Vast difference between arriving legally and illegally

Our neighborhood is populated with immigrants. We were diverse before diversity was cool.

Ileana is from Russia. She lives in an apartment complex nearby and walks the sidewalks in our subdivision at least once a day, sometimes twice. She casually strolls, frequently pausing to take in flowers and shrubs. She is happy to chat, ask about your grandbabies and tell you about her son the doctor now living in San Francisco.

One block down is a couple from Afghanistan. The woman came ahead of her husband, along with their son. She came with her widowed sister and her sister’s four boys. I was volunteering, helping children find their classrooms on the first day of elementary school, when those little boys arrived on their bus years ago. They had identical buzzed haircuts, big brown eyes, spoke no English and were terrified. Our neighbor’s son is now a podiatrist. She and her sister became hair stylists.

Behind us lives a family who fled Cambodia. The mother loves to tell how she opened a day care in her home as soon as they arrived so that their two boys could learn English from other children. She, a seamstress, will also explain the importance of homework and trips to the library. “Have children read, read, read,” she says. “Then one day—they take off!” Her hand shoots into the air like a plane soaring into the sky. One of their sons is now a doctor, the other an engineer.

A couple from China lives next door. He teaches at the med school; she does medical research. Their son graduated high school with our son and went on to earn a doctorate in computer science.

A man who emigrated from India several years ago reupholstered a chair for us recently. His eyes brim with tears as he tells of his dream of immigrating to America “to be an entrepreneur.” He’s not cheap, but he’s very good.

All of these friends, neighbors and acquaintances immigrated legally. Some traveled great distances to keep appointments, undergo interviews and physical exams, and obtain required forms and valid passports. They waited months, or years, secured sponsors and promises of employment, had petitions filed and acquired visas.

It is bewildering when immigration laws apply to some but not others—or the laws are enforced some of the time, but not all of the time.

Fifty-two thousand unaccompanied children have illegally flooded our southern borders since October, most transported by human smugglers. Many of these children are under age 10, some barely old enough to walk. Having overwhelmed our resources, they are housed like an explosion of strays in giant stinking kennels while officials plead for donations of underwear. This is no Ellis Island. This is not the American dream; it is a living nightmare.

There are pathways for getting here, but this isn’t one of them.

Every government and cartel behind this massive crush of children must be held accountable. Fifty-two thousand, with more on the way, is no coincidence. Parents are responsible, too.

The situation screams for the Wisdom of Solomon—justice tempered with mercy. Any nation that uses children as political pawns is a nation without spine or substance.

Dumping children is always an egregious wrong.

Where the wild things are

In the O. Henry short story, “The Ransom of Red Chief,” two small-time criminals kidnap a banker’s son and hold him for ransom. The banker does not respond as he is enjoying a break from the child.

rabbit jumpingThe kid proclaims himself Red Chief and exhausts his captors. He even announces that one of his abductors is now his prisoner and threatens to scalp him by daybreak. Eventually the kidnappers pay the father to take the child back.

Two of our grandchildren came to stay with us recently and, while I would never say that the darlings were as rambunctious as Red Chief, I was thankful we did not have a tomahawk on the premises.

They are children who register on the lively end of the activity spectrum. Part of the reason is that they and their baby brother live in a 2-bedroom Chicago apartment, which in their case is tantamount to housing wild mustangs in a small horse trailer. Naturally, when they have access to wide-open spaces, they enjoy running, galloping and pawing at the ground.

Invigorated by the great outdoors, one of the things the active 5-year-old likes to do is wake the household each morning with an owl call. She’s quite good, really. She does a very lifelike screech owl. If you have ever been awakened by the loud and piercing cry of a screech owl inches from your face, you will understand why there is no need for morning caffeine.

You will find that you start—and finish —the day moving quickly, startling easily and acquiring a small tic beneath your right eye.

They spent nearly every daylight hour playing in the backyard. They barreled outside as early as 7:15 or 7:30. I can’t remember exactly, but the neighbors do.

They spent hours with the sandbox, two big old galvanized tubs and the hose, basically realigning natural resources. They excavated sand from the sandbox, flooded the sandbox, then returned sand to the sandbox until they perfected a marvelous, disgusting swamp-like mixture that cemented to their skin and found its way into every nook, cranny, towel and bed in the house.

As each day drew to a close they would appear to wind down a bit, line up two chairs in the middle of the backyard and have a seat.

“Peaceful,” the husband said.

“The calm before the storm,” I said.

They were sitting motionless to stake out a rabbit. Not just any rabbit, but a rabbit that is a routine visitor and so large he could easily be Sunday dinner. I may have told the kids if they could catch the rabbit they could keep it. So they sat and waited armed with nothing but fierce speed and their bare hands.

They came so close to the rabbit so many times that I reached for my grandmother’s Wild Game cookbook. But the rabbit always escaped, each evening bouncing higher and higher in the air until it appeared to be part white-tailed deer.

The children have returned to the city, the sand has been swept away and the rabbit has resumed regular evening visits, although it appears a bit nervous. It has acquired a tic beneath its right eye.

Little space cadet too well grounded

One year when I was in elementary school, I was chosen to go to a summer space camp. It was a special privilege, the sort of special privilege that I found terrifying. Surely there had been an astronomical mistake. I kept waiting for someone to correct it, but nobody ever did. And so the girl who considered gravity her best friend attended space camp.

EarthLooking back, all I can think is that those were desperate times. The Russians had launched Sputnik. John Glenn had orbited the earth three times in Friendship 7 and Americans were trying to win the race for space.

Space camp was for kids who teachers thought might have potential in the sciences. If my country was depending on me to help win the race for space, my country was doomed. It was a heavy burden for an 8-year-old to know she was about to bring down a super power.

On our first day at Space Camp we made helmets from empty Baskin-Robbins ice cream containers. We cut out holes for our faces and then painted them. I painted mine green, the color of grass, grass that grows on the ground and stays on the ground, the same place we should stay, too.

To this day, I have imagined the inside of every space shuttle, and NASA itself, smelling like mint chocolate chip ice cream and green tempera paint.

Our solar system at space camp was made of graduated balls plastered with strips of newsprint slathered in thick glue. The paper Mache planets simulated rotation courtesy of fishing line and coat hangers. Saturn’s rings were pipe cleaners and we included Pluto without a hint of debate or controversy.

The one not-terrifying thing about Space Camp was learning about the sky and the stars. We learned that the Big Dipper was connected to the Little Dipper, and the Great Bear was connected to the Little Bear, and the hip bone was connected to the neck bone. I may have been confused. In any case, we learned that you could see interesting things in the night sky, including the Moon and sometimes Mars.

Even now, when I try to point out Mars in the evening sky, others will insist that what I think is Mars is actually an incoming plane. They are just jealous that they did not go to space camp. OK, so maybe Mars is moving toward the airport.

The point is, if you aren’t stepping outside and looking up from time to time, you are missing some of the best this world has to offer. If you are in the country on a cloudless night, you can feel yourself dwarfed by countless jewels glittering in the sky.

If you’re on the late end of early morning, you may catch dawn as the horizon streaks with a twist of apricot and neon orange. I learned this much at space camp: You don’t need a Baskin-Robbins helmet to enjoy an amazing view.

The irrefutqable power of dads

A humorous illustration of a woman’s brain depicts it sectioned into compartments. The smaller, equal-size compartments are labeled food, shopping, shoes, talking with girlfriends and relationships with the opposite sex—all of which are dwarfed by one huge over-riding compartment labeled “my mother.”

Relationships with mothers tend to be complex. They are powerful relationships that may inspire undying love and loyalty, or guilt and anger and sometimes a curious mix of the aforementioned.

Relationships with fathers, although equally powerful, tend to be less complex. This is probably because fathers are prone to be less verbal. They not only use fewer words but are less likely to exercise a flair for drama, burst into tears, slam doors or hone a great martyr routine, hence leaving offspring with fewer good stories to retell.

Nevertheless, the relationship between father and child is critical. Social science research constantly underscores the blithely, or even intentionally, overlooked power of the father-child relationship.

A father who has a decent (note the word is decent, not perfect) relationship with his children is highly likely to raise children who have fewer behavior problems, graduate high school, have a high sense of aspiration, delay becoming sexually active, stay on the right side of the law, do not engage in drug and alcohol abuse and are likely to have stable relationships as adults. A father involved in a child’s life isn’t an iron-clad guarantee of stability, but it’s real close.

Every time there is another senseless killing in our city, people appear on television camera, distraught, saying, “I don’t know what the answer is.”

The answer is nearly always fathers. Our out-of-wedlock birth rate is 40 percent and climbing. We’re not supposed to talk about such matters directly; it could be deemed insensitive. You know what’s insensitive? Intentionally leaving kids without a fundamental component of life for which they intrinsically ache. Insensitive is telling fathers that they are dispensable.

With all respect to trees, the air and fossil fuels, it is our dwindling supply of fathers that will one day render us unsustainable. Their increasing absence plays out in out in a million ways.

Carey Casey, CEO of the National Center for Fathering, has served as chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs. He says many professional football players—strong, powerful, rich, handsome men—have said that when they run from the tunnel into a football stadium filled with 80,000 people, they would give anything to look up in the stands and for just one moment see their father looking down at them.

If fully grown men still feel the ache deep in their gut, how much greater must that longing be for children?

A father doesn’t have to be perfect. Mothers certainly aren’t. A good and decent father will do just fine. Such a man is far more than a meal ticket: he is a moral compass, a guide, a safe place, an encourager, a comforter, a shield against the storm.

Our sons and daughters don’t need perfect dads, but they do need dads who are present and engaged.

Casting call was a real bear

I received a casting call last week. Hey, I was as surprised as anybody. I was minding my own business at the computer when the request came in asking if I would perform in a starring role.

3 charisI didn’t hesitate. These opportunities don’t come your way every day.

Maybe you’ve heard of the production? The Three Bears.

I was offered the part of Goldilocks. Imagine. Me, a brunette. And at my age. I always pictured Goldilocks younger. And shorter. And thinner. Oh well, the things they can do with make-up and special effects these days.

Anyway, it was an off-Broadway production. Way off. Way, way, way, way, way off. It was so off-Broadway that it was in our front room.

So I walked over to the set and saw that the cast and crew (you do double duty when there are only a few of you) already had all the props in place. The wooden play table had been set with three plastic plates for porridge. Two small chairs and a little red rocker were lined up and two love seats were designated as the beds.

The cast and crew looked young, as in under age four. But, clearly, they knew their stuff.

“Do you know your part, Grandma?”

“I think so,” I said. “This is the one where the girl goes in a stranger’s house uninvited, eats their food, sits in their chairs, falls asleep in a bed, then the bears come home, find her and she runs away screaming.”

“That’s it!” They were equal parts amazed and delighted that I was familiar with the story.

It was a family-friendly production—something hard to find these days. The only strong language was from Papa Bear, who preceded his every line with an emphatic “HMPF!” That’s a standard Papa Bear line in one of their Three Bears books and has become a favorite. There was no nudity either, as long as you didn’t count the brief intermission where we changed their baby sister’s stinky diaper.

I knew I wasn’t the first one asked to play this part, nor would I be the last. I’m not the only grandma in town. But that’s showbiz, isn’t it? You’re only as good as your last performance. HMPF!

Any chance of a callback would depend on a grand finish. When the two bears (they played multiple roles) woke me up, I, Goldilocks sprung from the loveseat, jumped over the back of it (a feat these legs and this back had not done in years) and ran from the room screaming and waving my arms wildly.

The finale was well received. It wasn’t just a standing O, they started running and screaming behind me. It was like Goldilocks being chased by the paparazzi.

When the dust settled, one of them said, “Let’s do it again, Grandma. You know, the part where Goldilocks wakes up and runs wild.”

We may take this show from the front room on the road—now selling tickets for seats in the backyard.