The children who were removed and the parents to whom they are returned seem like strangers from a distant world (or time) to you. But not to me. When I listen to the media describing their lives, they feel like distant kin. As the story unfolded, I found that I had more in common with these children than with people bringing me news of them.
Kinkade describes growing up with multiple caregivers and parent-level connections with those not biologically related to her:
Yet like the FLDS children, I grew up in a place where my “normal” was far enough from the average American childhood to make Dick and Jane books read like cultural anthropology. Like the FLDS children, my caregivers were nearly innumerable. Sometimes, it seemed as if nobody in particular was raising us. The most striking similarity between my life and theirs is the sense of division you feel when you grow up somewhere that defines itself as an alternative to the dominant culture. The boundaries of the property become the boundaries of ideology, dividing right from wrong, us from them. I no longer read the division as a moral issue, but I still see a divide. That’s why, particularly when the news is of “outsiders,” I read the newscasters as closely as the news itself and remember my own childhood.
As a child, the grown-up I was closest to cooked my homemade mac and cheese (before the hippies learned to cook tofu in any edible form) and was the only one who could get me to take a bath. She had two long-term relationships during my childhood and had them simultaneously. Biologically speaking, she wasn’t my mother – but saying so is emotionally false. When I woke up from a nightmare (in the room I shared with a girl who is not my sister, but there is no better term to describe the person with whom I shared a room for 10 years and on whom I attempted to blame most of my childhood’s high crimes and misdemeanors), I would walk up two flights of stairs to be comforted by the purveyor of mac and cheese, warmth, and safety. On certain days of the week, there would be a black-haired man next to her; on other days, a blond. I knew these men tangentially, knew they were her lovers, and didn’t give them much thought. Whichever man it was would shove over. I would crawl under the blankets. She would put an arm around me.
Kinkade gives great commentary on the media’s relationship to those whose lives are alien to their own (and those of their viewers/readers):
Underneath the desire to embrace cultural relativism and alternative definitions of family lurks a deep inability to reconcile the children who were taken into state custody with America’s picture of itself. Americans might have an extremely generous and expansive notion of alternative lifestyle choices. But our notions of what constitutes an acceptable childhood occupy a very narrow bandwidth. Given the hairline margin for deviation, it isn’t really surprising that the state of Texas’ desire to protect the FLDS children resulted in chaos.
Its nice to see more public commentary on this topic from those with community experience.
June 24: This article was republished in the print newspaper, Dallas Morning News.