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  • Why didn't you make me?

    “Mom, my throat hurts. I don’t want to go to school.”  How often I hear those words throughout the school year. Sometimes it’s, “I am NOT going to school today.”

    As a mom who’s spent the past few years transitioning from preschool to grade school, I’ve run the gamut around convincing, pleading, bribing, giving in, and sometimes forcing my girls to go to school. Don’t we all do things we don’t want to do? Perhaps they don’t feel like going to school yet I am saying…”don’t listen to your body listen to me.”

     Needless to say, I kept Ja Ja home. She wasn’t sick but she needed a day to recoup and adjust (to life). At 8 years old she’s working to expand her pallet and cease sucking her thumb, her mouth full of metal. These are big deal things, and even though the pot-bellied orthodontist kept saying “kids are so resilient”, my therapist’s words were ringing louder, “often times we overlook things because kids are so resilient.”

     Dropped my younger daughter at school, making it through the “No Fair why does she get to stay home” by offering an episode of Elena – Disney’s version of a Latino Princess tv show -- after school. Ja Ja and I headed up to one of the local recreation areas near us in LA. The park was built in the 80’s when the 1988 Olympics were happening. It’s showing its age now, the crumbling faux rock waterfall and the stairs that had been blocked off as NOT SAFE finally ripped down. Surrounded by oil fields, yes, right here in our back yard this little piece of wilderness thrives. This time of year it’s got more brown than green but nature, as we know, finds a way. I chose this spot because Harold the dog gets to run and play off leash if we go early enough. 

    Ja Ja has brought along her fairies and before we are even on the path one has fallen out of her pocket and she’s had to go back and look for it. Harold runs wildly back and forth between us not sure who is more exciting to be with. As we wind our way up into a grove of shrub pine we come across some fine silt dirt, made so by hundreds of feet matting and grinding it down to a powder. Without hesitation Ja Ja plops down and runs it through her hands, pushes it with her arms.  “Mom, it’s SO soft” she says. Harold has run ahead and I say, “let’s play on the way back.” We go a little further, the path gets narrow and the trees a little bushier. Out through the trees we see the city below us. I walk into a giant spider web. This time of year in Southern California with no rain to wash their webs away, spiders are holding court. I think nothing of it but suddenly Ja Ja stops and says, “Mom I want to go back, I don’t’ like the way it feels here.” 

     We’ve been here before. Ja Ja gets spooked by something and can’t let go of the feeling and return to the present. Having dealt with panic on and off my whole life, I am no stranger to the feeling. We’ve found ways to work through it in the past, when I have time and patience we figure out how to make her feel safe so she can breathe and relax and it’s not as overpowering. But today I make the smallest effort and it doesn’t work. So, we turn back.  


    As soon as we see the powdered soft dirt she asks if she can take some home in one of the dogs poop bags. She sifts through carefully and finds just the right amount. Holding the weight of the dirt in her hands, she says “Mom, you’re mad.”  I reply with “I am bummed out we didn’t get to go on our walk.” “Well why didn’t you make me go?” she says. “I didn’t feel right” I say without looking at her.

    Back at the car I’m waiting for her to get in when she says from across the lot, “Mom, I’ve found some chocolate sprinkles for the cake I am going to make.”  “We have that same dirt at home” I reply, hot and still a little bothered about the no walk. “This same dirt mom? The very same dirt from this place?” I take a deep breath, “Ok, here’s another dog bag.” 


    At home she busies herself gathering baking tools to construct her cake. She spends the next half hour mixing and measuring and making. I think back to her question on the trail, “Mom, why didn’t you make me?”  and I realize that my long answer would be...I understand that today was a day for you to feel comfortable and safe amongst all this change and what you really wanted to do was run your hands through soft dirt and make mud cakes with water. It may not be what I needed but I’m grateful you are putting boundaries around what you need.

    I take my pretend bite of the mud cake and feel grateful for this moment.

    **Emily Hart Roth is a storyteller, photographer and on the path to becoming a Forest Therapy guide.  Growing up in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, she now splits her time between Los Angeles and the shores of Lake Superior.  As a photographer, Emily’s clients include non-profits, food/restaurant and fashion stories.  She self-published a book titled Art; a lifestyle.

    Emily shares her passion for nature medicine with her community, husband, two daughters, and Harold the dog.

    You can follow Emily @emilyhartroth  and view some of her work at

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