Friday, October 15, 2010

Seas of glass

It's a been while since I've blogged. Being a working mother/wife of a working grad student means blogging isn't on the daily completed tasks list.
Over the past month I have started a new position at work that involves working not only with 10 emotionally disturbed teenage girls, but now involves working with approximately 70 emotionally disturbed kids between the ages of 7 and 17. Essentially, I rotate through different living units, hoping I'm in the right place at the right time to assist in averting a conflict of substantial proportion. On the times I don't get so lucky, I am called to hopefully help a crisis of substantial proportion stop short of becoming highly dangerous, destructive, etc. It's an interesting job, I'm always kept on my toes, and I am continually challenged.
The challenge of my job lies not in the fact I work with emotionally disturbed kids, it lies in the fact I work with 70 kids...really working with 70 people of any age would cause a challenge. I don't have routine forms and processes that work every time, people aren't a formula and so I am constantly experimenting at work with what works best in 'de-escalating a crisis'. Here's what I have found to be the key: finding the cause of the crisis. The only problem is, this can take a lot more time and gentleness than many would like to afford a kid who is sharpening branches to use as a weapon to 'kill' another kid.
My new job is not only challenging, it is incredibly sad at times. I see kids at their worst, and when you ride through the worst with someone and have your eyes open along the way, you inevitably see the reasons they were brought to their worst. And the forces that bring a person to their worst are always at best disheartening and at worst heart-wrenchingly sad. I think that's true for everyone, not just the mentally ill or the emotionally disturbed.  Over the past month I have learned to see things that are not expressed, and to dissect the most minute of comments in case a significant cause is the driving force.
Perhaps this dissection of comments leads to a proverbial mountain of mole hills; nevertheless, I've found it incredibly useful and important. Consistently, when assisting kids in dissecting reasons they did whatever they did (go into another kids room and throw around their stuff) stemmed from some unmet desire/difficult situation caused by past circumstances (throwing other kids stuff around because those kids had pictures of their parents and the upset kid wanted to just look at the pictures of someone else being happy with their families because they had no memory of being happy with theirs). And the question I've ultimately come to is this: what is our response supposed  to be to the lives we've been given and to the lives those around us have been given?
I'm not talking about helping other people, or about giving money to the homeless, or supporting the education of a kid in Vietnam. I mean, what is our response supposed to be to our own pieces and to the pieces of others. I use the word pieces because not everything I'm referring to is neither bad nor good.  I'm talking about a whole lot more than just personality traits or skills sets. The fact of the matter is, we were each dealt some hand of cards in life...a few of us got a whole deck and can do whatever we darn well please but most people just got a few cards, and all off suit. People say "it's the hand life dealt you, play it" but what does that actually mean? And how do we know what game we're playing if we don't know how many or what type of cards our opponents are holding?
The unfortunate reality of life is the majority of us don't know what the heck we're doing because we have no context for ourselves or for the lives of those around us. I recently learned how to implement and conduct a specific sort of therapy to people suffering from co-curring PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and substance abuse/ reliance on self-injurious coping skills. According to this therapy, people do not actually need to tell their story in order to heal from previous individual or recurring traumatic events. But I've always thought the point of our lives was to have a story to tell in the hopes that our stories would somehow help bring about a better ending to someone else's story. But then again, there does a come a point where the re-telling of a story causes more damage than a glance in the opposite direction and a resolute step forward.
I have no real conclusion....just a question: what is my response supposed to be? To answer that question I come to another question: what are my motivating factors? Well, then if I'm going to be honest with my motivating factors I have to recognize I am limited in what I can affect. I want to offer the best care I can to the kids I work with so they have a higher quality of life and in turn, raise the quality of life for everyone around them. I can't control that -- at all. The quintessential do-gooder response is "a tiny pebble makes many ripples" or something to that effect. But here's another fact about working with people (especially with abused kids): a tiny ripple in the middle of a churning sea may make a tiny ripple, but that ripple is promptly destroyed by the next wave. I know this sounds fatalistic and I expect there are many good answers to this quandary. Regardless of the good answers, the simple fact remains pebbles don't do much good in the middle of a storm.
So I'll indulge myself in the next thought (which I shouldn't because it's 10:30 and the baby is asleep which means I should be also): if a steady enough stream of pebbles were to fall, eventually the storm would pass and the pebbles would still be falling on a sea now smooth as glass. That sea of meatphorical glass would show a ripple. A few ripples. And they would go on for a pretty decent distance.
So maybe the issue is not that I need to be a bigger pebble, it's that I need to be a pebble falling into a sea as smooth as glass...and that only happens one of two ways:
1. I get lucky.
2. The pebbles fall so consistently that a few hit the sea of glass in an inevitable brief break of the storm.

I'll probably have better luck with #1, but since I have no control in that scenario, I suppose I continue going to work, despite it's terrible sadness and monstrous impossibilities, because I have more control in scenario #2. Someone told me at work the other day that repeating the same thing with an expectation of a different result is the definition of insanity. And while I recognize that to be the case with science and math and all physical things, I decided that it is not the case with people.

Repeated attempts in the hope of a different result is not insanity, it is a necessity, because it is possibly the only chance to actually catch a sea of glass.

I know I'm leaving this blog pretty much inconclusive, but that's all I've got. Those are my musings for today, and for the past several weeks. Sorry it's been so long since I've posted. I'll try to be better :) For now, it's off to bed.

Monday, August 30, 2010

700 times

There is a man who lives on my street named on Jose. He has some sort of mental illness resulting in, most notably, a severe speech impediment. Every day he walks down the street to the carniceria on the corner to buy a coke. And he does this same walk probably three times a day. Every time I see him we have the following conversation:
Me: Hello
awkward pause
Me: What are you doing?
J: Goin for a walk.
Me: It's a nice day for a walk (I say this regardless of the weather)
J: Yeah. You?
Me: I'm (respond with some casual, goin to work, reading, etc)
J: Oh
another awkward pause until after several moments
Me: Well, have a nice walk
J: ok. Bye
Me: Bye

Jose & I have been having this same conversation for two years. Almost every day....that means I've had the exact same conversation approximately 700 times.

The only time we had a different conversation was just after we first moved in. The garbage company for the area had changed and was going around the neighborhood dropping off garbage cans at each house (there is a back house on our lot that can't be seen from the street.) As I was inside one day, I heard a commotion from out front and went to see what was going on. The garbage men were pulling away from our house, having left the necessary garbage cans for one house and Jose was running after the truck shouting at them. The men in the truck shouted back at him telling him to get away and leave them alone. I realized quickly he was trying to ensure we had enough garbage cans. I ran out front and called to the men on the truck, letting them know what Jose was trying to communicate but couldn't. The men smiled, dropped off a few more cans, and drove away. Jose looked at me for a second, then walked over and gave me a huge hug. I told him thank you and went to return inside....he watched me go the whole way.

I wonder how much of life is spent the same way, how many thing I do 700 times without any break in the pattern, routine, or content. I'm pretty sure there are dozens: diapers changed, showers taken, teeth brushed, stamps put on letters, cars filled with gas, checks deposited, checks written, hugs given to friends, kisses given to my husband, old shoes thrown away, old underwear turned into rags, laundry folded, sleepy prayers mumbled as a I slip into sleep. Compared to the number of things I've only done once, or even twice, been married, flown half way around the world alone, interviewed for a full time job, had a son...I would have to say the bulk of life ends up being repetitive.

We are creatures of habit, we do look for stability and that stability is so often marked by the same routines. Everyone knows the seat you sit in on the first day of class is where you'll sit for the rest of the quarter, that the meals you cook will essentially go through a rotation of the norm, that the way you drive to work will be the same almost every day, and that the features that marked your life when you were a child will in some way continue to mark your life until it ends. Perhaps this repetition is what makes us able to explore. Without some sort of ground you can't build a structure.

I think the majority of my life, up to this point, has been full of Jose conversations with a smattering of garbage truck days. And now, in my mid-twenties, life has reached a point where I know the roles I am filling now are the roles I will be filling for at least the next twenty years, if not the rest of my life: mother, wife, friend, sister, & daughter. And with the roles set, I find myself wanting to specifically and intentionally remember the things I'm passionate about in order to weave them into the fabric of my daily life.

A friend told me the other day she came to the conclusion long ago she wants her life to be lived based not on what she's against, but what she's for (we were discussing the interaction of faith and politics - namely the civil rights issue of same sex marriage). While at a glance it seems obvious, I think there is a tendency in humanity at large to live against something rather than for something. And not everything we live against is bad - poverty, injustice, deception, idiocy, disease. Really many of those things are an attempt to leave for their opposition - needs met, justice, honesty, intelligence, health. But I think the life of those who live for something is markedly different than those who live against something, and markedly more rewarding. Because when we live against something, we never succeed but when we live for something we inevitably succeed in some small way almost every time we put our mind to it.

So, what I am for? What pursuits will mark my day to day? What triumphs around me will I see 700 times because I put my mind to it? 700 smiles from my son, 700 goodnight kisses from my husband, 700 'I love you's' from the girls I work with, 700 meals given to friends and family in our home, 700 favors for the people I love. And triumph definitely means one in history has fully triumphed without sacrifice. But when we live for something, instead of against it, the sacrifices are a choice, not a casualty. And maybe that makes them a bit easier.

These are my musings for this Sunday afternoon...the only definite conclusion being I want my life to be lived for something(s) not against.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Intro

I'm writing this blog more for personal reasons than the benefit of others. I'm a married & working mother living in the bustle of Los Angeles. I have family close by and family far away. I have friends close by and friends far away. And in the midst of the daily grind, I have found, especially since I had a son, my own thoughts are often completely unprocessed. The things I used to be passionate about have been buried under the bills, diapers, and even as I write, spit up on my sandals. So, in an attempt to have the various facets of my life add to me, and not subtract from me, I am writing a blog.

To give you a glimpse, which is what this blog is about, I live in Los Angeles. I've been married for 3 1/2 years and have a 6 month old son. I grew up in Kenya and my parents still live there. I work at a group home with severely emotionally disturbed kids - the source for many of my musings. My husband is getting his Masters in International Public Policy at UCLA, and works at the same facility I do. I love to cook, my house is never as clean as I want it to be, and I go to church on a regular basis.

That is my brief synopsis of myself and the current state of my life...I have many things I want to muse on and stories I will share but for now, I'll leave you with this intro and one final thought..."The first purpose of every soul is not to find its freedom, but its master" My hope is through this blog, I am able to find my soul's master, and that the journey would be filled more with laughter than with tears.

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