Staying Exhausted

We passed the clipboard around the circle. Name, neighborhood, email, and a final, casual column: “What’s on your mind right now?”

I was late, but I didn’t even have the energy to look at answers above mine. I wrote, “exhaustion.”

Truly, the other women in our circle on Tuesday night had many more valid reasons to scribble in that column. My NICU PTSD is here but less so — my early baby is six years old and I no longer startle involuntarily at certain beeps in check-out lines. I’ve got coping strategies to avoid triggers – I Teledoc most of my own medical care to avoid hospitals, we enter on the far side of the pediatrician’s office, we rush for check-ins or head to urgent care at the first signs of illness so that we can avoid the ER at all costs (and though that’s also a sound financial approach, those aren’t the kind of costs I’m talking about).

Last weekend, my youngest son lost a battle with a paver. He fell in my parents’ yard and the jagged slate split a funny, Y-shaped hole in his lower lip. He was beside himself. Real kid pain almost inevitably places me back in the NICU, next to the plastic pod my oldest lived in for a month. I feel every bit as powerless as I was then, watching while someone pricked his heel or fed a tube down his nose for the fifth time in as many hours and he wailed — a sound that I now know was small, but at the time filled every part of me — the whistle of a freight train bearing down, down, down.

The blood was everywhere — so much blood it painted my forearm down to my elbow. I felt awful for holding him at arm’s length rushing up the deck steps to the kitchen sink, but when we made it and I placed him on the counter I was able to control myself enough to hold him. I shushed others out and calmed him. I wheedled and coaxed, the way mothers do, and eventually all three years of his gangly toddler body were sprawled in my lap with ice chips on his lip. His breath slowed. We had it. I thought, I can actually do this, I can make things better.

But I can’t avoid the news.

Every atrocity splayed out in front of us these past few weeks feels like an invitation to crumble, and the powerlessness is back in full force. Babies, children, alone without their mothers, ill, lonely, scared, in atrocious conditions, and no one is allowed to make it stop. Why aren’t we allowed to make it stop?

I have a book on the shelf in my office called “Speak Truth to Power.” It’s a coffee table thing a beloved friend gifted to me. I remember thumbing through it for the first time and feeling so incredibly inspired by the passion of those depicted in its pages. I imagined, for a long time, that my trajectory would magically shoot forward into a space where I would work actively to defend those who needed defending, that I would, as my friend believed, speak truth to power, on every exhale. Those days we stayed up late cleaning the bar, and I’d tell my friends, “forget writing. I can always write. I don’t want to write for money. I’m going to law school.” When people would ask me what type of law I wanted to study, I’d tell them, Immigration. In 2009, I had grand dreams. In 2019, I have kids.

My kids are their own grand dream, surely. I won’t say there’s nothing more magical than raising children, because it feels absurd to limit the universe in that way, but — Meyers-Briggs tells me I’m a feeler, and I’ll tell you — they are truly breathtaking. But they do make the idea of direct action and even sometimes demonstration feel decidedly more dangerous.

I donate what we can spare, which isn’t much. I make phone calls, although I’m not sure they’re doing much good. And I read, I read, I read. I read so many news reports and Op Eds and I keep reading, even though they scare me, even though they heighten that feeling of powerlessness, I keep reading because I can’t help feeling like someone owes these children that. We owe it to them to know about them. We owe it to them not to look away. When we are too afraid for our own tenuous health and safety, too fearful of losing our ability to mend our own children’s cuts or kiss their heads while they sleep, we can at least do them the service of hurting with their mothers. We can at least be here. Is it enough? It’s not enough.

Tonight I read a brilliant Op Ed in the New York Times, and here it is so that you can, too. It delves deep into both the racist rhetoric that is used to make this a thing that is actually happening in our country and the strange juxtaposition of knowing it, and having children. Ultimately, the author’s advice is this: stay enraged.

Once our circle disbanded, a good friend and I sat on the curb outside for hours, swatting moths from one another’s hair and talking about everything. Raising our children, non-profit strategy, writing, practicing advocacy in the space we know well — supporting mothers who are scared for their babies. We talked about never having enough time. We talked about exhaustion.

Staying enraged feels like a good way to stay exhausted, but it’s different, too. It also feels just a little bit powerful.

So here I am. I’m not looking away. I might not be brave enough to lock arms in front of a facility today, but I am brave enough to stay angry. You may not contend with much in the form of my body, and my voice is barely that small sound that came from my tiny premature baby — but I’ll speak.

What’s happening is wrong. And we need to say so as often as we possibly can.

 

 
– Find and call your representatives here.
Freedom for Immigrants National Bond Fund
– The National Community Bail Fund Network has a directory that includes multiple bond funds.
– Find a list of shelters, defense representation and some organizations raising bond funds here.
– Together Rising is currently campaigning to support Holly Cooper, Co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at UC Davis, in “emergency response to and long-term accountability for child imprisonment.”
– Working to alter legislation: The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights

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