Justine Caldwell: On motherhood, families and separation

Justine Caldwell

Many people know me now as a Democratic Candidate for State Representative in House District 30. What many people may not know is that I am also a mother of young children: I have a 6-year-old son Escher and a 3-year-old daughter Luna. These are the ages of so many of the children in the images we see of families being separated at our border. 

If you’ve been a parent, you know that having a 3- and a 6-year-old is not all sunshine and roses. Probably if you’ve ever been in a grocery store, you’ve inevitably seen moms falling apart and little kids screaming and thought “Hey, that doesn’t look like all sunshine and roses.” There are a lot of things about being a mother that aren’t easy but they are overcome in a hug, an “I love you,” in watching our kids achieve any small measure of success, in hearing them giggle, or seeing them make a new friend. 

And I’m not a perfect mom. Tonight my kids had Happy Meals for dinner. At 5:30, a resident who had gotten my campaign literature on his door wanted to talk with me on the phone about how Hillary Clinton should be in jail and he hated all Democrats, I had a bit of a headache, my husband was at work until at least 9 in Boston, and I needed my kids happy and fed before bedtime at 7pm. So Escher, Luna, and I piled into our safe car, drove out of our driveway in East Greenwich, bought food we could easily afford, and then they happily ate it at our kitchen table without a care in the world beyond the injustice that we could not have movie night on a night such as this, when we had to get up for camp the next morning. 

These small moments have become monumental to me over the past week as we’ve seen the news and the images of children being separated from their parents crossing the border into the United States. Every day, the news becomes worse and worse. I think: what can I do? Even friends of mine who are still apolitical have said: what can I do? I don’t have nearly enough money, especially as a Democrat in 2018 running for office and solicited often, to make a difference to advocacy groups. I’m not an attorney. I don’t speak Spanish fluently. My congressional delegates already agree with me. How can we help these kids?

I can share some stories of being a mom. 

Last week my daughter Luna jumped off our couch and hit her chin on the coffee table, concluding with a bent tooth and a trip to the pediatric dentist. Not only were we seen 1 hour from when I called in a panic, but she got her first x-ray and it was completely covered by our insurance. But she also had me. She was in pain and she was nervous. At her first dental appointment months ago, she was bubbly and eager to get into the chair just like her big brother. But last week she was afraid and she needed her mom. And I was there to sit with her in the chair, to hold her hand, to assure her that everything would be okay. So many mothers now, with so much less, and in situations so much worse, cannot do the same. I cried when Luna was sitting in that chair with her bent tooth and broken lip, and the dentist trying to convince her to take an x-ray. He had to push me out of the room for the 5 seconds it took to take. This is what it means to be a family. 

So what would I do in a situation I cannot imagine myself in? In a situation where my family — my children and I — are in danger, and my only choice was to try and cross a border? I don’t know. What decisions would I make if I feared for the lives of my children? I don’t know. But what I do know is that as a mother, as an American, as a candidate for public office, there is nothing — nothing — that necessitates or allows for children to be taken away from their parents in the way that this administration’s family separation policy is doing. As medical professionals have stated, it leads to long-term health detriment for the children. As all of our former first ladies have chimed in, it is un-American. But why do we need any of that to say — ripping small children from their parents and putting them in cages — with a flat mattress and small blanket, not allowed to be touched or consoled — is at best immoral and unacceptable?

Tonight I put Escher and Luna to bed in our ritualized kid-bedtime routine. That means that Luna has her four gummy bear lights — pink, green, blue, and purple — all turned on, and her nighttime owl playing “twinkle twinkle” and shining stars and the moon on her ceiling. As she cozied up in her crib after a kiss on the cheek, she said “say I’m your baby and I love you!” I said “You’re my baby and I love you” and before I closed the door I look around at her room aglow in the dim colored lights with my baby in the safety of my own protection and felt grateful and also sadness. I went to Escher’s room and usually tough-at-bedtime mom read him a requested extra book and snuggled for a few minutes before lights out. These are moments being ripped away from families who come to us for help. These are moments all children deserve to have with their parents, no matter where they live or where they are from. These are the moments that make kids feel safe and secure and help them to grow. These are the moments I truly feel most like a mother. 

So I’m a candidate. And I’m a mom. What others also might not know about me is that I have my PhD in American Studies, after my BA and MA in English Literature. I wrote my dissertation about mental illness. I read a lot of Freud. A line that has stayed with ever since I read it, Freud’s interpretation of Oedipus: “His destiny moves us only because it might have been ours—because the oracle laid the same curse upon us before our birth as upon him.” We are who we are — we are all where we are — but for an accident of birth. Let us not forget the people who are less lucky than we are. 

About Justine Caldwell 3 Articles
I like to make speeches and knock on strangers' doors. Democrat. #trueblue email: drjustinecaldwell@gmail.com twitter: @Justine4RI

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