Dear Little Lina,
you were named Joy, a middle name that fits you perfectly. Joy is that fullness you feel inside you bubbling up with such intensity that it threatens to spill out. Go ahead, let it overflow.
Laugh. Dance. Run. Skip. Shout.
It’s a good thing. Let it brighten your face and spread to others around you. Pure infectious joy.
I see a lightness in you now. You now have permission to be a little girl. You can pause over the moments that bring such delight, and let them settle into your soul. That soft patch of bright green grass under your bare feet. Climbing to the highest branch and looking out at the world from the top. The hot sun on your skin, the trickle of sweat rolling down from your temple, and the gentle draft of breeze that breaks the intensity.
These are good moments. Savor them.
I’d like to walk you through something now. A dark and confusing time. Take my hand and we’ll face this together.
You’re 12. Just starting 7th grade. You’re back in the dorm after a year of furlough, and everything has been changed on you. Different dorm parents. New teachers. Your older sister is home-schooling so you’re the oldest of the sisters in the dorm now. Rules have changed, schedule has changed. You have changed, but you don’t know it. You don’t understand the feelings of frustration, of resistance. You’re confused but you don’t know how to identify it.
You only want to think about clothes and high heels and French braids. And that cute boy you have a crush on.
But one afternoon the dorm parents call you into their office. You’re sitting down and they’re standing up. Both of them. They’re so very tall. They’re throwing words at you, like “attitude,” “rebellious,” “why.” They pause, and you realize they expect an answer.
You don’t know why. You have no words. You just have feelings. And this environment is not safe for letting the feelings out.
You sit in silence while they pick up their words and start filling in the blanks for you.
They become frustrated and send you to the home of your first grade teacher. You’ve always loved her home. It’s so clean and peaceful. You sit on the couch while she sits on the chair and starts asking you questions. Gently, patiently. But you have no answers. You don’t even understand what’s going on. You leave her house with the sense that she didn’t accomplish what she had hoped to.
It’s Friday afternoon and you join the other kids who are heading to town for the weekend. The kids whose parents live in town. Your parents are there too, temporarily, and waiting for you. Friday afternoon, and you love Fridays. But your dad with serious face tells you there’s a meeting to go to.
And you’re sitting in your uncle’s office, he’s the chairman, feeling so small in that space. Mom and Dad are beside you and you look around at all the adults crowded into the circle. Teachers, dorm parents, even the boys’ dorm parents. Why? What is this?
Your uncle starts talking and you begin to understand. Somehow they all believe you are rebellious, not willing to follow the rules. Then he dangles the most shameful threat in your face: Expulsion. Change your ways or get kicked out of school.
The meeting is over and you’re now in your parents’ room where dad is getting out the belt. You lean over the bed and receive the painful swats.
But the shame of it is much more intense. It’s so embarrassing, so absolutely humiliating to be accused of something you didn’t even know you did, and then to be spanked for it.
It’s too much. It’s too much!
You crawl inside yourself, and you say the words that are expected: I’m sorry.
You go back to the dorm and quietly conform. It’s no longer safe to be fully you.
Lina, my beautiful little creative self, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry! That whole thing was handled wrong. Your parents should have grabbed you up in strong protective arms and let you feel your feelings in safety. They should have been your safe place, not your punishing place.
Come with me. Let’s climb that hill in the cow pasture, the steep one terraced with narrow cattle trails. The one with tufts of thick grass we grab to pull ourselves up the slope. Let’s sit at the top together while beads of sweat dot our upper lip and trickle down our cheeks. It’s peaceful up here. Hot sun, coarse grass, gentle breeze. Let’s look out at the world together while bees and flies and grasshoppers make tiny noises in the grass beside us.
Let’s feel the feelings that have no words.