Before I had kids, I was shopping at Kohl’s one morning (yes, I can see the irony of shopping at Kohl’s pre-kids) when I encountered a father and mother who couldn’t find their son. The couple simply looked down and realized their toddler was no longer nearby. At first, they called his name. When he didn’t answer, they called it louder and more frantically. Still, he didn’t answer.
After a couple of minutes, maybe only 90 seconds, the dad got this look on his face — wild eyes, hoarse voice, heartbreak — and he and his wife split in opposite directions. The dad walked through the aisles screaming his son’s name and his wife ran to the front entrance to not only have visibility to the store exit but also to enlist the store employees to help search. The whole episode lasted less than five minutes before the son was returned without incident. He was safe. Thank God.
As the family left, they looked shaken. As they left, I felt relieved and I admit a little taken aback by the commotion. It took a while before the adrenaline left my body. I got it but didn’t really get it.
When my son was three, our family visited Disneyland. My husband went to ride Space Mountain while I took our children to Buzz Lightyear. I was wearing the baby and had the twins in the double stroller. As I unbuckled my daughter, my son ran toward the ride and was immediately lost in the crowd. I couldn’t breathe. There were so many people in every direction. How would I find him? Should I leave the stroller or would he be looking for it? How would he even know where we parked it? He was barely thigh-high and couldn’t read.
Should I follow him toward the ride or would we miss each other while taking opposite paths? What if someone grabbed him? What if he got hurt? Did I have time for these thoughts and questions? I tried to rationalize with myself, to remind myself that yes, it was a busy place, but filled with other families who would help me find him. I thought “people are good” and “he couldn’t have gone far” and pushed aside the panic (and bile rising in my throat) and started searching.
I scanned the crowd carefully as I moved toward the ride. I called his name firmly, but without letting fear change my pitch. I wanted him to hear me. I needed him to recognize Mom’s voice and know I was there for him. The girls were impatient, distracting and didn’t understand. I didn’t want to pass on my fear — it’s so contagious.
I bumped into my husband, and when he asked me where our son was, I told him that I only took my eyes off him for a few seconds. The look on his face was the same as that father’s in Kohl’s all those years earlier. The look was that of “it only takes an instant to change a life, to be unable to prevent irreparable damage or worse”, a mixture of wild eyes, hoarse voice, and heartbreak.
We found him at the Buzz Lightyear entrance just moments later. A helpful cast member was keeping him close as he tried to determine if my son was lost or safe, where his parents were. He was safe. Thank God. It took more than a while before the adrenaline left my body. I got it.
Tonight, I read a story about a 14-month-old boy who was returned to his mother after three months in custody as part of the horrifying immigration policies of the US government.
Three months! 14 months old! Three months! 14 months old! Three months! 14 months old!
Think about losing your child, not for minutes in Kohl’s or moments in Disneyland, but for three months, taken at 11-months-old and returned at 14-months-old. Let that sink in. The boy has spent more than 20% of the most formative time of his life in custody.
When the mother finally got to hold her son again, she found he was covered in dirt and lice. She said he is “not the same” since they reunited. Of course, he’s not the same. She’s not either. None of us are. Even if we aren’t paying attention, there’s a very real impact to us all, a by-product the many gut-wrenching stories happening right this very minute.
I don’t know if all the stories are real. I see the stats and anecdotes from the news outlets, publications, and reporters who are covering the border. I see the trending posts on social media. I see the hashtags, petitions, fundraising, volunteers, and activists. I am grateful for those who are trying to sort it out and prevent irreparable damage to the families involved.
I’m embarrassed that I don’t know what to do. I have nightmares and daydreams about it and can only imagine that other mothers and fathers do too (let alone the nightmares and nightmarish realities of those involved or who are reliving their own horrors).
I’m angry at the dehumanization, political ambivalence, partisanship, and apathy. I’m disturbed by the attitude of “it’s only one” of the many too-awful-to-contemplate realities of any given day, of the idea that you must pick your battles, pick your side, pick a cause, because it’s all too much.
Yes, considering the source is important. Yes, there are two sides (or more) to every issue. Yes, each side has an agenda. I don’t believe in the term “fake news” even though I know misleading and manipulative information is out there. Fake news is an excuse. It’s a popular and convenient catch-all for dismissing what you don’t believe or don’t want to hear. It’s not a legitimate reason to ignore what you can’t stomach. And I can’t stomach this.
A friend of mine from high school, someone I would have characterized as a good guy, recently posted a meme on Facebook with the Home Alone child, Macaulay Calkin, and a caption that read something to the effect of “next thing you know Trump will be blamed for this child’s situation too”. He doesn’t get it. It’s not a joke. It’s a wildly inappropriate dismissal of another human’s (many fellow humans) tragedy. His callousness set off an alarm. I’m afraid that what’s happening is a precursor to something worse and that we aren’t paying attention. We don’t believe it. We can’t see what is happening right in front of us.
Do you know how many helped that family in Kohl’s? Virtually every person in the store. Not just the moms. Not just the parents. Not just the employees. Why aren’t we all coming together to help those children and families at the border? Racism? Fear? Judgment? Something else? We get it, but not really.
Instead of being overwhelmed by the vastness of the problems, the complexity and uncertainty of the solutions, we must act. I cry. It’s not enough. I donate. It’s not enough. I love my children. It’s not enough. I love everyone’s children. It’s not enough. I write. It helps, but it’s still not enough. I’m at a loss and I need you to care too. We are in this together, inextricably linked, our futures intertwined, no matter if our beliefs are in alignment or at odds.
Do you know how many helped me at Disneyland? Not that many. Maybe it was because I wasn’t shouting, or because unlike at Kohl’s, it wasn’t a confined environment where the situation was inescapable. At Disneyland, there were so many other things happening in the same vicinity, at the same time, in a place where horrible things don’t happen. Do we think we live in a place where horrible things don’t happen?
It’s incredibly hard to reconcile Disneyland or the Kardashians or any frivolities of the world taking place at the same time a little girl is being raped 10 times on her journey to our country where she won’t be allowed to enter. It’s hard to have two fundamentally conflicting thoughts in our head, evidence of humanity’s best and worst occurring on the planet at the same time. And yet we must, because we do.
Cognitive dissonance explains how we strive for internal psychological consistency to mentally function in the real world. When internal inconsistency becomes psychologically uncomfortable, we’re motivated to reduce the cognitive dissonance by justifying the stressful behavior, either by adding new information to the cognition causing the dissonance, or by actively avoiding social situations and contradictory information likely to increase the magnitude of the cognitive dissonance.
Are we not fully invested because we have our own children to secure, our own situations to manage?
Horrible things have happened throughout history and they still happen with such regularity today that we collectively don’t get involved until we have to — because we can’t see beyond our own shit, because we avoid discomfort, because we are taking on all we can take on at any given moment, because we choose to see what we want to see to make sense of our world, and because for so many of us, life is so good and it’s hard to reconcile how horrible others experiences are: “How beautiful. How ugly. How little. How big. How painful. How sweet.” this life can be. Its duality is confounding.