I have a very particular skill set, and I'm really good at what I'm good at, but, man, am I bad it what I'm not good at.
Going to a performing arts school, dancing and being a theater person didn't help my academic skills that much. Thank goodness my children go to an over achieving academic school, so they will excel at what I lack.
They are constantly surprised when I tell them that grades don't matter, that they shouldn't be stressed out about their progress reports.
I tell them they need to be good people, be nice, respectful, and try and change the world as much as possible.
When I was contemplating what school to send them to, a good friend asked me, “What would've happened if you had gone to a more academic school? Naomi, all the things you struggle with, you would probably be so much better at.”
You see. I lack certain basic skills.
I am such an artist.
Recently, I have had the great good fortune to hire a team.
In this busy time it has been an absolute godsend.
I have young, vibrant, talented people who can do in about 5 minutes what takes me over an hour.
My new assistant director, Amanda, brightens up my every day and allows me to breathe.
My office manager makes my to-do list disappear.
My college intern who types, collates, makes phone calls, and a sea of volunteers make my life so much easier.
There are so many times when I ask the girls in my various groups in Juvie to do something.
They shrug; they look at me, and say:
“I don't know how to do that.”
Today I asked them to act out a situation where they made a bad choice. Clearly they all did that at least once or I wouldn't be sitting with them at Camp Scudder.
I find these kids’ skill sets fascinating.
They know how to put up a wall that is air tight around themselves at the drop of a hat.
They know how to survive the most difficult of situations and simply be resilient, time and time again. I am blown away by that particular skill set.
But they lack the simple skills; you know, the ones you get when you grow up with love and affection –
An open heart,
Not to be afraid,
Not to worry about being silly,
The first scene is about and with a mom.
Whenever there are scenes with moms, there is always hitting involved.
“Do you think the mom could have made a different choice?” I ask.
“What choice does she have?” one asked.
“Hell, every foster mom I have met hits. That is how we learn.”
Shit, I think, okay, time to teach.
“You don't learn if someone hits you,” I say.
“Come on, Ms., don’t you hit your kids?” asking me as if I do that like I drink coffee.
It gets very quiet.
“No, I don't,” I say. “Sometimes I'd like to.
But my job is to be patient even when it is killing me.”
“Ha,” one laughs out loud.
“That is a word that doesn't exist in my mama’s world.”
I hand out the writing exercise.
“Tell me your story,” I ask. “Who are you? Where are you from? A few lines, please.”
“I ain’t no story teller,” one says.
“If you are looking for happily ever after, it’s not here, Ms.”
“I don’t do stories, Ms.”
“Okay,” I say.
1. You all can tell a story.
2. I am not looking for happily ever after. I am looking for you, your story.
3. If you have to, you can make up a story.”
Thinking maybe they don’t want to share about themselves.
When she reads what she wrote it is the story of her pimp. It’s funny, it’s harsh, it is what it is and they all laugh.
But, I am so sad.
“Okay, is that really the story you want to tell me?”
“I want to know about you, not him. I don’t like him.”
They laugh again. They are as puzzled by me as I am by them.
We all need to develop the skill set to understand each other.
She crumples the paper up.
Okay! Okay! I got this,” she says.
“I am black and I am beautiful.
I am a girl who has her whole life ahead of her.
I want to be the boss, a big successful businesswoman.
I will have to finish school and go to college for that to happen.”
I smile, “You can be anything you want. You just need to be open to learning how,” I say.
“Watch out, Ms. You going all happily ever after on us,”
“No,” I say. “I am talking about possibilities.
I am not good at a lot of things, and I know that I need to learn and take the time to get better at them.
(I don’t really think I’ll ever master IT skills, but whatever!)
“If you want something, you need to take the time to make it happen.” I hope they heard me.
One waits for me at the end after everyone has left.
She is four months pregnant.
I will never get used to 15-year-olds being pregnant no matter how many times I see it!
“Can I learn how to not hit my kid?” she asks.
This sweet girl is looking at me as if I hold the answers.
“You know, just the fact that you asked the question makes you so many steps ahead,” I say.
“I want the skills to be a good mom.”
“Well,” I say, “We all do.”
And I show her one of the banners we are making for LISTEN, our event on October 30th.
LIVE without pretending.
LOVE without depending.
LISTEN without defending.
And SPEAK without offending.
“Ya think you can do that?” I ask.
“I can try,” she says.
“Well, that is the most important skill,” I say.
“What?” she asks.
“To be open to learn and to try.”
Join us for “LISTEN” on October 30th @ the Broad stage! Click here to purchase tickets!