We Need to Talk About This

We need to talk about this. I’ve been reluctant. I wasn’t sure everyone would understand. And I wanted to be careful not to share anything that might put anyone in jeopardy. But it’s been ten years and I think it’s okay for me to share now. And yeah. We need to talk about this.

About 10 years ago I transferred from Edison to West View, our district’s dual language school. I was immediately embraced by the staff and community there, and felt right at home. I loved walking down the halls, surrounded in Spanish and children’s laughter. I loved the positive energy I felt there. And the staff! They were completely dedicated and committed to their students – they never worried about who was getting which lunch or planning period – it was always about what was best for the students.

Not long after I’d been at West View I began to realize that my students were dealing with things that I’d never had to deal with in my life – problems that I hadn’t even known existed. I feel embarrassed as I write this. I’d been so insulated!

After I’d been at West View a month or so, I asked my sixth graders to sit in a circle on the floor with me, and share with me some of what they’d been experiencing. And the stories started pouring out – I remember some of them said they no longer went shopping at a certain store because there were always agents there, waiting to look at their “papers.” I remember feeling shocked by this – I’d never needed to carry “papers” with me to prove I was a citizen – I didn’t even know that was a thing! One student who couldn’t find the words drew a picture that broke my heart – a Border Patrol van at night – children silhouetted in its search light, running into the woods.

There was the day one of my students looked up at me, with tears in his eyes, and told me he’d come home from school to find his entire family had been deported. There was another student whose father voluntarily returned to Mexico, hoping he’d be able to return to the States as a citizen some day – my student loved his father deeply and didn’t know if he’d ever see him again – his father had told him to stay in the U.S. and get his education – even if it meant they’d never see each other again.

These stories were eye-openers for me. I hadn’t realized!

Later, when I taught at a high school in another district, I had several students who shared their stories about escaping the violence and poverty in Mexico by crossing the desert barefoot – and risking their lives – in the hopes that they and their families could find freedom and better lives in the U.S.

If you are interested in learning more about the lives of these young people – my friend, Janice Blackmore, who worked with these students when they were in middle school, asked the students to share their stories and published them in a book called DreamFields: A Peek into the World of Migrant Youth.

(The girl on the cover is one of my former students.)

Dream Fields cover

“They were children. They had no place to go. They needed love.”

My friend, Mei Mei, shared some powerful thoughts on Facebook. She gave me permission to share her post:

“My parents spent their younger adulthood, and my childhood, taking care of children.

“These children were not technically ‘theirs’.

“These children were broken.

“These children had no home, and in a lot of cases, no one else loving them.

“These children had all survived significant trauma.

“These children were all colors. Some were rich, but most were poor. Born into circumstances beyond their control, forced into a life they did not ask for.

“These children were babies. And young preschoolers. Tweens. Teens. Even some young adults.

“These children were black, white, brown, and often a combination of all.

“Almost all of them had special needs. Most had complex medical needs.

“They were children. They had no place to go. They needed love. They needed hugs. They needed food, and clothes, and medicine, and a bed, and toys to call their own.

“They needed some adults they could trust, most of all. People who would love them instantly, even when they came in at 2am with not even a jacket in the dead of winter, sobbing. ESPECIALLY then, they were loved. Instantly.

“Because they are children, and children who have seen our worst deserve our best, even more so than others.

“My parents opened their hearts and made these kids theirs. Sometimes it was the churches who placed them in our home. Sometimes the state. A few times their own parents dropped them off. It didn’t matter where they came from. Sometimes they stayed just days, sometimes, weeks, sometimes years, and one is ours for life. But really, they are all ours and they know our love is still there and we will still be there in an instant, whenever and wherever they need us.

“What mattered is as soon as they crossed that door, they were ours. Ours to love. Ours to care for. Ours to show what a real home and a real family and a real love feels like, looks like. We loved them and still love them. Even in the dead of night, when a now 32 year old calls and says “Nana? I need you.”

“Truth? We needed them more.

“We never asked them their legal status. I know at least a handful were undocumented but we didn’t care. We never asked them how they got here, how they crossed the border. We didn’t care. They were home.

“They enriched our lives, and taught us much. They made us better versions of ourselves.

“Our country now has children. They are ours now. They came into our country alone, or were so horrifically separated from their loved ones.

“It doesn’t matter how they got here. It matters they are here. Now, we have a choice. Us, these Americans. All of us. We have a choice.

“Do we lock these babies in cages? Do we strip them of their humanity, and in turn lose ours as well? Do we take away their hope? Their love?

“Or do we remember these are CHILDREN?

“It doesn’t matter right now where they are from, how they got here. It matters how we treat them, because as children, THEY MATTER.

“Our choice is here. Staring us in the face. It looks like a toddler in a cage.

“So now we make the right choice, when our government failed so horribly. We make the choice to stand up, and shout with all of our might:

”’THIS IS NOT OKAY AND WE WILL NOT STAND FOR IT’

“We call our government officials and we don’t shut up

“We protest and march until they cannot ignore us.

“We stand up and say ‘We will take them. Give us the babies. We can do this together’

“We scream, we shout, and we DO NOT QUIT, because these are children.

“And when it is all over, we beg these babies forgiveness for failing to do what Jesus would do, for ignoring the example set for us. For failing to be human, and for failing to treat them as little humans.

“And then we sit down, and we figure it out. We figure out policies that don’t include children being stripped from their parents or babies in cages.

“The entire time we write those policies, and demand good, humane, loving action, we look at these awful pictures and remind ourselves to never let our humanity fall this far again.

“They are children. We failed them. Now let us fix this.”
– “Mei Mei”

Driving Back from Our Hike

Driving back from our hike –
son is sitting in the seat next to me
his head nods forward
and he is asleep.
And I have a flashback
from 22 years ago –
same son, but a toddler then,
strapped in his car seat
behind me. I glance in the rear
view mirror and see his baby
head nod forward in slumber.
Same peaceful expression.
Same comforting white sound
from the moving car.
Same feeling of love filling
our moving bubble.
And I feel Moz join us –
I feel her love with me,
with her grandson.
There is no separation in time
or space or death.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

Deli Market Singer

“The soul is healed by being with children.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

I’m at a deli market buying a sandwich when this young mother comes in with two small children. The little boy – he’s maybe three years-old – looks up at me for awhile, kind of speculatively, and asks me if I can sing the “Papa Song.” I tell him I don’t know that one, but I’ll sing him another one if he wants. He nods and I start to sing “Zippity Dooh Dah” for him. He gets this big grin on his face. His mom is totally cracking up. As I’m leaving, the sandwich lady says to the little boy, “Looks like you picked the exactly right person to sing for you! She has a great voice and everything!”

Made my day.

“Child of Mine”

Last week my dear FB friend, Caroline Martin, asked me to collaborate with her on putting together a youtube video featuring her beautiful song, Child of Mine, and my photography, Neither one of us had ever made youtube movies from our music and photos before and I had no idea, really, how to go about this kind of thing – but I said “yes” – how hard could it be, right? – and trusted that, once again, Love would lead the way as we entered a new adventure.

Serendipitously, I’d learned just a few weeks ago from my friend, Amy Duncan, how to put captions to my photos on pixlr.com. So after listening to Caroline’s song, and writing down the words to it, I went to pixlr and started adding the lyrics to photos that I thought might work well with the song. Then yesterday – also serendipitously – one of my high school students mentioned that most computers now come with free movie-making thingies – so I checked out my computer, and sure enough, there was a movie-making program I could download.  I added Caroline’s song and my photos to the movie-making thingy – et voila! – we had our movie!

Note: In the collage at the end of the movie there are four pictures – photos of Caroline’s beautiful children – that were not taken by me. They are great shots, though, and I would not be surprised to find that the ever-talented Caroline Martin took them herself. 🙂

If you go to the youtube link below our collaborative effort should appear…

1

One Last Song

Without any words you sat down at the piano one last time before heading off on your new adventure. You knew I would come and hear – pulled by that irresistible sound of your fingers on the keys – and all in a flash I saw you again as a toddler – the back of your round little downy-haired head as you sat on my lap at the piano, your tiny fingers pushing down on the keys, then your face turning up to me, a grin of pure glee there… is there anything more powerful than love?