I steeled myself before playing the audio of the distraught immigrant children separated from their parents and shipped off to detention centers. I avoid movies with cruelty and violence. It felt important to hear the children’s voices. A few seconds was all that I could bear. I pressed the space bar. It was too painful to listen.
I was immediately transported to the first night our son spent with us. He was inconsolable when it was time to fall asleep. We are parents through adoption and Tony was 11 months old when he joined our family. He had been in foster care in the home of an elderly Anglo couple for five months before we adopted him. Herb and June were a caring and loving couple. Tony was the only child in their care. They had a granddaughter close to Tony's age who lived a few miles down the road, they were very comfortable with a baby in their home. The first time I spoke with June her Texas drawl became even softer. “We don’t know anything about the situation that led to this baby being relinquished for adoption, but I think he was really well cared for because he is so open and trusting and loving. He’s a very affectionate little boy. He’s just delightful.”
Our future son was 10 months old when we met him, it was four weeks before he was placed in our care. In that month I made two trips to San Antonio to see him. He was not quite yet walking, and busily cruised the living room at June and Herb’s home holding on to furniture. I played with Tony on the floor. He entertained himself with the top part of the shiny silver foil Nordstrom box that had clothes I had bought for him. A game of peek-a-boo had Baby Tony laughing with much gusto. At times he lifted his arms to me so I could carry him. He snuggled up against me as I read to him. June encouraged me to help him feed himself wedges of watermelon; a fruit he loved and consumed greedily; the perfect food to eat on San Antonio's hot and humid summer days. Tony relaxed and giggled in the kitchen sink as I helped bathe him.
June and Herb had placed pictures of Mark and me on the wall at eye level on the side of his crib, and several times a day she would tell him, “Tony, this will be your mommy and daddy; you are moving to California to live with them.
Under Texas adoption laws, we were required to remain in the state for a week after the date of placement. That first night we were together, I got our son ready for bed, and was holding him quietly when he started crying. Then the crying turned to wailing and he was inconsolable. All I could do was hold him and tell him that we would always take care of him, we would always love him and make sure he was safe and that I was sorry he was scared. He cried and cried and cried. Nothing comforted him. I imagined that he missed June and Herb who had been in his life every day for several months. He was in a strange place, This was not his crib. The smells and sounds were not the same as the home where he lived.
He was in a strange new place, and all I could do was to softly repeat these words: you are safe, we will always love you and care for you, and we will always be there when you need us. Everything will be OK for you. But it was obvious that it wasn’t OK for him, at that time. This must have reminded him of being separated from his birth parents several months earlier. How I wished I could turn back the clock and and wave a wand that erased all the experiences that had clearly caused him pain.
I stroked his hair and back, I held him tight and offered these words of reassurance. It was a long and painful night for all of us. Eventually he fell asleep. He adjusted well to his new situation and a week later Tony took his first plane ride from San Antonio to Oakland. Several months later we took a short vacation to the Monterey Peninsula, and once again, he had two nights of inconsolable crying. We cut short our mini-vacation; it was just too hard for our muchachito to be in a new place.
Hearing the children’s plaintive cries took me back to those nights when there was nothing I did that comforted our son. The few seconds I listened to the audiotape, had me weeping. I cannot imagine the pain these children are enduring, or the pain of the parents who do not know their children’s whereabouts. We must keep up the pressure and the demand that these families are reunited. Using these people as political pawns is a violation of their human rights. It is cruel and harmful and heartless.
Photo credit: John Moore, Getty Images