The Lost Leading the Lost by Ori Lenkinski

*originally published in Hebrew in Haaretz


On my thirteenth birthday, I was on day 2 of a three-day hiking trip with my summer camp. It was nearing the end of the day and I had to make a pit stop. I asked our counselor if we could take a pee break. She said we’d be at the campsite in five minutes. Those five minutes turned into ten and then twenty and thirty, resulting in a catastrophic accident (for me). For years, that story was a sore spot in my personal narrative. It was only recently that, reflecting back, I realized that our counselor was completely lost, terrified and unsure what she would do with a group of twenty kids in the middle of the woods as day turned to night.

I am currently leading a weekly workshop for professional dancers. In one of our sessions, we discussed the challenges that face freelance contemporary dancers. We spoke about the necessity of staying open and available throughout rocky or complicated creative processes. As dancers, our job is to fulfill another person’s visions and that often means putting opinions, criticisms and uncertainties aside. The choreographer is the leader and the dancers follow suit. The catch is that a creative process is, at its core, a journey on which the choreographer loses their way. Being stuck, not knowing what to do, doubting one’s instincts are all essential parts of making art. The moments in which we get lost and fumble around in the dark are the ones that allow us to grow, to discover and to unearth new insight. A choreographer who never gets lost is one who isn’t looking to innovate.
For the choreographer, keeping the dancers’ faith intact is invaluable to getting through the weeds.
Without the crew’s belief, mutiny erupts.
My colleague and co-leader in these workshops, Rachel Erdos, offered that her experience has afforded her the confidence to tell her dancers she is lost without losing their faith. She knows she will find her way eventually. She has a body of work to support her claim. That doesn’t make getting lost any less scary, it is a terrifying trip each time, but she no longer feels the need to hide it.
This is a sensation I have come to know as a parent. I am my children’s leader and their faith in me is a key element in our relationship. They rely on me for so much and my decisiveness and confidence, my ability to point in a clear direction gives them a sense of security. But I am often unsure of what to do.
Parenting, like making art, can be full of crushing self-doubt. There are so many ways to do things. There is the way I imagine doing things, the way I think is right, the way my mother suggests I do it, what I see friends doing, what society endorses and what strangers on the street call out to me. So many choices to make each and every day, each and every hour. And so often, I am unsure of what is best. Or worse, I am sure I know the right way and am met with chaos as a result.
Sometimes, the wrong choice can insight a huge tantrum. Sometimes that same decision can quell a meltdown. It’s a game of trial and error, a process of elimination often, and our sanity and happiness is in the balance.
I have been a parent for eight years now. Ten if I count cumulatively between children. I have some experience under my belt. But whereas I have a body of work as an artist, as a parent, my body of work can’t be seen. I don’t have a portfolio to pop open and feel bolstered.
My repertoire is in the tricky situations I have navigated, the shoulders I have given to be cried on, the harmonious bedtimes, the meals I’ve served, the love I’ve given and the support system I have been.
Occasionally, I let myself say, out loud, that I don’t know what to do. I admit not having all the answers. I am engaged in a constant inner dialogue about the impact this has on my kids. I want to present myself as a real person, not a supermom, which I am not. On the other hand, I have to keep my kids believing in me, otherwise I will face pandemonium. So I walk this fine line of being in charge but honest about making mistakes.