It is 2:30 in the morning, and I should be sleeping.
In a few hours, my 3-year-old grandson will be awake, and we have plans. "You and me, buddy," I told him at bedtime. "We're going to play all day long."
He is not why I can't sleep.
Across the hall from this guestroom, his 18-month-old sister sleeps in her crib. Every so often, she calls out softly. I am poised to spring out of bed should she awaken.
She is not why I can't sleep.
Just before midnight, I checked my news alerts and saw the photo of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez with his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria.
They are why I cannot sleep.
They were discovered Monday night, lying facedown in shallow water on the bank of the roiling Rio Grande. Ramirez's black shirt was pulled up to his chest and wrapped around his daughter. Her arm was draped around his neck, and it is impossible not imagine her clinging to her father in the last moments of her life.
As journalist Julia Le Duc reported for La Jornada, 25-year-old Ramirez lived in El Salvador and sought asylum for his family in the U.S. On Sunday, he joined a growing number of desperate immigrants trying to swim across the Rio Grande. As reported by The New York Times, the child's mother, Tania Vanessa Avalos, started to cross on the back of a friend as her husband went ahead, carrying their daughter under his T-shirt. When she could see that he was tiring, she turned around. She stood on the other side of the river and watched helplessly as the river pulled her husband and daughter under and carried them away.
Ramirez is not the first parent, and Valeria is not the first child, to die trying to cross the Rio Grande in recent weeks. They will not be the last if Republican members of Congress don't stop enabling Donald Trump's racist campaign against immigrants who are not white.
Before I saw that horrifying photo, my mind was full of Willamette University law professor Warren Binford's descriptions of the living conditions for immigrant children separated from their families and living in decrepit conditions at a border patrol camp in Clint, Texas.
She is one of a team of lawyers who interviewed 50 of the children, and could not remain silent.
From her interview with The New Yorker:
"(The children) were filthy dirty, there was mucus on their shirts ... food on the shirts, and the pants as well. They told us that they were hungry. They told us that some of them had not showered or had not showered until the day or two days before we arrived. Many of them described that they only brushed their teeth once. This facility knew last week that we were coming. The government knew three weeks ago that we were coming.
"(T)he children told us that nobody's taking care of them, so that basically the older children are trying to take care of the younger children. The guards are asking the younger children or the older children, 'Who wants to take care of this little boy? Who wants to take (care) of this little girl?' and they'll bring in a two-year-old, a three-year-old, a four-year-old. And then the littlest kids are expected to be taken care of by the older kids, but then some of the oldest children lose interest in it, and little children get handed off to other children. And sometimes we hear about the littlest children being alone by themselves on the floor."
You don't have to be related to young children to comprehend the ongoing atrocity of this. Family pets are treated more humanely. Each of us should be bringing daily pressure to bear on our members of Congress. If you're a Christian and think there's nothing wrong with this abuse of innocent children, please imagine trying to explain yourself to Jesus. Play that one out.
Every time I start a column with my grandchildren and pivot to immigration, some readers accuse of me of trickery: I thought this was going to be a sweet piece about grandkids! Here's my question: How can we spend time with children we love and not think about what's happening to other families' children at our border?
Before bedtime, Milo and Ela climbed onto my lap to hear me read "It's a Firefly Night," by Dianne Ochiltree and illustrator Betsy Snyder. A little girl in a summer dress is running barefoot into her father's waiting arms, her hands clasping a jar full of fireflies.
All of them glow.
I race to show Daddy
their dancing-light show.
Now, as they sleep, I read another story about a father and his little girl.
This is Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez's mother imagining the last moments of life for her son and granddaughter.
"When the girl jumped in is when he tried to reach her, but when he tried to grab the girl, he went further... and he couldn't get out," Rosa Ramirez told AP. "He put her in his shirt, and I imagine he told himself, 'I've come this far,' and decided to go with her."
How do any of us sleep?
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 nonfiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. Her novel, "Erietown," will be published by Random House in spring 2020. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: varamiroamorim at Pixabay