Houston Chronicle

June 29, 2001, 8:31PM

A family's pain unleashes sadness, anger

By SHERRY THOMAS
Houston Chronicle

Solids. We were talking about solids.

"I think he's ready for cereal."

"Well," says the hubby, in that long, drawn-out, I'm-an-engineer-and-everything-is-debatable-kind of way. "Are you sure?"

I was about to launch into, "Yes, I'm sure, Dr. Spock. Did you not see Junior making puppy-dog eyes at my potato chip?" when something on the midday news stopped me in midsentence.

It was Andrea Pia Yates, the 36-year-old Clear Lake mother who woke up one morning and allegedly drowned her five kids in a bathtub.

The story, as it has unfolded, is horrifying.

Five kids younger than 8. Depression. Psychosis. Suicide attempt.

While a city and a nation look on in shock, one man is swallowing his tears and standing by his wife.

"The woman here," Russell Yates says, pointing to his wife's picture at a news conference, "is not the woman who killed my children."

She was sick, he says. Severely depressed after the birth of the last child. Possibly hearing voices.

Sweet.

Sweet that he loves her still. Sweet that he's keeping his word, to love and honor 'til death do them part.

But come on. Don't you think somewhere in those wedding vows there ought to have been a clause about not hurting the kids?

Remember what Bill McVeigh said about his son, executed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh?

"How can you forgive him for killing 168 people?" he told a reporter prior to the execution. "You can't. He's my son, but he did something that was terribly wrong."

And I think we can agree that what Andrea Yates told police she did was terribly wrong.

Truth is, we all hope that we'll never really know how Russell Yates felt the morning he pulled into the driveway to find his family gone. We never want to know what it's like to bury our children and visit a spouse in jail.

We only know how we think we'd feel if it happened to us. And I think as parents, most of us would be mad.

Really mad.

In fact, just talking about it makes us mad.

Almost as mad as we got reading about the Katy father who killed himself and three of his children one day in February.

As mad as the thought that while some of us are up at 2 a.m. to make sure the baby's still breathing, others are keeping 8-year-olds in closets.

Or the thought that while some mothers and fathers sit by their dying children's bedside at Texas Children's, others are allegedly drowning them in the bathtub.

So if he's not going to be mad at her, I am.

I'm mad because I'm sure we failed her somehow, as a woman and a mom. But mostly I'm mad because for the past week and a half, I haven't been able to look at my son, Sebastian, without seeing or thinking of 6-month-old Mary.

I haven't been able to carefully wash his little dishes and spoons without thinking of Russell Yates, carefully putting away five sets of little dishes and spoons.

Forever.


New mom Sherry Thomas writes this feature on alternating weeks. Contact her at Sherry.Thomas@chron.com or c/o Houston Chronicle, 801 Texas Houston, TX 77002.

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle