On Hanukkah about 4 years ago my family went to Disneyland.
As my daughters and I sat watching Aladdin, wishing a whole new world for Jasmine, I started to cry.
I cried because I couldn’t stop thinking about the girls I work with in the Juvenile Detention Centers, “Juvie” as we call it, and how not one of them has ever had this.
Not any of this.
My four-year-old, who was sitting on my lap, was curious.
“Mommy, why are you crying?”
I sniffle, not able to speak.
“Don’t worry, in the end Jasmine will marry him?”
My six-year-old chimed in, “Ugh, hello! Mommy isn’t sad. She’s crying happy tears, because they get to fly on the carpet around the world.”
No, I thought, actually these are not happy tears.
These are tears for 14-year-old girls who are pregnant.
These are tears for 10-year-old girls who are prostitutes.
These are tears for girls who never sat on their mom’s lap in Disneyland and Jasmine was NEVER ever a part of their world.
I decide that I will bring my girls in jail something from the land of make-believe, something so they will know that I was thinking of them.
My children are shocked when I tell them I want to buy something in the store.
“What????” they shout in unison.
My eight-year-old speaks up. “We’ve been coming with our Disney passes all year, Mommy, and YOU NEVER let us even go into the store. You always say, “Girls, we aren’t buying anything!!!!”
This is different I tell them.
I explain what I want to do.
We go into the store.
“Okay, girls,” I tell my daughters. “Let’s find something that costs less than 5 dollars.”
After 10 minutes of searching my eight-year-old says,
“Ema, (“Mom” in Hebrew) it’s not going to happen. There is nothing for 5 dollars here!”
“I have it! I have it!” yells the six-year-old. “Get them Disney gelt.”
(Chocolate coins, wrapped in gold foil, customarily given on Hanukkah)
I turn around and she has already eaten half of the chocolate coins that have Disney characters on the wrapper.
We get enough so that each girl in Juvie can have three individually gold-wrapped coins.
The cashier puts them in a bag that has the castle from A Small World on it. My four-year-old shouts, “Mama, get them each a bag. It’s so pretty. It will make them feel special.”
I am skeptical that the store will be that generous, but I ask the cashier for 15 bags. She gladly gives them to me when she hears who they are for.
At the Juvenile Camp the girls are overjoyed.
“WOW! You actually thought about us in Disneyland, Ms. Naomi??”
They are laughing and screaming.
“FUCK me! I love this bag, Ms.”
“It’s so fucking pretty!!!”
“When I look at this bag I feel like I’m there. Thank you! Thank you, Ms.”
Quickly the bags become like Chanel or Fendi bags, paraded around on shoulders with girls posing like fashion models.
One girl says she’ll put it under her pillow for good luck.
I’m surprised by the fuss.
“You gave them a possibility,” the probation officer tells me.
“More importantly, you showed them that someone cares. No one does that for them!”
Just before I’m about to leave, a shy girl of 14, very pregnant, her tummy sticking out, folds the bag very carefully and puts it in her shirt inside her bra. |
“Thank you, Ms. Naomi. I’m gonna make sure my baby gets to Disneyland someday. Hell, yeah! I’m gonna take this bag and fill it with dreams." She nods her thanks and turns away.
A bag with a picture of a castle. A bag that can’t be worth more than a few cents changed 15 girls’ lives that day. And it changed my life, too!