As I Try Desperately to Get Home Again, Not All Children Can. Here’s why it matters.
The news is full of horrific stories of young children being taken away from their families for the sin of wanting to come to a new country to flee the extreme poverty, violence, and whatever else it is that one flees from. There are pictures of babies crying, audio of children wailing and crying out for their moms and dads. We sold them the promise of the American Dream and then when they come seeking asylum and hoping for a better life for their babies, we ripped apart families and put children in cages.
As someone who works with youth, I know and understand the importance of feeling safe and secure in the development of a child; I understand the importance of being talked to, being read to, of making healthy attachments. I understand the long term effects of childhood trauma. These children are suffering trauma compounded by trauma compounded by trauma. The lifelong impacts of this will be devastating for us all.
KidLit Says No Kids in Cages
At the same time, I am dealing with my own family emergency. My Dad is not okay and I am thousands of miles away from him. After a lot of tears and anguish and wrestling with fears and doubts and uncertainty, I whipped out my credit card and booked super expensive tickets that I can’t afford to go out and see my Dad. We leave tomorrow.
Here’s the deal, I have no idea how I will ever pay down the balance on my credit card. I don’t know if my Dad will recover or if he will pass away. I am begging God, the universe and everyone in between to please provide a miracle and if not, to let the girls and I see him one more time to let him know that we love him. Suddenly I am a child again crying at night for her Daddy.
I am a 45 year old woman who is trying desperately to get home to see her father. Many of these children will never have that choice, we took it away from them. And yes, I mean we. This is us. We elect our politicians, we hold them accountable, we are collectively responsible to one another because no man is an island and that’s how society works. We’re in this together.
The woman sitting beside my Dad throughout all of this is my stepmother. She is a pretty remarkable woman and I think often of how much she loves my Dad, how much she loves my children, and the anguish she is going through as she sits vigil beside my father’s bed. She is only able to do so because just a couple generations past, someone in her family immigrated to this country from Mexico.
My parents divorced when I was in the 4th grade, I was around 9 or 10. It was a horrific thing to go through. Nobody handled it very well and there was a lot of heartache through the years. Parents fought, moved, and moved again. Relationships were broken and over time, slowly and painfully, they were reborn. The four years I was in high school, I did not speak to my father. There were legitimate reasons for that and they were the right decision for me at that time. Then over time, people change, healing happens, and new relationships are born. I know every day that I am lucky for the healing that happened between my father and I, for the relationship that we were able to cobble together despite all the hurt and heartache. During the last 15 years, as I parent my own children, I saw him become a man who took genuine care of this new family that he had made for himself. He has been a good grandfather to my daughters. For the first time in my life, I had a home to go back home to with memories and traditions and that sense of an anchor that makes it easier to navigate this world. I love going to my father’s house and sharing childhood memories with my children, taking them to the places that I used to love to go, and watching them return to the same home over and over again and making that connection stronger. I have loved, finally, having a place to go home to.
There shouldn’t be a lot of parallels to what’s happening in the news and what is happening in my own life, but I can’t stop thinking about the two and perhaps it is the nature of the human mind to draw connections where perhaps there shouldn’t be. I come from a broken family and my heart aches to see these families being broken. I know that they are not broken in the same ways, but I know that broken families are destructive forces that leave lifelong scars. I know that I have privilege that allows me to remake a relationship, to keep in contact, to jump on a plane to try to see my father.
These children have none of those things. They are being torn from their families and they often don’t even have the language skills necessary to advocate for themselves, to ask the questions that are burning in their hearts. They are in a new place with no family or friends to turn to for emotional support or stability. I can not imagine the fear and uncertainty. The terror.
Sheer terror and anguish.
Yesterday, Donald Trump declared that he was ending this policy, but by all accounts there is no plan in place to reunite those children already ripped from their parents arms. Some of those parents may already have been deported. Some of those children may grow up never knowing where their parents are or how to get into contact with them. Some of those children may never get the chance to say goodbye to their Dad.
Trump’s Executive Order On Family Separation: What It Does And Does Not Do – NPR
I am a 45-year-0ld white woman, steeped in privilege, who just wants to sit beside her Dad’s bedside and have the chance to say goodbye if that is what this moment calls for. I desperately want this moment to be something else, of course. But in my own personal anguish and desperation and pleading with the universe, I can’t help thinking of those kids. I’m a 45-year-old woman who just wants her Daddy, I can’t imagine what it must be like for these kids.
One of the hardest moments I have ever had working in the library occurred at the Reference desk. A woman came up to me with a name of her birth mother that she was trying to track down. This was after Hurricane Katrina and she knew that the woman lived in New Orleans. I did a little searching and unfortunately found her in the Social Security Death Index, she had died soon after Katrina. I looked up at this woman who was probably the age that I am now and delivered the news. The woman stood before me and openly wept as I told her I was so very sorry. “At least I know what happened to her,” she said. “Thank you.”
How many of these children will never get the chance to know.
I’m not here to debate immigration policy or politics with you. I am here as a lifelong advocate for youth to remind us all that we must do everything we can to minimize the harm that we do to children in every aspect of life because it has lifelong consequences for youth and for our future. Do the research, we will spend millions trying to undo the lifelong damage that is being caused right now as our politicians try and use innocent children as pawns.
Brain Development • ZERO TO THREE
Childhood Trauma : Long-Term Effects and Symptoms
Immigrant Children Separated From Parents At The Border: NPR
How To Help Parents And Kids Separated At The Border – Refinery29
Filed under: Advocacy
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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