Today, my kids are too small to notice.
Tomorrow, they will ask me, but I don’t know what I will tell them.
How will I explain what it was like to see the images and hear the sounds of thousands of children being taken from their families at the U.S./Mexico border? How will I answer when they inevitably ask, “Why, Mommy?”
I won’t describe to them the feeling of wretched guilt and unfettered gratitude I felt simultaneously. It could have been them, and by some stroke of fate, it wasn’t.
I won’t tell my son that I saw small, skinny, brown-skinned children — ones who looked like them — lying on cold mats on cement floors with foil blankets and chain-link walls.
I won’t tell my daughter about the mother’s anguish I felt when I saw a little girl in a pink jacket sob with fear, staring up at the legs of grownups who did not see her. Who did not pick her up. I won’t tell her that I snuck out of bed that night and slept at the side of her crib, quietly, so she wouldn’t wake up.
I won’t tell them there were little girls and boys whose parents loved them so much that they gave up everything they knew, trusted strangers and ventured into the dark to try to find them a better, safer place. That instead of getting help, they were taken away from each other. That an imaginary line divided countries and, now, was being used to divide families.
I won’t tell them that just like the parents of these little boys and girls, their grandparents once left behind everything they knew in search of something better for their kids — and their grandkids. That their grandparents had heard that, in America, it didn’t matter who you were or what you had — you still mattered. That they were lucky that even though they, too, were brown and new and different, they got in.
I won’t tell them that this was not a freak accident or a natural disaster, but that some grownups decided that some children were important and others were not. That parents who were so desperate to keep their children safe were called criminals, not refugees, and their little ones were taken from them.
I won’t tell them about the paralyzing feeling of helplessness that kept me awake every night that week.
But I will have to tell my kids something. They won’t let me get away with telling them nothing.
So, I will tell them that the mommies and daddies and aunties and uncles and grandparents and neighbors and friends in their lives will do everything we can to make sure they never have to know what it feels like to be taken from us.
I will tell them about the children who loved the color blue and learning letters and reading and playing as much as they did. And that those were the children they made cards for and picked out toys for.
I will tell them that, throughout our history, we have always held the highest ideals for human dignity and human rights and that we have always failed to meet them. That this is not the first time we have separated children from parents. That people in power have always found a way to see other people as less than humans. That in cities, towns and communities throughout our country, the circumstances of their birth still determine a child’s fate. And that we can never stop trying to right that wrong.
I will tell them that the pictures were heartbreaking, and the sounds were awful, and we were so angry and so sad and felt so helpless. But we did not look away. We did not stay silent. We spoke up and we spoke out. We found the helpers and helped them. We called the people who make decisions. And we refused to give up.
I will tell them that I wish I could tell them that it’s all okay now, but it’s not. And that I don’t know when it will be okay, but I will never stop trying to make it better.
Archana Patel is a director on the Broad Academy program team.