It’s 2:17AM and I’m hustling the seven feet from my bedroom to my son’s. His loud cries for MOMMY cut through the wall and the closed doors and even the ear plugs I wear to dim the nighttime city noises. Of course they do — I’m his mother.
By 2:18AM he’s in my arms, tiny fingers already twisting themselves in my hair, hot little breaths of “mommymommymommy” in my ear. I rock him and his crying gradually slows. I put him down in his crib, give him his Bunnydog, a ratty stuffed animal we aren’t sure is a rabbit or a dog, and slowly recede from the room. As I slip into the hallway, his little voice calls me back.
“Daddy?” he asks.
“Daddy’s on a work trip. He’ll be home soon.”
“Daddy airplane,” I confirm.
“Mommy airplane come back.”
“Yes, Mommy came back, and Daddy will come back soon.”
It’s 2:23AM and he curls his sleepy little body around Bunnydog. In less than 15 seconds, he’ll be sound asleep again; his two-year old brain reassured. Airplanes are exciting, mysterious things that ferry adults away from him sometimes — but they always bring them back.
At 3:49AM, I’m still wide awake, thinking about the devastating “orchestra” of crying kids being kept in cages along our southern border. Who is comforting them? Do they have their own Bunnydogs? Who’s gently replacing the covers on their little bodies? Who’s talking them through their fear? And most importantly, when are their adults coming back? Why were they ever separated?
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the foremost authority on heathy child development, recently called the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that separates children from their parents at the border “government-sanctioned child abuse.” From the fear-stricken face of the toddler in the pink sweatshirt crying as her mom is questioned, to the heartbreaking images of children lying on makeshift cots in the middle of a warehouse under haphazardly thrown Mylar blankets, it is immediately clear that this is true, even to someone without a rudimentary understanding of childhood development.
And yet this basic truth bears repeating: the high degree of stress these children are facing is devastating to their health. It disrupts their brain development. It can lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorders, and heart disease. The fear of separation has already put young children in the easy grasp of sexual predators. General Kelly may believe this is just “foster care, or whatever,” but it is quite literally toxic. And it is entirely, cruelly, purposeful in its design: to act as a deterrent to those fleeing parents, forcing them to decide between the certain violence and persecution being perpetrated in their countries and the potential violence that will be inflicted upon them as they’re ripped apart from their children when — and if — they reach the U.S. border.
About a month ago, my husband and I went away for ten days, just the two of us. We talked with our son repeatedly about where we were going and stressed that we would come back. We arranged for his grandparents — my mother-in-law, who he sees every other day, and my own mother, with whom he FaceTimes regularly — to care for him in our home. Other than the fact that his parents weren’t present, and he enjoyed far more ice cream than normal, his routine was minimally disrupted. He played with the other kids on our block. His grandparents cuddled him and read him bedtime stories. He took his daily bath with his plastic toys, brushed his teeth standing on his little stool, and slept in his own bed with Bunnydog. He and his grandparents spoke the same language — a mixture of English and toddler-ese– and he ate familiar foods — carbs and cheese and more carbs.
More than a month after we returned home, I still feel intense pains of guilt when he cries out in the middle of the night, anxious to confirm that his parents have not disappeared.
The comparison between my son — who has never known hunger or physical danger, who has never trekked, exhausted, through a harsh landscape to reach safety, who has never gone a day without hugs and kisses from the people who love him most in the world — is cruel in its stark contrast to the infants, toddlers, young children and teenagers being caged like dogs, wrenched from their parents and any modicum of security they have ever known. Older children are learning to change the younger one’s diapers; siblings aren’t allowed to hug each other. This policy — debated over the past year within the Trump administration and then implemented for the destruction of 2000 children’s lives and counting — can only be described as pure evil.
At 6:52AM I hear the morning babble of my son, chatting happily with his stuffed animals in his crib. I still don’t have any answers to any of my nighttime questions. Who is comforting these caged children? When will they be reunited with their parents? For God’s sake, why were they ever separated?
What kind of government is this, that it would so torture a single, innocent, precious child?