Notes from Home: Separation Anxiety


By Trudy Wischemann 

I have just heard a CNN interview with John Moore, the Getty photographer who took the viral photo of the crying two-year-old at the border. It shows a little Honduran girl in hot pink shirt and shoes, who had just been set on the ground by her mother who was obeying the orders of a border patrol guard in order to begin a body search.

Moore said the mother, who’d just spent a month crossing Mexico, did not know what was coming. She did not know that her daughter, who she’d carried the whole trip, would be taken from her person and taken somewhere she would not know, much less be able to protect her child. But the photographer knew, and the separation anxiety he witnessed in the little girl set off separation anxiety in him and magnified it 100 times.

Although the tears he captured on film were a normal two-year-old’s reaction to uncertainty, I think they represent what we all are feeling after learning what we’re doing at the border. “The families there had no idea they were about to be separated from their children,” he said. “I could tell they weren’t up on the recent news, they’ve been traveling in difficult conditions. But I knew what was going to happen next. And for me to take these pictures, scenes that I’d seen before but with the knowledge that these parents and their children would soon be in separate detention facilities – made it hard for me personally as a journalist, as a human being, and especially as a father.” Then he added, just as the interview ended, “on Father’s Day.”

That tail-end comment brought me close to understanding something my father always said about never losing your concern for your children. John Moore, the photographer, is silver-haired; his children are likely out of the nest at least. But for many people, the desire to protect and provide never leaves, especially, it seems, when events of child-raising leave scars on one or both sides of the equation. 

Many professionals, like Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Association of Pediatrics, have expressed concern for the long-term impacts on the children from this separation from their parents. But I have tremendous fear also for the parents, and not only what they’re feeling now, but will feel about themselves in the future. Some of these families will get through this, roughed up but intact. Some of them won’t.

Do any of you remember the film “Sophie’s Choice?” In it, the Nazis forced Meryl Streep’s character to decide which child to keep, her son or her daughter. My mind has blocked out which child she chose, but not her only recourse for the decision, which was suicide. That “choice” forced upon her was deliberately inhuman.  By saying “this is what they get for trying to come into the country illegally,” so is what we’re doing on the border.

This administration’s action is not a question of enforcing the laws. It’s trying to force the country’s already-divided politicians into a frenetic free-for-all, while Donald Trump stands aside, watching gleefully at the mayhem he’s created. The immigrant families are merely hostages of yet another malevolent scheme to make DT look effective. But now we’re hostages, too, those of us brought to tears by the stories of family separations. I think what we’re grieving is the breaking of the parent-child bond. Let us use our empathetic grief to change this policy.

Trudy Wischemann a writer who lives in Lindsay. Read this column and others at and leave a comment there.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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