We made a promise to Ellie and her best friend that they could go to camp together—in Memphis. Then we moved to Boston last year and reneged. This was the summer to pay up.

This was a big deal. We all looked forward to a trip back to Memphis to see friends we left behind, but Ellie was in the details. She planned meticulously—and outsourced the execution of the plans to her mother.

The two friends planned what they would wear every day, matching tee shirts and shorts, and we had to make sure we had just the right items. We also had to agree to let Ellie tint her hair just the right shade to match her friend’s effort. We drove from Boston to Memphis with two kids and two dogs just in time to deposit Ellie at camp and pull away.

Did I mention this was her first overnight camp? I’ve traveled occasionally, of course, but I’m used to being the one who leaves. I can imagine my daughter snug in her bed at home while I’m gone. This time I had to leave her there on her own at camp, miss her terribly all week, and come back for her at the designated time.

How was it possible she was more grown up? But she was. A few days had changed her, giving my confident girl even more confidence. It was emotional for me. The separation made one of us stronger, and it wasn’t me! But it was a chosen, intentional separation, the sort that confirms your child is doing well and is ready for the world.

At the same time as the world was watching the World Cup, a youth soccer team became trapped in a cave in Thailand. All the world was focused on soccer in one way or another. The weeks the boys spent separated from their families, in darkness and fear, touched people around the globe. Letters and prayers and well wishes poured in for them because of their accidental separation. We all heaved relief at their safe rescue.

Intentional separation, accidental separation, and then there is policy separation. Also happening around this time was the zero tolerance immigration policy at the US southern border that resulted in thousands of children being forcibly separated from their parents. In the same way that we know there is a link between smoking and lung cancer, we know there is a link between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and health problems. It’s not speculation. It’s not hearsay. We have the same level of evidence-based knowledge on this issue as we have about other health causes and effects.

And yet we made a choice to damage children. Our collective soul eroded.

Our work at South Shore Mental Health embraces our shared humanity and supports children every day who experience developmental delay and adversity. And we will continue making that choice. Because it’s the right choice. Our goal is to see children move toward confident independence in healthy, chosen ways that are right for their circumstances and whole-person health.

Antony Sheehan
South Shore Mental Health