Friday, May 18, 2007

a little respect

M and I were driving home last night rocking out to a little Aretha when Respect came on. Yes, it's overplayed, yes, I know. But as I was listening it reminded me of the work I did ten or so years ago at a group home for addicted throwaway jail destined teenage girls. We were a small house, six girls at a time with a therapeutic vibe, a tight staff and an intentionally loving atmosphere.

Some of the girls had been through more than others, by 14 some had been sexually active for a while, done a lot of drugs, spent time in juvenile hall. Most had been abused in one way or another. And whether gangbanger with blackened eyes or hardened little con woman, they all wanted love. They craved it. But they didn't know how to ask for it in healthy ways.

One girl was especially tough. She'd been so damaged early on by abandonment and violence she had a hard time connecting in any sort of meaningful way. She was preoccupied with boys and her looks and rarely was able to dig deeper. And we required digging. There was a lot of processing. Reflection. Feedback. Buttons were pushed, mine as well. But I felt such a strong connection to her, this vacant little heart who so desperately wanted to be mothered.

One night I was helping her clean up the kitchen, working together in silence. I started singing spontaneously what you want, baby i got, what you need, do you know I got it....and so on, probably butchering the words when a small voice behind started singing just a little bit and so on, rounding out the song. We started singing together but I never looked at her, I just kept on cleaning. It felt big, this moment in the kitchen, her voice getting louder, until the end we were both loudly R-E-S-P-E-C-Ting and socking it to me over and over. It was innocent and impromptu and beautiful.

When the song ended we both started laughing and she fell into my arms, hugging me tightly. It might not have been much, that moment in the kitchen, but it cracked open the door and we became very close over the year she was there, this child of my heart. It didn't stop her from giving me an enormously hard time occasionally, but I always took it as a compliment because it meant she felt safe enough to let her guard down and know she'd still be loved.

In other news: my blog is 365 days old today. Happy Blog Birthday to me. And more importantly, thank you for making me feel so welcome. I can't tell you how much this has meant to me, getting to know so many of you. I had no idea a community like this existed, and now I couldn't imagine it not.

46 comments:

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Happy birthday! Music is a real workhorse when it comes to opening the doors of the memory bank.

Tabba said...

Happy Blog-a-versary!!

Loved the story. I could see it like I was there.

deb said...

"It didn't stop her from giving me an enormously hard time occasionally, but I always took it as a compliment because it meant she felt safe enough to let her guard down and know she'd still be loved."

I think that's so true, you do have to feel safe with someone to treat them awful, you know they'll love you, even when they see the dark side of you.

And Happy blog birthday:)

Deezee said...

"It might not have been much, that moment in the kitchen"

You kidding? I think it was HUGE! Brava.

And happy b-bday.

Bob said...

you have made me feel a part of this community, so thank you for being here.

carrie said...

A little Aretha can go a looooong way!

Happy Blog-a-versary! I cannot believe you've only been doing this for a year. Thank you for being here and for sharing your wisdom, friend! :)

Carrie

Stephanie said...

Happy Blogaversary!!

Oh, and, you know, it really is the little things that bring us all together.

*singing*
Sock-it-to-me-sock-it-to-me...!!

metro mama said...

Another great story.

Happy Blog Birthday!

Mine is May 23!

Karen said...

Hey, I just wanted to say, Happy BlogBirthday. This post was really great and I've enjoyed visiting here in the last few months that I've been blogospehering.

Mad Hatter said...

And that is why that song is one of the best of the 20th Century.

Happy Blogiversary, dear Jen.

QT said...

Happy Blog Birthday! That is awesome. The story is great and I guess I am not surprised that Aretha was a part of it :)

kristen said...

Happy Blogiversary. I love how music can connect us to parts of our lives so vividly.

Orangeblossoms said...

I loved this entry! Beautiful! Also, happy blog-b-day. Amazing how single moments can change lives.

Lawyer Mama said...

Happy Blogiversary!

And now I have that song in my head & a wonderful image of the two of you in the kitchen.

Oh, The Joys said...

Happy Blog birthday!

What became of her... do you know?

ewe are here said...

Wow! A whole year - Happy Blog Birthday!

I'm really glad you blog... your stories really make me think.

slouching mom said...

You are yet another blogger whom I believed to have been blogging for much longer than one year.

Amazing what you've done, and the community that has built up around you, in one year. Amazing.

Happy Blogiversary.

jen said...

Jess,
I don't, but I wish I did. I had heard she had a child five or so years ago, but nothing else.

I wonder, though. often.

Everyone, thank you.

meno said...

Happy blogiversary! I feel lucky to have met you this year. And i R E S P E C T you baby. Sock it to me, sock it to me.

cce said...

My hats off to you...you do a very difficult job that requires that you give so much of yourself and you still have time and energy to give to us. Happy Birthday One Plus Two and thank you.

The Holmes said...

Happy blogiversary!

Ruth Dynamite said...

Jen, you are a woman among girls.

I am touched by each one of your posts, but more than that by who you are.

cinnamon gurl said...

Happy Blog Birthday!

Anjali said...

And many, many happy returns. I can't imagine the blog-world without you!

KC said...

What an uplifting story and so befitting such a joyous anniversary.

Inspiration, always.

xo

flutter said...

mmmm I'm about to give you alllllll my money and all I'm askin' in return honey, is to give me my propers when you get home!

Happy blog birthday to you, oh mother to so many little hearts

Bon said...

i knew a young girl like that once...and no, i wasn't her, and no, we never quite had such a profound and beautiful moment, but she came flooding back to me as your post unfolded, vividly. and i miss her. thanks for the reminder.

and happy, happy birthday to you. so glad you're out there, doing this so well.

Her Bad Mother said...

Happy, HAPPY blog birthday to you, awesome lady. Go have cake.

Jenn said...

Happy blog birthday and great post...loved it.

Pgoodness said...

Happy Blog Birthday! Nice story - you sure made a difference with that girl (and so many others!)

Beck said...

Happy blogbirthday to you.
And what a great story. You do good work.

Susanne said...

Happy blog birthday to you. And wow, has your blog grown in that year!

Beautiful story.

Hel said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY and a big kiss and hug.

Your story was so beautiful it made me cry.

Z said...

Happy Blogday, and may it be the first of many anniversaries.

xx

thailandchani said...

That's all it takes sometimes. An opening. You know of course that I am curious as well what might have become of her.

I read a book some time back. I wish I hadn't given it away because you'd probably like it. It was written by a "throwaway child" who lived in the tunnels under NYC. She wrote it with the name "Tina". It was very good because it gives a glimpse of how those kids live.


Peace,

~chani

Andrea said...

Happy blogiversary! I'm so glad you're here, Jen.

urban-urchin said...

Happy Birthday. It would be interesting to see where she is now.

alejna said...

Yay, Aretha. What a great story.

And yay, you! You really do inspire.

Many happy returns.

NotSoSage said...

jen, you are (going to be) such an amazing mother...all these experiences you've had, that you will draw on if/when things with M get tough. You have already mothered and given breath/voice to so many other people.

Happy Blog-a-versary! I'll be here on your 13th Blog-aversary desperately seeking your wisdom on dealing with those troubling teen years.

karrie said...

Happy Blog Birthday to you! :)

crazymumma said...

I wonder what happened to her.

I think you know why I really like this post. I was pretty close to that myself, a couple steps further...

crazymumma said...

Oh, and happy blog birthday hon....

Emily said...

Great story! Happy belated blog-birthday.

Kyla said...

What a lovely story. And happy 365!

Penny. said...

Happy Birthday!!!!

We love you, too! More than you know!

And.. what happened to the girl?

mayberry said...

I'm way behind on my reading but had to stop clicking to say happy birthday! What a perfect story to offer on this day. Thanks for it, and for you.