When I was in acting school, I learned the most important lesson from our strict acrobatic coach Boris. He used to yell at us in broken Hebrew, with a thick Russian accent, “Where it is hard, that is where you learn.”

Today was hard. Really hard. Long, tedious, and just hard. One of the girls went on trans (this is what they call it when they leave the camp on transportation, to a doctor’s appointment or court). So, one of the girls went on trans to get a wisdom tooth pulled. She met some other kids from her hood and cam back with A LOT of gossip.

They were chit chatty and not concentrated. It is a week to the final presentation. We have so much to do. One girl came back from therapy and beside the fact that she looked like she just got hit by a truck, she had crazy mean attitude, didn’t cooperate, and was really difficult.

I have said before that this group is broken. Well today they were shattered. What came with that was sassiness, lack of cooperation, attitude. I hold my breath, exercise every ounce of patience I have. I am sure that at some point my hair might just fall out all at once.

I have always believed in the hard work. Today was beyond hard. But, where it is hard is where we learn. The girls are touchy and easily pissed off. I am getting irritated and finding it hard to be who I need to be. My assistant and I exchange eye contact in despair. Thank the gods above and the amazing funder who made it possible for me to have an assistant because today she was my anchor and eased the hard. I tell the girls the show is next week. I think to myself this is going to be the week from hell. My inside is starting to panic a little.

I tell them they need to be present. I tell them I want their voice to be heard. I wonder if MY voice is being heard. When they pull it together, they actually do amazing work, but they can only pull it together for short intervals.

I know these intervals should be my grace, and they are, but they are short lived.

I tell them they are amazing, that the show is going to be the best ever. Again, as always, they don’t believe that anyone wants to see them, let alone come to the show. I think maybe I should cancel…

We write a song together about respect. I piss one girl off, and now she is glaring at me as if I am her rival homie. This is hard.

Where it is hard you learn. I tell them that I will never ask anyone to leave the program, BUT they do not HAVE to be in the program. This is not a program mandated by court.

I tell them I will not be angry if they do not want to continue or be in the show. I tell them I will never punish them and that I adore them.

Then the one who clearly had a hell of a ride in therapy is walking around, lies down on the stage, comes back.

“I ain’t doing this shit,” she says.
“Why don’t you leave,” I tell her. “I am not mad. Come back next week. You’ll be in the show, but if you’re not feeling it, you should go.”

Crap, I think, didn’t I just tell them I’ll never ask them to leave? I’m at my wits end, but I am patient.

I speak clearly, I ask, I explain, and I know it is my job to pick up their broken, but today I need to be Hercules. These are the days that it’s all about. This is the action of social action. Not leaving. Not taking action. This is when people usually walk away, give up, and stop believing that the broken can be fixed.

I know that THESE are the days I cannot lose my cool. This is the test. Today I am not sure I will. They are killing me. Then, to top it off there is a misunderstanding with the probation officer in charge. One said this, the other said that, and I got stuck in the middle. My sweet assistant who also is on the edge looks at me, “Really???”

“It’s okay,” I say. “Let’s just give it to them.” We walk out, and when we get to the office I apologize. I’m not even sure for what, but I know that when you say sorry first, people tend not to get angry. All is good. We walk out. I put my hand in my bag to get my car keys, and I am so spent that I realize I walked out of the facility with the walkie-talkie given to me for my safety, in my bag.

On my drive home I am sad, tired, and discouraged. But I know we will make it to the finish line on the 18th.

You see, THAT is the power of theater, and frankly the power of faith. I still, in spite of everything, know and believe they will have an amazing show. 

I might be put in jail for killing one of them, BUT I BELIEVE IN THEM.

Where it is hard, learn, learn, learn. I drive into my kids’ school and pick up carpool from an afterschool activity. Little girls pile into my car. I breathe. I become a mommy. As we drive home, we pass the candy factory that we pass every day on this drive.

“Mommy, open the window.”
“Ema, Ema, open the window!!!”
“Nomi, open the window!!”

As I open the windows, the sweet smell of chocolate and caramel fill the car. The girls start laughing and giggling. My middle child, who is sitting next to make, takes my hand and spontaneously says, “I love you, Mommy. Doesn’t it smell good?! I want to lick the air!” I feel my heavy heart lighten, and I remember that we can fix the broken with the whole.

I listen to the gaggle of girls talk about their day and their teachers. They are eating Pirate’s Booty and drinking organic boxes of apple juice from Trader Joe’s that somehow, miraculously, I actually remembered to put in the car before I left for juvie.

I think, this is how it should be.

Of course my girls in juvie are edgy and broken. They never had the chance to smell the chocolate. Change can’t happen without hard work. To take action sometimes you have to just be. And where it is hard is where we learn, about ourselves, about the other. And truth be told, a little smell of chocolate can go a long way!