Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Opinion

Connie Schultz: Mr. Rogers and parents at the border

In these warm months, when my daughter was an infant, I’d strap her into the stroller most evenings and take her for a long walk before bedtime.

One neighbor, just a few houses down, had his own evening habit of dragging his hose with a rotating sprinkler to the edge of his lawn and aiming it toward the grass across the sidewalk — an aquatic thumbing of the nose to us pedestrians, if you will. Every time, I waited for the arc of water to return to his lawn before I whisked the stroller past.

How this irritated me at the time. I was barely 30, and I shake my head now at my maternal umbrage at this tiniest of inconveniences. How dare he expose my baby to this assault of multiple drops of clear, cold water?

Such a phony grievance. So many real crises to come.

On recent walks in a different part of town, I’ve thought about that long-ago neighbor every time I approach a sprinkler a few houses from our own. This person sets his jets to avoid the sidewalk, and every time I walk by without so much as a drop on my sneakers, I think about my young daughter once she could toddle beside me on those evening walks.

She loved to wait for that neighbor’s sprinkler to turn toward the sidewalk and then scream her way through it with her arms in the air. How she giggled as the water splashed her face, her belly, her busy little legs.

Her clothes got wet. And then they dried.

This reminiscence was brought to you by Morgan Neville’s documentary about Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? If you haven’t seen it, please do. You don’t have to be a parent to be inspired by this man’s gentle approach to the world — which, as it turns out, we need more than ever.

For those of us who were parents of young children when his show was on the air, watching the movie can be an emotional one hour and 34 minutes. I left the theater feeling such gratitude, all over again, for his steady reminders that nothing matters more to a child than to feel special, safe and loved.

The mind, of course, is a stubborn thing, so throughout the film, I also couldn’t stop thinking about the thousands of children who’ve been separated in recent months from their migrant parents.

This is Donald Trump’s version of America, and we have yet to fully comprehend the impact of this trauma he has been willing to inflict on all of those innocent young children. Anyone who has ever loved a child can imagine it, but one must volunteer for this anguish of awareness. There will always be those who feel safe from harm and choose to pretend the worst isn’t happening to someone else.

Journalists have been reporting on these family separations, and the public has responded. Take heart in that. Most Americans are decent people, still, even when they feel helpless. Especially then, perhaps.

Finally, Trump has relented, and all too slowly, families are being reunited. Unfortunately, this isn’t the end of suffering for these parents and their young children.

The New York Times reported this week that some of the young children, traumatized by months of separation from their parents, do not recognize them. As every parent knows, three months in a young child’s life can seem like a year.

The Times’ description of two of these reunions:

"He didn’t recognize me," said Mirce Alba Lopez, 31, of her 3-year-old son, Ederson, her eyes welling up with tears. "My joy turned temporarily to sadness."

• • •

For Milka Pablo, 35, it was no different. Her 3-year-old daughter, Darly, screamed and tried to wiggle free from her mother’s embrace.

"I want Miss. I want Miss," Darly cried, calling for the social worker at the shelter where she had been living since mother and daughter were separated by federal agents at the southwestern border.

• • •

I want to pretend this isn’t happening in America.

But look. Look at what we’ve done.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate.

© 2018 Creators Syndicate

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