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.


  1. I am consistently floored by your ability with words, your gift at dissecting your surroundings, and your lack of fear at not having answers. I love that you can ask questions, without answers, and let that be just as valuable as part of the journey--if not more valuable--than the "answers" themselves I know you will eventually "find." May your musings continue... I love reading them.

  2. good thoughts, Sarah. You're doing what you can, as your job is mostly on-the-spot, and requires quick decision-making - which you are very good at. Those 70 kids are blessed to have you!

    I also like the idea of story - everybody has one, and most of us like to tell ours. Perhaps those kids need someone to hear their story, and allow them to interpret it as they want, not as they are expected to.

  3. I am proud to be your mom. What you wrote and the questions you ask are very profound. My heart aches for the struggles the kids go through and yet is glad they have someone like you willing to be there. As I listen to the sounds of the ocean the "sea of glass" is mighty big. How does one make a difference? Pretty hard to measure sometimes and perhaps it isn't up to us to decide. The consistency you provide by listening and giving them a chance is huge. Thanks for that. And thanks for taking care of my grandson's messy diapers and the spit up on your sandal and giving my son in law the time he needs to turn in that paper and for being a mom, daughter, sister, friend who has pictures of happiness, fun and love. You have invaluable gifts to give. Thanks for the musings....


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