My heart feels heavy for the families that have been split apart at our country's borders. I'm not writing to start another debate about the rights or wrongs of the situation, but I can't help but look at this devastating situation from the eyes of a mother who can’t fathom what another is going through. It would rip me in two to watch my child cry out for me as they are taken from my arms — their home — not knowing when and if I would see them again.
Although I don't pretend to know how these mothers are feeling, I had an experience a few years ago that helps me relate to their plight.
We were at the mall, and two of my boys were bored and asked to ride the escalator up to the second floor while I checked out. We were in a department store where I could see the escalators from where I was standing and, being flustered and overwhelmed, I made a rash decision and said, “Sure, one time.”
I watched as my two oldest sons rode up the escalator, and then walked around the other side to watch them come down. As they stood at the top, I could tell something was wrong. They suddenly became nervous looking at all the moving stairs and couldn’t bring themselves to step on. My oldest finally braved it and jumped on, leaving his younger brother standing alone and terrified, not knowing how to get to me.
I immediately began to panic. I had a stroller and couldn’t ride the escalator to go get him so I told him to wait as I walked over to the elevators right beside the escalators.
Suddenly, a man appeared at my son's side. At first I was relieved he was there to help, but as he crouched down and whispered something to my son, my chest seized and every motherly instinct took over, telling me something was not right. The man took hold of my boy's hand, and I watched in horror as he began walking him away.
Panic set in. Where was he taking him?
“Stop!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. “That’s my son! Bring me back my son!” A woman in the department store upstairs heard me, and saw the man leaving the store with my little boy.
“Is that your son?” she asked, pointing.
“YES!” I yelled. “That’s my son! He’s taking my son!” I could no longer see him and I was frozen with fear. How can I get to him? What do I do with my other children? With every precious second I deliberated, my boy was being taken further away from me. What was going to happen if I couldn't get to him?
The woman raised her voice and said, “Hey! That’s his mom downstairs.”
Heart pounding, I watched with a mixture of fierce, protective anger and joyous relief as the man walked back into view and boarded the escalator, still holding my boy’s hand.
The man claimed he hadn't heard me and said he was going to take my son somewhere safe until he could locate his parents. I wanted to believe him, but my gut told me different.
I shook the whole way home, thinking what might have been if that woman hadn’t heard me screaming. For one millisecond, my heart stopped. My world crashed. The worst thing that I could ever imagine happening almost did.
But it didn’t. My son came back.
I cannot imagine being separated from my child, not knowing when or if I will see him again. I cannot imagine living in a situation where fleeing into a foreign country with the risk of having my children taken from me was still better than the alternative of staying and waiting. I don’t believe choosing to cross our borders with little children is an easy decision to make. I don’t believe it is rash or last-minute. It probably takes months and months of deliberation, back and forth, with no good options either way, always trying to decide what is best for the child.
One of my friends posted her thoughts on Facebook that struck a chord with me. Her parents spent the last few years living in Central America where many of the immigrants crossing our borders are from, and they have seen horrible things happen on a daily basis to families living there. My friend wrote in her post that if she lived in different, more dangerous circumstances like those her parents have observed, and if she didn't have the opportunity to immigrate legally, she would still do everything in her power to keep her children safe.
"Every night I fervently thank God that I have, thus far, been able to raise my babies in peace and safety," she wrote. "I know that that is not the case for many parents around the world, and I know that I do not deserve this privilege more than anyone else. I want to share that with every parent.”
We all want the best for our children. The best is a loving home. A safe home. A free home. That is what these mothers want for their babies. I don’t fault them for wanting that, for sacrificing for that, for risking everything for that. Regardless of the how, the why, and the way parents crossing our borders are doing that, we have to remember that these are families. They love their children as much as we love ours. Wherever they go, wherever they end up, their children deserve to be returned home to their mothers' arms.