Have you ever caught a glimpse of innocence? I have. It took the form of a 12-year-old throwing a giggle ball in the air, wearing comfy pajamas and pigtails, smiling and dancing around. She didnít know I was looking. If she had, the ball would have remained on the shelf, she would have had her tight jeans and tank top on, she would not be dancing, and for certain, she would be wearing a scowl of sorts. If she had seen me through the large bay window, getting out of my car, and walking up the path that led to her current temporary home, she would have quickly retreated. And I would have missed it.
I stood there, really not sure how to proceed. The vulnerability that she was displaying was so out of character, and I was unsure how she would respond or feel, knowing that I had witnessed this. I debated returning to my car and making a lot of noise, making my presence known, giving time for her to make the choice to retreat to her protective mask if she needed to. I really thought long and hard about my next move.
I didnít want to interrupt her moment, but I also did not want her to feel uncomfortable.
I decided that I would walk in as though nothing was unusual, say hello to her as I normally would, and then carry on to the office for shift exchange.
When I came out of the shift exchange, she was in fact wearing her customary tight jeans, tank top, dark eye makeup, and hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. She had her big hoop earrings on and her black boots. You would never know this was the younggirl who 30 minutes before, was dancing and smiling and playing ó being a child.
This was now a young girl, forced to grow up too soon, who felt she needed to wear this mask through her everyday life.
Through my early work in group homes, I met many youth
who felt the need to keep who they are hidden from the world they had been
placed in. They wear masks that are akin to being made with paper mache.
These masks are layered ó but also fragile.
Being hurt by someone who is supposed to take care of you can form the beginning layer of the mask.
Being taken away from this person causes more layers to form. Being moved into a home where you know no one, and are expected to co-exist with a group of strangers results in the need for more layers. Determining how you will survive this new environment requires appropriate layering.
Waking up every day to this temporary home, temporary family, and temporary way of being, creates another. Running away creates a need to plaster on the final layer to protect yourself while living on the street
Do you ever wonder whatís behind the masks you see every day? Do you ever get a glimpse into a carefree world that only exists in fleeting moments for the young people you work with? I hope you do.
This moment for me happened about eight years ago, and it still carries so much meaning. I am certain I have embellished this memory in my mind ó adding music and sparkles floating in the air ó but it keeps me going. It inspires me to look beyond the masks, understand the need for them, and most of all, to respect them.
Relational Child & Youth Care Practice, Volume 24 Number 4 Winter 2011 page 48