I was supposed to have coffee with some friends. I need that coffee. I need my people. My heart is a little flat.
I wake up and it is raining. I get a text from a friend who is supposed to cut the potatoes for latkes at my daughter’s school. “I can’t go. Can you?”
I text back, “Well, I’m telling a story next week. Wasn’t going to come to the latke making shebang.”
My little one comes to my bed. It is crazy early. She is dressed and ready to go. “Ema, please come to make latkes in my class,” she begs.
“Baby, I’m coming next Friday to tell a story!” I say half asleep.
“Look at your calendar. Can you come today?” begging again.
“I’m not awake yet. Let me see.” I roll over thinking if my back is to her maybe she’ll stop asking. She leaves the room and comes back after five minutes.
“Did you look at your calendar?”
I haven’t moved. It’s dark.
“Please come, Ema.”
“Okay,” I say.
I text my friends. I’m not coming to the coffee. I text the flu-ridden mom, I’ll go. I’m a little bummed, but my kid is in seventh heaven. Okay, I think, in a few years she’ll be like my middle school daughter and will be mortified when I walk in to school. I will make latkes this week and tell a story next week.
We get to school, and it’s me and three second-graders washing potatoes. We put the potatoes on a cart, and the girls walk backwards to the class. As they walk they make up a song and sing, “I can walk backwards, ‘cause I will not fall. I know this school. I’m not going to fall.” They all laugh and take the backward-walking challenge.
There are a bunch of parents doing different latke-making tasks. The teacher is loving and wonderful, commanding gently the many little hands wanting to help. There is music in the background, and you can hear the song “Happy” being practiced by a younger class in the auditorium preparing for the holiday concert. It is cold outside, but there is a warm, beautiful feeling in the school.
This coming week I will be in Juvie every day. The show is on Thursday. There is a tension and sadness in the air because of the holidays. A sadness you can only find in a place where there is no freedom, where there are no moms hovering around making latkes. Where there isn’t a teacher doting on the children and little girls confident they can and will not fall.
The probation officers make an effort to hang up Christmas stockings and decorations. They are trying really hard. They genuinely care for these kids, but there is no freedom.
At every moment someone can and will fall, deep down a dark hole.
I have a group that live in that hole. And frankly their darkness has been pulling me down, too. The show is just a few days away, and we are groveling. Two girls got early release, and on is goin to do her GED. Why didn’t anyone tell me? One is going to the dentist. Girls will be there; girls might be there. The show will go on.
I tell my assistant it is going to be fine, don’t worry. I worry. MY inside is getting dark. There was a bad fight the other day. One of my girls got stitches and has a black and blue eye. God, I think, I need you now. I know to some this might sound crazy, but I pray. I really pray.
You see, I talk to God a lot. I ask for a lot, sometimes for things I probably shouldn’t, but this time, I ask quietly, give some light please.
While my kids and I hang up our Chanukah decorations, my phone rings.
This is a favorite of mine who is out, but alas went astray and was caught. She had a court day scheduled and was sure she would get sent back to jail. We talked before the trial, and I told her to do everything we learned together in Relationships 101. Be kind. Have remorse. Ask for one more chance. Look at the judge. Apologize. Take Responsibility. And DO NOT CUSS!
“It’s not going to work,” she tells me.
“And what if it does?” I say.
Well, it did. I thank God. I say, I don’t want to be greedy, but can you give me some more?! Help us get through this week and make it to Thursday, please? And as I sit down on the chair and look at the decorations of menorahs and happy faces, I sigh and know it will be fine. It will be more than fine. There will be light.