BY MIKE JORDAN LASKEY | August 15, 2019
Our four-year-old daughter is in the hilarious phase of pretend play where she’s imitating adult speech and activities. The other night, she had me and my wife on the couch while she pretended to “go for a jog” back and forth to her room down the hall, which was serving as an imaginary supermarket, big box store, and ice cream parlor. Each time she returned to the living room after about ten seconds of “shopping,” she’d have another pretend item to share with us, like “examples” (what she calls samples) from Costco.
The funniest part of this was as she prepared to leave on her jog each time, she would turn back to us sitting there and say, “Call if you need me.” Then, a step toward her room before turning again. “Just call if you need me.” Three, four, five times she would do this each 10-foot trip, until we would shout, “OK! Don’t worry! We’ll call if we need you.”
I’m wondering where she got that phrase from, and there are two leading possibilities. First, I thought she had heard us use it when we leave her in her room alone to play or read—like, let us know if something goes wrong or you need company. But I think it’s actually from when I head out to the store, leaving my wife at home with one or both of our daughters—as in, call me on the cell if you want to add any last-minute items to the list. Either way, the kiddo has a lot of experience with calling when she needs something. (Or when she doesn’t need something.) Answering her calls occupies a big slice of time on the “parenting a pre-schooler” pie chart. Some days, she says “Mommy, Mommy” so much without an actual follow-up question that we beg her to get our attention with literally any other word.
I hope she’s learning a lesson about her family: When someone calls out, another person is always there to answer. This baseline family values stuff even has scriptural parallels. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus shares with his disciples a poetic version of “Call if you need me”: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you,” he says. “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?” The closeness God desires with us is beyond our understanding, but the trust and compassion of a parent for a child is a pretty good illustration, Jesus suggests. I’m glad our kiddo seems to have internalized this at least a bit.
A few hours before our evening of pretending, all over the state of Mississippi, 680 immigrants were arrested in the largest coordinated work-site raid in the history of the United States. Kids who were at school while the raids were happening left for the day temporarily homeless, unsure when or where they’d see their parents again. “I need my dad and mommy,” an 11-year old girl named Magadalena told a local TV station. “My dad didn’t do anything, he’s not a criminal.”
“I need my dad and mommy” are the words of a child who is used to depending on her parents. They are words of trust rooted in experience: I call you because I need you and you answer. I call and call and you answer every time. This one of the horrifying traumas of our immigration enforcement policy of family separation. Tiny kids are routinely learning that no, in fact, their parents won’t be there when they call, despite their promises.
Is there any possible way in the universe that our God the Father is anything but brokenhearted and enraged by all of this? Do we think God shrugs his shoulders at the scene unfolding in Mississippi and says, Well, those parents should have obeyed the law? Does God, who loves all his children more than I love my daughters, care about citizenship papers? Does any single argument in favor of ripping families apart withstand Gospel scrutiny? If my heart was even the smallest bit more God-like in compassion, would I still be able to read about the raids in Mississippi, shake my head, and go on with my day? God, we’re calling. We need you. Help us.
Mike Jordan Laskey is the senior communications manager for the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States in Washington, D.C. He is the author of the book The Ministry of Peace and Justice (Liturgical Press), and he’s the sports columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, where he also contributes to the Young Voices section. His work has also appeared in Vice, America, Give Us This Day, US Catholic, and other outlets.