When a child is born, a mother is born. There’s no extracting the person she was before because she no longer exists. On the outside she looks the same, but on the inside there’s something new running through her veins. She’s a new being called by a new name.
Mom. Mama. Mother.
Madre. Ummi. Mum.
Moeder. Morsa. Mueter. Mami.
No matter where she is in this world or what kind of ground is beneath her feet—dirt, grass, concrete, mud, sand—she will lay her life down on that ground to protect her babies. She will say goodbye to them, though it will grieve her until the day she dies, if it means they will be safe and have something better. She will make unimaginable sacrifices and choices because she loves them. She will swallow her own fear on a daily basis to fill them with the courage they need for the day at hand.
I know this because I am one. I know others. We are her.
I know this because I went way down south once, and what I saw I’ll never un-see—what I heard, I’ll never forget.
It was with a tad of trepidation I traveled to a Texas border town. I packed up boxes of a book I wrote and I headed out on a six-hour drive to a place where I was invited to read to school children. I went through a checkpoint to get there, and I nervously answered all the questions.
There were five elementary schools in the little town—all of them were needed to accommodate the growing number of Mexican children attending school in the U.S. Many of them are U.S. citizens living in Mexico because their parents aren’t citizens and have been deported, likely more than once.
These beautiful children wake early—before daylight—to make the trek across the international bridge to attend school. The days I visited their schools, they came with backpacks and sack lunches. They came with neat and clean hair, braided and tied with bows. The little boys have a clear affinity for hair product. They were tidy, and I knew a mother was behind it. They called me “miss” and giggled at me—the anomaly with fair skin and blond hair.
Those beautiful, outer coverings of the children I could easily see, but there were things they carried inside them I couldn’t see.
Every day, I was told, some children came with stories they only whisper to school counselors behind closed doors. In the week I was their guest, those counselors whispered stories to me. Stories with no names, whispered because the fear of retaliation is very real in border towns.
These babies have mamas, I kept thinking—mothers who let them cross over into another country every day of the school year because hopefully life is better there, at least for a few hours. Mothers who worry about the horrific things their children are seeing.
Same as I would.
The kidnappings. The evil of fathers who are among the most influential drug lords in Mexico. The hooded Mexican police with machine guns—seen the minute the children cross the bridge back into Mexico—who can actually provide very little real protection. These are the stories of Mexican children.
And then there was this whisper of a story—of the little boy I read to who witnessed the decapitation of his uncle.
I didn’t want to believe it.
He has a mother who couldn’t shield him from it—though I know she tried.
My world is pretty and insulated, and the reality of border life shocked me, if I’m honest. The terror of it came close for those days.
After lunch, a custodian named Tony told me where I could sit and look out over Mexico. It was a bluff situated maybe a thousand feet from the bridge. I sat there on that lovely spring day, trying to imagine life on the other side.
My seat was a boulder overlooking the Rio Grande, and on a path maybe thirty feet below me I soon saw about fifteen Mexicans, including a small child, walking quietly and quickly as they looked over their shoulders. Some were on cell phones. Most disappeared into the brush, but a young pregnant woman was hurriedly escorted by two men up the hill and into a car that seemed to come out of nowhere, stopping just behind me. My heart pounded at the nearness and the desperation. Once the girl was inside, the car sped off so fast the door wasn’t even closed. I learned later the girl was probably trying to give birth in the U.S. so her child would have citizenship.
Of course she was, I thought. Because a mother will do anything…
In my mind, I’d pictured such desperation taking place only at night, but it was daylight and in the middle of town.
I read to one last group of students that day.
When they entered, I looked at them differently and deeper and kinder.
I was about to read them a story of Paloma the Pigeon—the story of an innocent child who dared to hope—a story that would fall on the ears of many children who’d been robbed of their own innocence.
Their eyes have seen too much, I thought.
They already knew desperation. They were born into it.
But as I began to read, I watched the emotion in their eyes. I watched their faces rise and fall with the story and I understood that desperation cannot drown out hope. It just can’t.
In fact, it’s desperation that leads us to it.
It’s why mamas sneak into the United States with a child, knowing they will likely be detained. It’s why mamas will turn loose of a crying child’s hand, entrusting him to a total stranger who might offer safe passage across the border—because no matter what’s waiting on the other side of the river, hopefully it’s way less horrific than where they came from. How bad must it be…
These mothers are desperate for their babies.
We are their hope.
And hope is living and buoyant and afloat.
I know there are laws. I know most all of them are necessary. I know bad people are coming into our country. I know laws are for our own protection. I know it and mostly believe it.
But one day, a few years ago, I read a story to a bunch of real little border children, with real names and faces and stories. In the days that have since passed, one of those babies died after being caught in crossfire on the wrong side of a big bridge.
He called someone mama. She is one of us, and she will grieve him until the day she dies. She wanted better for him, and she was trying hard. She was trying to save him.
I would do exactly the same. I would go to extremes. I would do anything it took to save my babies. If there wasn’t time to do it the right way, I’d go ahead and do it the wrong way. If I was desperate, I know I would.
So you’ll find no judgment here for border mamas—just a simple prayer for God to show us how to fix things and do better and figure it all out.