open/closed

My girls in Juvie are incredibly open and candid. Yet they are also closed.
They tell it “like it is” or “keeping it real.” as they say .
They do not hold back, yet, at the same time, the deep and profound brokenness and violation is kept closed.
They tell me everything.
Yet, I am also very aware of the sea of events and hurt that I can see, but I will not hear it from them.
At home I have a 12-year-old, a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old.  My oldest sets the tone for the rest.   I am watching my sweet, beautiful oldest child, very age appropriately, closing up to me at times.
I can’t stop and think about how my girls in Juvie, who are only a little older than my oldest, stay open. My oldest is ready to sprint away from me, if I talk about anything that has to do with the body.  And, if some part of my body is showing, she is ready to go underground.
I made a comment the other day about poop, and there was a revolt in my house.
“How could you say that out loud, Mommy?”

In Juvie they tell me about their constipation, when they went to the bathroom, how they are about to get their period, all without batting an eyelash. 
They share their love life and they tell me about their feelings.
But then, at times, I’ll ask something about a parent or guardian and it gets silent.
They are open yet so incredibly closed.

Today we talked about anger, what makes us angry, what we do with our anger and what we want or could do instead.
There is an improvisation game we play.  
Two people are fighting and then I say freeze.  When I say freeze they must start each sentence they say with the words I have written on a card.   For instance,
“When you talk to me like this I feel…”
“It is hard for me, because…”
“It would be easier if you could please…
We start the improv.  There are two girls.  Each girl has three cards in her hand.
We give them a scene. 
They start.  They are fighting and yelling.
I call freeze.  The first girl looks at the index card. 
She pauses and can’t speak.
“WHAT THE HELL!!  How am I supposed to say this?”
“One card at a time,” I say.
Everyone is laughing.
We even got the attention of the probation officer.
“Come on.  Try!” he says.
They do it.  It is brilliant.
We do it again.
We are crying from laughing so hard.
The contrast before the cards and after is ridiculous.  Their voices change.  Their bodies change.
They get it.  They are being sarcastic and funny.

“What the fuck?“ one says on her turn.
I say, “If we practice these words, maybe later you will use them.  It is easy to get angry and yell.  I challenge you to do something different.”
They love that I ask them.
“Everyone’s always telling us what to do, Ms., how to be, what to do.
You ask us, that’s good.”
I smile.
“Thank you,” I say
“Is that on a card, too??” one asks.
“No.  That’s from here” and I point to my heart.
She smiles.
Then one comes in late.
She had a visitor.
When I came in I saw her holding her 2-year-old daughter.
She is 17.
“Come in.”  Our eyes lock.  “You okay?”
“Yup,” she says.
She is completely closed.
How can she possibly be okay?  Her baby just left.
She sits down and joins the group.
I hand out the writing exercise.
“I hate writing, Ms.,” she says.
When you are closed, you do not want to open.
“I know,” I say.
“Write something, anything.
Write what you can.”
My girls in Juvie expect the worst things to happen to them. 
They wait for it and then just accept it, take it in.   
Yet, they go crazy over little silly things, like if someone looks at them the wrong way or if you say something in the wrong tone.
They are incredibly open and then so very closed.
I walk over to my latecomer. 
“You okay?” I ask again.
“Yeah, it’s okay.   I see her every Thursday.  I’m cool.”
Indeed, cool she was!
I’d be sobbing.  I’d be screaming.  I’d be angry.
“My grandma takes good care of her.  She took care of me."
I know better then to ask about her mom.
“She is beautiful,” I say.
“Did you see her?”
“Yes, I saw her and she is beautiful…really.”
And that was as open as she could be. 
She took the pen and started to write.

I know what it’s like to shut down.  I do that sometimes when I am hurt and sad.  It drives my close friends crazy.  And when I do open up, it’s amazing how quickly things get better.

She starts to hum a song.
She engages with the other girls.
She participates in the next game.
At the end of class she lingers and helps me with my stuff.
As we walk to the office, she tells me things about her baby.
I listen.  I smile.
“I’m gonna be with her soon.”
“Yes, you will be,” I say.
“I know you will, and you will make it up to her.”
“Yup,” she says.
And no more needs to be said.
When emotional doors are closed, you need to stand very close and tap.
Tap lightly ,patiently and, if you wait quietly and unobtrusively, the door will open by itself.
When a door is closed, it’s not our job to open it.
We must wait for the door to be opened for us.
“Ms.,” she says.
“Yes?”
And she says nothing.
But I know. I hug her.
“You did good today, really.”I say
She gives me a hug.
And walks away.

Sometimes our job is just to embrace the closed. Celebrate the open.

She turns around and smiles at me. I wave.
This one is going to be OKAY.
And I walk out of the facility.