Monday, August 11, 2014

Mama, Do You Love Me?

Last week in a training I was given the task of identifying one person who had been a consistent and loving support for me throughout my entire life. I was overwhelmed and humbled by the fact that I could make quite a long list of family and friends who would fit that role. My immediate reaction though was to think of my amazing mom. 

There are so many great things I could say about her but it would make me cry if I tried to type them all. And since my super awesome mom and dad gifted me a new computer recently it would be unfortunate to have it get messed up by crying puddles over the keyboard.

So instead I'll share a memory that I shared in the training.  We were asked to give an example of when that person showed us unconditional love and support. A flood of moments ran through my mind: every soccer game, every basketball game, every cross country meet, student council elections, learning to drive (and almost killing her in the process), coming home to tell her I aced a test, coming home to tell her I failed a test, and on and on. No matter if it was good news or bad news my mom embodied Romans 12:15 "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep" and supported me through it all.

However, an extremely random yet vivid memory came to mind. Growing up I had an affinity for Native American culture. There was a good chunk of my childhood where I was convinced I was Pocahontas. I played in the woods and look for waterfalls to practice my diving but stayed away from raccoons. I'm not sure which grade I was in but somewhere around 2nd or 3rd grade I picked up "Mama, Do you Love Me?" at the school book fair. The cover depicted what young Molly assumed was a Native American or Eskimo family and she couldn't resist.  Here's the cover and text of the book:

Mama, do you love me?

Yes I do, Dear One.

How much?

I love you more than the raven loves his treasure, more than the dog loves his tail, more than the whale loves his spout.

How long?

I'll love you until the umiak flies into the darkness, till the stars turn to fish in the sky, and the puffin howls at the moon. 

Mama,what if I carried our eggs - our ptarmigan eggs! - and tried to be careful, and I tried to walk slowly, but I fell and the eggs broke?

Then I would be sorry. But still, I would love you. 

What if I put salmon in your parka, ermine in your mittens, and lemmings in your mukluks?

Then I would be angry. 

What if I threw water at our lamp?

Then, Dear One, I would be very angry. But still, I would love you. 

What if I ran away?

Then I would be worried. 

What if I stayed away and sang with the wolves and slept in a cave?

Then, Dear One, I would be very sad.
But still, I would love you. 

What if I turned into a musk-ox?

Then I would be surprised. 

What if I turned into a walrus?

Then I would be surprised and a little scared. 

What if I turned into a polar bear, and I was the meanest bear you ever saw and I had sharp, shiny teeth, and I chased you into your tent and you cried?

Then I would be very surprised and very scared. But still, inside the bear, you would be you, and I would love you. 

I will love you, forever and for always, because you are my Dear One.

 So back to my vivid memory.  I'm reading this book in our family dining room and I'm amazed. This mom says she's going to love her daughter no matter what.  Even if she turned into the meanest polar bear she'd ever seen. I called out to my mom, "MOM!" *This was obviously before I got into the habit of calling her MK* I started asking her the same questions. What if I broke something? What if I ran away? What if I turned into a polar bear?! I'm not sure what she was thinking when I asked her those things but it was probably something along the lines of "what did Molly break now? Wait, did she say polar bear?" But each time she said she'd still love me. And I knew that if she'd love me as a polar bear she'd love me no matter what I did for the rest of my life.  And that gave me peace of mind.

I had not thought of that book in close to 15-20 years but somehow it came back to me so clearly when the question was asked.  And even though I haven't turned into a polar bear you might say that moving to DC was the equivalent of the line "What if I stayed away and sang with the wolves and slept in a cave?". I've stayed away, sometimes I sing as I walk around capitol hill, which is crawling with wolves, and I even live in the basement of a house that we often refer to as my cave.  Yet through it all my mom has always been there and always loved me. 

So here's to my fantastic mom. I don't know what I would do without her. Love you, MK!

Also, if you have a daughter who likes to spend time in the woods and thinks she's Pocahontas, I highly recommend getting her "Mama, Do You Love Me?"

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Foster Care Sucks: A Success Story.

About six months ago I had one of the most genuine moments with an adolescent client.  With angry tears in her eyes she looked at me and screamed “You don’t understand Miss Molly! You don’t know what it’s like. Foster Care sucks!” We were in my car as I shuttled her from one appointment or another and explained to her yet again that she wasn’t able to return home yet. This was oddly one of my favorite moments of my career.  Why you might ask? Because this child finally said what she was feeling and wanted me to know that her situation sucked and she had no control over it.  And guess what y’all, it’s true. Foster care sucks.

Children in care have no control over their lives. They are in foster care because their families were unable to take care of them. They have been removed from the only family they’ve ever known and thrown into the lives and homes of strangers. And not just one set of strangers.  Because being removed from your family is traumatizing and children typically don’t possess the emotional intelligence, coping skills, or vocabulary to tell you how they’re feeling and address it appropriately.  So that trauma rears its ugly head in the form of ugly behaviors and they move again. And again. And again.  Each new home is a new set of people, a new set of rules, possibly a new school, a new neighborhood and generally a new disappointment and ultimately a new rejection.

I’m painting a lovely picture, I know.  It sounds bleak and awful and why should anyone even try to help or foster if it’s never going to get better?

Six months ago this client was in danger of failing the 7th grade.  She was regularly getting in fights, bullying other students, being bullied by other students, and having suicidal ideations.  A situation in her foster home required that I move her in the middle of the night to yet another home.  She told me that everyone treated her like a “foster kid” and no one treated her like a “normal kid.”  She yelled at me. She cried. She almost gave up.  

Then something happened.  She was placed in the right home. She was matched with a foster parent who could meet her where she was at and accept her for who she was.  She met a foster parent who understood that this bright, engaging, loving child had infinite potential waiting to be unlocked if someone was patient enough to find the right combination. She met a parent who treated her like her own child.

Six months later and this client has not gotten into a single fight at school the entire quarter.  Instead of getting calls and emails threatening suspension I began getting emails from her teacher telling me how great she was doing.  She got the “Most Improved GPA” award at the end of the year. She tells me how much she likes her friends and boyfriend at school.  She is happy in her home and says she’s treated like a “regular kid” for the first time in two years.

Her situation is not perfect.  She is not able to return to her parents yet.  She still has bad days. But when she has those bad days she has someone at home to help her through it. And more importantly she trusts that someone to be there for her.

Foster care sucks. But the children in foster care rock! 

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Big Thank You from a Small Smile

March is Social Work Appreciation Month. Not too many people know that. Not too many people really even know what social work is. But we know, and we appreciate all the appreciation.

If you asked 1,000 social workers why they chose their field I highly doubt a single one of them would say for the great pay and abundance of gratitude for doing a tough job. If in fact one did say that I am willing to bet they're stealing the good meds from a client.

Every social worker understands that they are in a rather thankless profession. Trust me, everyone tells you so from the get go. From your very first course in college the professors make it clear. "Welcome to Intro to Social Work. You're not going to make any money. No one is going to say thank you. Now open your books to page..."

So needless to say when the thank yous do come they stop us in our tracks. They choke us up. They recharge us enough to make it until the next one.

I've had a particularly rough few weeks at work. One of those "when it rains it pours" kind of months. Or more accurately for this winter "when it snows it blizzards". It seems that all of my clients made a pact to go into crisis at the same time. A judge yelled at me on my birthday. I've worked late more days than not. You know, just one of those months.

Today was shaping up to be another long day. I had a late family visit scheduled and had to drive the kids home afterwards.  The visit was for two of my sibling clients, sisters ages 5 and 1.

*This is where I acknowledge my utter amazement and awe for any parent who gets multiple children ready to go anywhere at the same time without losing one, slamming a finger in a door, or shouting anything stronger than fiddle faddle*

We finally finished the visit and it was time to pack up. I had a 5 year old, a 1 year old, car seats for both of them, diaper bag, my purse, backpack, and a 20 oz diet coke to keep me sane.  Just as I had the whole lot of it balanced and headed to the car I realized the 1 year old needed to be changed. I won't lie, I hesitated. I considered just how awful it would be to wait. But then I sighed, put everything down, changed the baby and packed it up again.  Once we finally got ourselves and everything in the car I pulled into DC rush hour traffic and the 5 year old started asking me a million questions while the 1 year old repeatedly kicked the back of my seat. The following conversation took place:

5 year old: Miss Molly can I eat my cookie?
Me: Sure sweetie, but don't give any to your sister right now. She has a bad cough and I don't want her to choke while I'm driving.
Her: Okay
2 minutes pass
Her: I'm sorry Miss Molly
Me: Sorry for what sweetie?
Her: I'm sorry for feeding sister some cookie
Me: *sigh*

Continue with the rush hour honking, never ending questions and continuous seat kicking. It started getting to me. I was pretty peeved. It's Friday. I just want to be home. Why do I do this again? And then from the back seat:

Her: Thank you Miss Molly
Me: Thank you for what sweetie?
Her: Thank you for seeing my daddy. My daddy smiled at me today. Can I see my daddy again soon?

Oh yeah. That's why. I looked in the back seat to respond and she was just sitting there with a cookie crumb covered smile. Happy as a lark to be in rush hour traffic with a frustrated social worker who had answered her last 15 questions with "I don't know".

So yes, the thank yous are few and far between. But when they come they stop us in our tracks. They choke us up. They recharge us enough to make it until the next one.

Happy March to all of my fellow social workers. And thank you for all you do!