I took my oldest and my youngest to the Santa Monica Pier Amusement Park. They each brought a friend. It was the holiday weekend, and my middle one was on a sleepover. My oldest is a rollercoaster maven. My toothless seven-year-old was not really there yet.
The four girls ran to the first ride. My little one started out with happy, sweet screams that very quickly turned into true, fearful, get-me-off-of-this screaming. I stood on the side ready to vomit. The two-minute ride seemed like eternity, and my body turned inside out one hundred times till I held my girl in my arms and told her she doesn’t have to go on any rides anymore. “No I want to,” she said.”
“Really?” Oyy veyy, I think.
“Okay, boba (doll in Hebrew), if you get scared close your eyes real tight and count to 100.”
“Okay,” and she runs and gets on the next ride.
I am sick to my stomach; my knees are weak. I watch her, eyes closed tight, counting out loud. Every time the ride comes near me I count out loud with her. Again, eternity passes by, and this stubborn, determined little girl of mine will not give up or give in.
I have three girls who I know will grow up to be the woman I want them to be. Strong-minded, unwavering, stubborn, strong women. I have said many times I am so proud of who they are going to be, but man, mothering them is a pain in the ass.
She gets on the ride and gets off, slowly facing her fear getting used to it and actually finding her fun. I learn later in the week that she actually got them to stop the roller coaster, she got off, waited patiently, and then got on and did the second loop. By the third hour she was happy as a lark and getting on and off and truly enjoying herself.
At the ice cream break sitting on my lap, she looked at me and smiled a big toothless smile. “It worked, Mommy, what you told me, your trick. It worked. I closed my eyes and counted and now I can do it.” I hugged her and I said, “No, you are the trick, not me. You didn’t give up even though I told you to and asked you to. You faced your fear and now you are having a great time kol Hakavod (good for you). I am so proud of you!”
“Do you have any other tricks?” she asks me.
“No,” I say, “and besides you don’t need them.” She runs off.
I have a very, very broken group this round in juvie. They each are in tremendous pain, so much that they don’t fight with each other. That is rare. How can they fight with each other when they are so busy fighting with themselves and their torments?
They are in remission. They have been abused. They are sad.
I found my last group incredibly difficult because of the gang movement and fighting, but this, this is a different difficult. It is hollow and distant. This is actually almost harder.
As we come close to the final presentation I am trying to put together the show. As I go over what they have written in the past seven weeks, I read and weep. How I wish my trick would work here to “close your eyes and count to one hundred and it will be over.”
I wish they could be like my seven-year-old – face their fear and it would be over and they would get over it. But alas, their fear is deeply rooted in the pain and violation they have suffered. Their fear is ingrained in their addictions and their neglect. Finding their fun is no easy task.
They are struggling creating improvisations, and although this is a deep and smart group, the attention span is short. I struggle to figure out what to bring them, and I decide to step out of my curriculum and just find the fun. I bring a big bag of props and we play. And as always, and a little like my child, they run ten steps ahead.
Instead of taking one prop, they each take five. They put them on their bodies; they hold them in their hands. So instead of telling a story together, where each one of us adds a sentence with our prop, I ask each one to tell a story by themselves with all the props they took.
“No, we don’t know how to do that.”
“No, we can’t.”
“No, we don’t want to!” They whine in a panic.
“Yes you can. Just get up and just go for it.” I tell them. And the magic happened. The fun emerged, and the pain for a moment actually went away.
They were funny and charming, witty, and frankly brilliant. My assistant and I were on the floor laughing. On my way home I cry. I cry because I so desperately want the moment to last. I want the joy to prevail. I cry because it worked. My trick worked.
“Mommy,” me seven year old said. “You have good tricks.”
“I try, baby. I really try.”
And sometimes, well sometimes, it actually works.