Friday, July 13, 2018

Children Fear Abandonment, This I Know

My grandmother Hattie Hess and me.  She was the best!

When the news of the kids who parents' sought asylum being forcibly separated from their families first  broke, I felt like many others: this was wrong, wrong, wrong.  But I became fixated on it: the first thing in my thoughts in the morning, the last thing before I fell asleep at night.  Somehow I took it personally. And memories returned.

My dad worked for the Peter Kiewitt Construction Company and he was given various jobs that involved moving from town to town, state to state.  I was born in Montana and we moved around in that state, and into Wyoming, Washington, and then Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and finally Colorado.  We had no furniture, only bedding, ktichen stuff, our clothes and my toys, my parents fishing gear.  We had enough to fill a small green trailer that we towed behind the car on every move. We were one step up from migrants.

My mom was an older mother of an only child, me.  She was nervous.  I was fearful, afraid of her being under the hair dryer, afraid of the vacuum, and terrified of the doctor who made frequent house calls because I was allergic to eggs which no one figured out for a year or two. I outgrew this allergy, but still cannot eat an egg that is not well done, preferable scrambled.

I remember the places in Wyoming, Parsons, Kansas, and Kearny, Nebraska.  Maybe Sioux City, Iowa.  At some point my dad left Kiewitt and launched himself into the auto parts business.

In Colorado, we lived in the same apartment for four years, an unheard of  long time. My parents were gung-ho fisherman and I was probably a pain to have around, but I remember playing quietly in shallow (very shallow) water and building dams, collecting pretty rocks and snail shells. I always tried to behave myself.  Nonetheless, shortly after we arrived in Fort Morgan, my parents planned a fishing trip without me.  They were leaving me behind with some people I barely knew.  Actually, maybe I didn't know them at all. They had older kids and a house.  My folks took me over there in the evening and everything was okay until it was time for them to leave.  I  couldn't stand it. I ran to my mother and sobbed.  The pain in my chest hurt so badly I could barely breathe.  Total meltdown.  I can't remember what my mom said, but finally I accepted their departure. I don't recall  the rest of the weekend. The hosts must have kept me distracted.  Probably I was fine, but I wasn't  left alone like that again.

Remembering this,brought back something else.  Not a memory but a story.  When my parents decided to move from Olympia, Washington to the Midwest, they thought it would be better if I stayed with my grandmother during this time.  I don't think they had a place to live in the new town and would be staying in a hotel. My mom took me by train from Washington to Kansas.  The only memory I have is of the little netting bag by the berth for storing stuff.  We got off the train in  Newton, Kansas and I met my grandparents for the first time, an elderly couple delighted to get to know their first grandchild.  They were the most loving, accepting grandparents a child could have, but as yet they were strangers.

My mom left soon after to help my dad with the moving.  I remember nothing of this, but later she told stories of my visit to Kansas. I constantly cried for her and slept and ate poorly.  My grandparents were at their wits end.  Finally my mom came back for me earlier than planned and I lived in the hotel with my parents for a while. Fortunately, we were nearer my grandparents,  and I had the opportunity to know and love them.

But I must have felt abandoned  in the short time I was there.  And I must have had that desperate feeling return on that night in Colorado. The fear.  The tight chest.  The panic. The sorrow.   So I know, in my bones, how this felt and it was terrible.

When I finally recalled all of this two weeks ago.  I went downstairs in the morning and told my husband.  Had a total weeping and sobbing hysterics while he looked sympathetic but worried.  You can bury these feelings, but they will never leave you and they'll come roaring back when you least expect them. That pain I felt that night in Colorado was excruciating.  And to think of thousands of little kids feeling that, too, but even worse, because there were no loving goodbyes, a strange language, being sent away on a plane or a bus.  Probably with no clothes or a favorite toy or stuffed animals.  Just shipped off like animals.  That pain will never leave them, just as I can recall the pain of my parents leaving for that fishing weekend in Colorado. How much more terrible is the pain and confusion of these little kids?

I sent money to RAICE (provides parents legal help getting their children back).  I made signs and marched in a local protest against this treatment of children and parents. This is a terrible thing our government has done and we should all be outraged.  And heartbroken.  Do you remember beging frightened and feeling abandoned?  One of the worst feelings in this world.  And how many young children are traumatized?  It breaks your heart.

Now they're slowly being reunited.  Some of them.  I feel their pain. 

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