My kids often have a really hard time being away from me. Not always, mind you. Sometimes, they can go skipping off on a playdate, or to get ice cream with a favorite aunt and they are all smiles. But overall, they don’t want me to leave them. They don’t like when I take an evening for myself and they don’t like if they have to be with a sitter.
They have to be away from me sometimes. I went and saw my sister and her new baby, and they really missed me then. Sometimes I need a day or two to get away and write. And every once in a while, I just need to cut loose one night and forget about the rest of my life.
But when I leave, they are often really sad. It is hard for all of them, but Tommy is the most vocal. “NO MAMA!” he will scream if he knows that I’m going to leave for more than a few minutes. I spent the first year after Shawn died leaving for work with my dad holding him back and tears streaming down his face. “Mama always comes back,” I’d say to him as I pried his hands off me.
Claire and Austin have more composure, but they also really hate when I’m gone. Austin is quiet about it, but I’ll see him peering out the window as I leave, watching me until the last minute. Claire is more likely to create a drama that I have to solve (“who will do my hair?!”) but really she does it so I can have a few more minutes with her before I leave.
They were not always this way. They used to be kids who separated from us fairly easily. When they were 1, 4 and 6, Shawn and I left for a week-long trip to Europe, and no one really seemed to care. But now….well, the looks in their eyes are terrible when I leave for more than a few hours. Maybe not as bereft as they once were when Shawn had just died, but still longing and worried nonetheless.
I get it. I’m their only living parent, and they need to know that I will be there. But sometimes I see their expressions and I think, my God, how unfair. They shouldn’t feel this way. They should have both their parents and feel happy and secure. None of my kids should be FaceTiming me and crying when they see that I am not dead.
When we were in the early days of loss, I would often think this: I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy. Even though the pain has lessened a bit, I still think it now.
So, in the past few weeks, when I’ve seen media images of little kids, mostly Latino little kids, crying and heartbroken because their parents have been deported or killed in a mass shooting, all I can think is: they look like my kids.
Maybe their hair or skin color is different or they speak a different first language. But the look in those kids’ eyes – I’ve seen it before. I saw it when I told Claire and Austin that their father had died and then I saw it for a year afterwards, every time when I’d leave for more than a few hours. I’ve seen it countless times in the past year and half when I’ve left Tommy and he couldn’t understand that yes, I’d be back.
Of course, the kids I’m seeing in the news don’t have that luxury. Their parents may never be back. And that is heartbreaking.
I’m not just saying that because it’s poetic. When I see pictures of kids who have that same horrible look in their eyes, it actually breaks my heart.
Because really, what’s the difference between these kids and my own kids? All I can see are the obvious ones: race and language. Otherwise, I see kids that could be my own. I see the girl who looks like she is Claire’s age holding the hand of a boy who looks like he is Tommy’s age and I think: my God. How are they crying for parents who may never come home? This cannot be the world we live in.
Listen, I’m not writing this blog post because I have any real answers. But I know there are smart and thoughtful people who have policy ideas that can improve our immigration system and others who know how to keep us all safe when we simply want to go back-to-school shopping. I know there are better solutions than whatever we are doing now that is making kids suffer.
Because shouldn’t we do that, at least? Keep kids with the people that they love and trust the most?
I think we can.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.