I am a Jewish mother; I thrive on feeding. I am from the Middle East – we are offended if you don’t eat our food. I served two years in the Israeli Army. I know what it is like NOT to have the food you like at reach. I am a carb and sugar girl, and I love to nosh. I know what it is like to want something to eat and not be able to have it. Chocolate is a food group in my world.
In my work with incarcerated youth, food has played a role in establishing trust, showing my love, proving that my word can be relied upon, and really just filling that sweet need.
I used to bring snacks every week-a little bit of a bribe and a lot about just doing something special for my girls. This round of workshops I was not allowed to do that.
Somewhere something happened, and such it is in places like this – now food is not permitted. I kicked, I begged, I nudged. Oy, did I nudge. Finally, the director allowed me to bring a treat three times:
1. When we reach the midway point of the program
2. The day of the show
3. At our last meeting
I take what I can get. He realizes he doesn’t have a choice. Today was half-time. I brought doughnuts, Taki Chips (very, very hot chips) and lemonade. The over tattooed boy at Vons smiled. “Now that’s a party, ha, ha, nothing healthy!”
I have a pang of guilt, but let it go. I used to have a deal, that out of every few snacks I bring, one would be healthy. Not because I am pushing the healthy food, I tell the girls, but just to give an option, to invite the possibility of yogurt, fruit and maybe some granola to enter their world. To which one 16-year-old who was five months pregnant said, “This healthy shit? Is actually good Ms.” They loved the fresh fruit.
I would try to get things I know they don’t have many chances to taste like papaya, kiwi. I introduced them to new tastes. It was exciting and funny for them and me. But today was a little different. This is a tough group. I want them to see that I see them, respect them. I get them what I know will surprise them, and make them happy. I want to comfort them. God, how I want to comfort them.
So, I buy the unhealthy food, some might not approve. Ah, but my girls? Well, they are elated. We wrote poetry today. It was deep and a little intense and we ended with food.
We sat around a long table, there was laughter and an abundance of joy. I carefully pass out the chips, put it in a bowl for each girl, and although I like spicy food, this is too much for me. I am very careful not to touch anything with my fingers.
“Aren’t you having some Ms.?”
“I can’t eat this. It’s too spicy for me,” I say. “If I even touch my fingers, I’m finished.”
They think that is hilarious. Then it is quiet. “Ms? Why did you get it if you can’t eat it?”
“Because you eat it.”
Again quiet. “Wow, that’s a lot of money to get this for us.”
“Not really,” I say. (ALL of the food together cost less than 30 dollars).
“NO it’s a lot,” they are adamant.
“Thank you, thank you.” Oh, so many thanks you’s.
And then it happened, the one I have been trying to get to, the one who barely smiles, walked over stood real close to me and whispered, “You got me my favorite.”
I take a deep breath and smile. “You deserve it. You have been doing a great job, and we are half way through the program.”
“You got me my favorite, “she says again, and there it came, a smile.
I have been waiting five weeks. It is the tough ones, I know, that are the ones who have been hurt the most. They are the ones I need to win the trust of, and when they smile? I know they are ready to let me in. And, if they do not let me in, at least they can give the tough mask a rest.
“Ahaha,” I said. “Be careful, be careful, it’s showing, it is showing,” I say.
“What?” She says in a panic.
That makes her laugh. She finally looked her age.
“You should do that more often,” I say. “You have a beautiful smile.”
And in a heartbeat she gives me that street look. “Don’t do that,” I say. “Now you look like you’re going to steal my car.” We both burst out laughing.
“You’re funny, Ms.” she says. “And, you brought me my favorite food,” she smiles again. She cleans up the trash, takes my bag and walks me to the office.
It’s the little things. It is an intention. It is paying attention. It is sometimes as simple as a bag of chips.
So this week, figure out someone’s chips, and give it to them. Give them their favorite, make them smile. I promise you, you will smile more.