Mrs. Fran Lasota is in real trouble. She has been formally accused of abandoning her own baby. And she has received a summons, ordering her to appear in court and to bring the neglected baby with her.

Fran's friends and neighbors in the downstate town of Marengo, Ill, will probably be shocked and dismayed to read that Fran would abandon her baby in Chicago. Especially since Fran is in her 40s and hasn't had a baby for many years.

It came as a shock to Fran, too, when her phone rang a few weeks ago and a bureaucrat from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services asked her why she had abandoned her baby.

"My what?" asked Fran.

"Your baby," the bureaucrat said.

"What are you talking about?"

The man told her that a week-old boy had been brought to a Chicago hospital to be treated for a rash.

The hospital cured the rash, but the mother never came back for the baby.

"Why do you think it is my baby?" Fran asked.

"Is your name Frances Lasota?"


"Well, that's the name of the mother," the bureaucrat said.

Fran told the man that he had the wrong Fran Lasota, and she asked him how she had been chosen as the errant mother.

From what he said, she gathered that he had just looked in phone books for people named Lasota until he found named Fran.

"Well, you'll have to keep looking," she said, "because it's not my kid."

She thought that would be the end of it. But recently she received a registered letter.

It was the summons, telling her that she had to appear in court on a neglect charge. And it said she should bring her baby with her.

Naturally, she was flustered. She called the Cook County state's attorney's office, which prosecutes neglectful parents, and explained her problem.

"He told me I had better show up in court," she said.

She called a lawyer in Marengo and asked him what to do.

"He told me I should get a Chicago lawyer to defend me."

She called the Marengo Police Department to see if it had any advice.

"They told me that I should probably go to court. If I didn't, I might be held in contempt of court for not showing up with the baby I don't have."

She called the Department of Children and Family Services and tried to explain her problem.

"They didn't seem to understand what I was talking about."

Now she doesn't know what to do. It's a long trip from Marengo to Chicago, and Fran doesn't see why she should have to come all that way for something she hasn't anything to do with. Nor does she want to spend money on a lawyer.

But she is afraid if she doesn't show up, she will be held in contempt and will be in even worse trouble.

So she sought my advice, which was a wise thing for her to do, since I've had a lot of experience in dealing with bureaucrats.

Over the years, I've dealt with people who have received letters from Social Security bureaucrats telling them their benefits were being cut off because they had died.

Some readers might also remember the man who came home one day and found his house knocked down. "Ooops," the bureaucrats said, "wrong address." f

Then there was the man who lost most of his face in Vietnam, then received a letter from the VA saying that it couldn't pay his medical bills because his injury wasn't service-related.

So my advice to Fran is that she had better go to court.

And she had better bring a baby with her.

Believe me, if you show up without a baby, they'll just get suspicious. They'll think you dropped the kid on his head and don't want to admit it, and you'll be in deeper trouble.

So borrow one. Somebody must have a baby you can use for a day. Go in there, show them the kid is healthy and happy, and maybe they'll let you off with just a stern warning.

On the other hand, they might decide you are unfit and take the baby away from you. Then you'd have to go back to your friend and say: "Sorry, but your kid's in a foster home. But thanks for trying to help."

That wouldn't be good because your friend would probably be miffed. So I'll have to come up with another plan.

OK, here's what you do. Go rent a monkey. There are places you can get them.

Put the monkey in baby clothes and take it to court and say to the judge:

"OK, Your Honor, I admit it. I abandoned my baby. But look at this kid. He looks like a monkey. It's from his father's side. If you had a kid this ugly, Your Honor, wouldn't you abandon him? I mean, he's got hair on his feet."

Chances are, the judge will be sympathetic and let you go, especially if the monkey bites him.

The worst that can happen is that they will declare you an unfit mother and take the monkey away from you and put it in a foster home.

You'll be out one monkey and the Department of Children and Family Services will be stuck with a foster baby that bites, climbs the drapes and has hair on its feet.

And who knows -- someday you might be proud. The kid could grow up to be an alderman.