by Brett Hamil
Last night my wife tucked the toddler into bed as she normally does then headed out for a meeting. I sat in the studio downstairs and listened to him scream for his mommy for about 15 or 20 minutes, a feral, throat-shredding yowl that didn’t let up. I tried to go in and comfort him several times but he wasn’t having it. “I want Mommy! I need mommy!” he wailed, kicking his legs and flailing his arms and clawing at his face.
Eventually he calmed down just enough that I was able to go in there and talk to him and, finally, crawl into bed beside him. Squeezed between my child and the low rail of his recently converted “big-boy bed,” I looked out over his night-lit bedroom of toddler accoutrement: a hodge-podge of nursery furniture, dirty clothes, piles of books, stuffed animals both favored and neglected, little scraps of plastic and building blocks and toys that had become small grubby treasures or discarded debris.
None of these items in his room — this homely little habitat that surrounded us — were chosen by him. When you’re a toddler nothing is really your choice. It’s just a random accumulation of things and moments given to you. You are totally dependent and unashamed in your world-embracing need. Whatever you are given, you figure out a way to make it your own.
As I lay there on my side in the dim light under the whoosh of his white noise machine and the thrum of the fan, I listened to the faint rhythmic squeak of my boy sucking on his fingers and occasionally letting out a little post-cry hiccup. Tears rolled out of my eyes and streamed down my cheeks.
“It’s hard being a little kid, isn’t it?” I said after a long silence.
“Yeah,” he said, and I could feel his head nodding against my shoulder.
Finally, the sound of his finger sucking subsided and I turned to face him. Perfect little dewy eyelids, extravagantly long eyelashes, tiny button nose, chubby round cheeks. Skin softer and more luminous than the most advanced Instagram filter. A precious little sentient being in repose. My eyes wet, I sneaked out of the room and left him sleeping peacefully.
I can’t even begin to process the full scope of the tragedy of the thousands of children in American concentration camps tonight, shrieking their throats ragged alone in chain link cages with nothing but an emergency blanket — no bed, no stuffed animals, no white noise machine, no nightlight, no mom or dad smooshed in beside them speaking softly, comforting them.
What those children are going through is a horror so immense I can only take it in little glimpses at a time. And it’s awakening a rage that I can also afford to glimpse only briefly, for now.
Being a little kid is hard enough. Just existing is hard enough.
Featured photo by Steven Depolo.