When I’m not annoyed, irritable, distracted, angry, hungry, or otherwise dysregulated, it is pretty cool what my neocortex can come up with in the way of creative responses to the children in my care. I’ll share an old, favorite story then another, less productive but very silly one.
Jack was a 16-year-old from a tiny town in Texas where his brothers were the local thugs, his father, the local crossdresser. He had a record for vandalizing the elementary school and was sent to Dallas for residential treatment to get him out of town. He had just been released from 9 months in the ICU after being left for dead in the middle of the highway on the outskirts of town. I’ll spare you the details but, trust me, they were horrifying. He had scars on his face and abdomen ranging from 3 to 18 inches long. The kids called him Frankenstein. His goal in life was to drive his own cab.
He had gotten expelled for fighting after one of these name-calling incidents and was frustrated, angry and humiliated. Jack wasn’t what you’d call an introspective or insightful kid. In fact, he was a very concrete thinker. I struggled to help him sort through his life, find ways to cope and chart a path to adulthood but that was exactly what my job was supposed to be. This day was like no other with him, but something occurred to me to help him re-think his situation (So often this is what we are called on to do as there is no changing the facts of one’s history.) I’d like to tell you I had planned this well in advance, but I had not. I’d like to tell you that I know exactly which therapeutic theory was at play here, but I can’t do that either. But I can tell you what I told Jack when he had regained his composure. I said, “Jack, you are in a very big city now. No one knows who you are. No one knows your family. No one knows how you got those scars. You are free to tell people any story about your scars you choose. You could tell them you went through the windshield in a terrible car accident. The important thing is that you are finally anonymous. None of your history has followed you here.”
After this, the details are vague. Jack wasn’t with us long, but kids were always being snatched away for little or no reason. I don’t remember where he went when he left, either. What I do remember is that about 3 years later, the Director of the Program, Gene Johnstone, knocked on my door to tell me Jack was out front asking to see me. He also commented that more of my kids visited me after leaving the program than anyone else’s (a fact about which I am obviously and understandably proud).
I met Jack outside. He showed me the cab he was driving. He told me he was living with a roommate and had a job driving a cab like he always hoped to. He also told me that the most important thing I ever said to him was that no one knew who he was anymore. Still blows my mind.
Then there’s the time when our 9-year-old French exchange student let me know she didn’t like lamb, so my Easter dinner plan was out the window. My Plan B was a free-style Easter Bunny-shaped meatloaf served in a lovely bed of lettuce with mashed potatoes. The kids failed to see the humor. It gets funnier with a little distance, I guess. Moral of the story: you don’t always bat 1,000 but you still have to take your best swing in the moment.
- Check out the AZAFAP Event Calendar at https://azafap.gnosishosting.net/Events/Calendar.
- Our Friday night Happy Hours continue. Some nights find me and a single other participant; others find a conversation among 4 to 6 people. The topics range from silly colloquialisms that add color to self-expression to what hobbies have us in their grip to what life has thrown in our path over the past few days or years. If you ever find yourself awake and wanting a bit of grown-up novelty, consider joining us (check your email for the link).
- AZAFAP has a training series focusing on Special Education Issues this spring. I am currently presenting a weekly series on the Neurosequential Model of Caregiving by Dr. Perry. These are offered to satisfy your licensure requirements, curiosity, or life-long learning goals. Reach out to email@example.com if interested in membership or any training event.
- Certificates of attendance are issued for the training hours. Watch your email for the registration opportunity.
- This shutdown continues for those of us who understand what is at stake. Others seem to struggle to grasp that. Still others, like the teens in your home, have begun to climb the walls. You are in my thoughts. Reach out if you need an ear: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- I encourage you to check out what Dr. Bruce Perry has to offer. Find his thoughts at https://www.pcaaz.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/B21-Insightful-Caregiving-Intimacy.pdf and at https://www.neurosequential.com/covid-19-resources.
Thanks for listening. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.