathy, she won’t get it from me. Crocodile tears are not the way to mourn a child who deserved better.