What we should have been thinking about this Father’s Day weekend

I spent Father’s Day weekend doing what I have done for 16 of the last 22 Father’s Day weekends: getting away to the East End of Long Island and running the Shelter Island 10k. I’ve written about it here, and here.  This year was a little different. Instead of using the weekend as an escape, it was a relaxing weekend of quality time with my boyfriend.

I was pleasantly surprised when he agreed to come to New York and give up spending the day with his kids (they’re adults, but still, spending time with them, I know, is very important to him). Since I will be officially an Illinois resident in a few weeks I’m not sure what will happen to this tradition in future years, so I was grateful that he chose to come along. I truly enjoyed sharing it with him.

It was my parents that introduced me to the East End as a child and we spent our summers in Montauk and Shelter Island. These places remain special to me because of the memories they hold. This weekend involved lots of reminiscing and probably way too many stories that began, “when I was a kid…” If he ever got tired of them, he never said so.

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The beach in Montauk with my Dad. 1971.

I had an incredible childhood. I always knew unconditional love from my parents. These were my adoptive parents, and I have always felt blessed for the life I was given with them. I wrote about my early years in My Story: Part 1. What I didn’t include in that story, however was how I had anxiety attacks (that at times made me really sick) every time I was separated from my parents…until I was a teenager! It is not uncommon for adopted children to experience separation anxiety.

“Today, we realize that this separation is traumatic for both the mother and the child, and we recognize that early experiences have a disproportionately large impact on the structure of the brain.

“When an infant or child is separated from his or her birthmother, it is undeniably a traumatic event. All of the once-familiar sights, sounds and sensations are gone, and the infant is placed in a dangerous situation — dangerous that is, perceived by the infant. The only part of the brain that is fully developed at birth is the brain stem that regulates the sympathetic nervous system, that is, the fight, flight or freeze response. The parasympathetic ability to self-soothe isn’t available and baby needs his or her familiar mom to act as the soothing agent to help with self-regulation but she’s not there. Events that happen age 0-3 are encoded as implicit memories and become embodied because they place before language develops.”

– Johnson, L. 2013. “10 Things Adoptees Want You to Know,” Huffington Post.

I lived in institutional care for my first two years. It was wonderful care, in a convent, with a nun  that loved me and continued to be a positive part of my life – as well as my daughter’s – until her death in 2009.  There was nothing negative at all about my adoption experience, and yet, I was still affected by being separated from my (biological) mother.

I have worked for social service agencies who were part of the foster care system. One had a Family Preservation program whose goal was to keep families in tack. These were parents at risk of losing their children due to abuse, neglect, illegal drug habits and other criminal activities. They used an evidence-based model that showed rehabilitating parents and giving them the tools they needed to succeed as parents, was in the best interest of the children. The goal is to keep kids out of foster care.

So why am I talking about all of this? Think about it. Think about when you were a kid. Can you imagine being separated from your parents? What about now, as a parent? How would you feel about being separated from your child? Can you imagine for a moment what it would be like for your child? Think about it. Really think about it! Then read about what is going on in this country and tell me you don’t care.

Start here: “Here’s what’s happening with immigrant children at the U.S. border, policy wise” USA Today.  This is the most non-partisan view on what’s happening that I could find. I don’t want to hear, “But Obama…” At this point, I  don’t care who you voted for or why you voted for them. What’s happening at this very moment has to stop before we contribute any further to the PTSD of these children. If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Please act! If you don’t think this is okay, make your voice heard. Do something. Start by calling your Representative. Use this number to be connected to his or her office: 1-855-660-1185. Here are some additional ideas: “Seizing Children From Parents at the Border Is Immoral. Here’s What We Can Do About It.” New York Times.

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The Beach in Montauk. June 2018.

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