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Last week we found out that 545 children who were separated from their parents at the border have parents who cannot currently be found. I just spent a bunch of time writing a whole essay about the Trump administration’s policy of family separation at the border, how horrific and cruel it is, and all about how the U.S. has always been racist. But it all feels trite at this point. It’s nothing new. Mostly I just can’t stop thinking about those parents and children.

Parenthood, especially in the context of a pandemic, is an exhausting daily grind for many of us, and those of us who have neuro-divergent children (and/or are neuro-divergent ourselves) or children with other special needs are especially tired. I feel parenting guilt every single day. My kids spend too much time on screens, not enough time outside, I don’t spend enough quality time with them, I am too impatient, I yell too much. I long to hold them close and long to push them away. They annoy the living shit out of me sometimes, and I annoy the shit out of them too.

A thought that has come to my head often since the beginning of this reign of terror and unimaginable, inhumane cruelty at the border is that the parents who have had their children forcibly removed from their arms don’t have the luxury of getting annoyed by their children. They don’t have the opportunity to remove their child from their leg 17 times in a row, or to ask their child, again, to take a break from video games, or to get overly pissed off about the mess their child left in the kitchen.

These parents, who fled their homes and embarked upon a harrowing journey in the hopes of finding safety for their families, have shown the highest level of devotion to their children. And they have been punished for it, in the worst way imaginable.

These parents don’t have the privilege of being annoyed by their children. They have been robbed of the most basic and rarely talked about parts of parenting. The mundane, irritating aspects of the daily grind, which are of course the parts that make the rest of it beautiful. What a privilege it is to be annoyed by each other. To be angry at each other. To fuck up and apologize and try again. To wish sometimes that we could run away.

This is what privilege is. I don’t live in fear that my children will be forcibly removed from my arms. I don’t have to, because I was born on one side of an invisible and arbitrary line, and I was born with light skin.

The sorrow and rage I feel for these people I don’t even know is vast, and it is nothing. The pain our government has caused is immeasurable. And we were all powerless to stop them. Or, at least, we didn’t collectively rise up strongly enough to stop them. This weighs on me. I remember asking myself every single day how we were not all in the streets, how we were not all blocking ICE from entering the cages at the border, doing every single humanly possible thing to rescue those children and reunite those families. I know some of us tried, but not enough of us. I will ask myself this question until the day I die. How could these evil men just… get away with it? And why didn’t we fight harder?

What I really longed to do was to go there and at least just be with the children. I wanted to read with them. Sing to them. Hold them. Help them brush their teeth and change their diapers. No one was allowed in to do these things. These basic human things, for children. The cruelty makes me physically ill.

As I steel myself for another day of pandemic-life inertia, I think only of my privilege. Right now my son is sharing the couch with me. He keeps kicking my laptop and making loud, sudden noises. It’s so fucking annoying. Every parent should be so fortunate.

Co-host of the podcast “I Never Saw That.” Humor writer and satirist. Find my work in McSweeney’s, The Belladonna, Little Old Lady, etc... Twitter: @jenfreymond

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