I have been having trouble looking on the bright side lately. And for me—a person who has often been labeled an eternal optimist—that’s saying something.
I can’t say I find it shocking that I’m not feeling super positive and full of hope. Each day at this job is intense in a way I haven’t quite experienced before. In addition to confusion over policies and rules in this new program, my days regularly include (among other things): suicide threats (both serious and melodramatic), kids climbing up walls/doorways/lockers, and kids running through hallways to tear down hallway posters or trying to bolt from the building. I have the oldest kids in the program, but for the younger classes many days also involve physical restraints and/or getting kicked.
Still, there definitely are parts of my job I look forward to and those parts can’t be discounted. I already shared the awesome “Oops, I tooted!” incident in a recent post, so here are some of the other favorite moments and uplifting things that I’ve experienced so far:
1. Recently a mother sent the teacher I work with an email when her 14 y/o son was out sick. In the email, she said that her son (who regularly tells us that our school is a joke) had wanted to go to school that morning, but she had kept him home because he was too sick. She said how surprised she was and essentially told us whatever you’re doing over there, it’s working. Always nice to hear something like that, even if the kid seems to feel the complete opposite most of the time.
2. One day there was a pretty lengthy situation with my 13 y/0 girl and I missed one kid’s appointment and was generally MIA and inaccessible for an entire afternoon. When I came back and tried to check-in with the rest of the kids, they were pretty ticked off with me—particularly (and understandably) the 14 y/0 boy whose appointment I missed. He was uninterested in rescheduling and intent on making sure the whole class could see how little I cared about anyone except the girl I was with for the afternoon. The 11 y/o boy who was nearby joined in and the two of them reproached me and listed evidence for why I was terrible at my job.
At this point, you’re probably wondering how this is one of my favorite moments.
Well, given that it had been a long day, I took the first opportunity I could to excuse myself from the classroom and head to my office. I was ready to mope a little, take deep breaths. remember that (for the most part) there wasn’t much I could have done differently, “examine my countertransference” and whatever else, when there was a knock on my door. It was the 11 y/o and he had come, unprompted, to say that he was sorry and that he didn’t really mean the things he had said. I told him I appreciated his apology, but also that it had been completely understandable for him to be upset. While I wanted to make sure he knew he didn’t need to take care of me, I kept thinking how impressed I was by what he’d just done. And I can’t lie, it did make me feel less shitty.
3. Most of the time I do creative arts “therapy” for my groups at work. The groups contain both genders and cover a pretty wide age range, so art seems to be one of the few things that the whole group can enjoy. This is more than fine with me since I took a course on creative arts therapy during graduate school and generally love anything to do with art and creative self-expression. Sometimes the projects I bring in are met with lukewarm enthusiasm (but enthusiasm by most group members nonetheless!), but other times I really hit the jackpot. In the last two weeks, there were two projects in particular that all of the kids got into and at times even muttered this is awesome! I loved seeing how proud the kids were of what they made. It’s amazing to me how the right activity can make every kid feel like a pro.
4. I have two coworkers who have the same job as me (but with their own clients, obviously). I love them both in very different ways. One of them is incredibly selfless. Example: the first day we met, I was in town just for a meeting while I was still living in NYC. My boyfriend and I stayed at a nearby hotel the night before and in the morning, the car refused to start. I took a taxi there and after the meeting, this coworker drove me back to the hotel and even offered her apartment as a place to stay if there were other meetings before I moved to the area. Did I mention that this was the first day we met? There have been other moments like this since then. Oh and she’s hilarious and fun on top of it all.
The other coworker keeps to herself more, but is very easy to talk to and pleasantly levelheaded. One afternoon when we’d both had really tough days, we were talking about what had happened, but it was also clear that we were each too drained to do much to support the other. On my way home from work that day, I stopped to get gas and just as I was about to honk my horn at this annoying couple who refused to move their car forward even though they’d been done pumping gas for a good five minutes… the same coworker called me just to check-in. “Hi,” she said, “how are you?” I instantly relaxed about the silly gas situation and realized how lucky I am to have these awesome coworkers on my side.
5. One of my clients is a 13 y/o boy whose mom has stated that the majority of his aggressive and violent behavior at home is directed towards his younger sister. A couple of weeks ago, he spent almost all of the tokens he’d earned as part of our behavior management system on gifts for his younger sister… just because. I think I actually teared up a little when he told me. When I talked to his mom a few days later, she said she hadn’t seen them fight in more than two weeks.
6. During my second individual session with a 12 y/o girl, she started to tell me the story of why her family moved earlier this year, but then stopped abruptly. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m lying to you right now.” Then she told me what really happened.
I think I’ll stop there for now. But I’m going to try to incorporate more of the bright side of my job into my blog posts. If not for those of you reading, then definitely for me.