The best part of my job is, hands down, the hilarious interactions I get to have with kids. These would definitely raise some eyebrows if I was in another profession. A pediatrician, children’s aid lawyer, or ice cream vendor asking a child if they’d prefer to do play-doh or legos today is not acceptable. But in my life, it’s a question I get to ask more often than not. (And the cool kids always pick play-doh.)
Kids are insane. Childhood should be an amazing time in anybody’s life. Children don’t understand anything, so they make things up and act in ways that would get someone over the age of 16 locked up. I once saw a four year old look up from her blocks, wave her hands in the air, and yell to no one in particular, “You my baby cat! You my baby cat! Ooh ooh ooh.” She then went back to the blocks like nothing had happened. I wanted to see inside her head so badly at that moment. What could possibly bring something like that on? How does one respond? “OK, I’m your baby cat. How do you feel about that?” This was not covered in training.
Another favorite was a five year old with Asperger’s. One evening he had a tantrum because he wanted to sit in his father’s spot on the couch. People with Asperger’s have a hard time not getting exactly what they are focused on, and it’s important for them to learn that they sometimes can’t have things exactly how they want them. So dad refused to get up. The little boy was crying, saying that spot on the sofa was the only thing that would make him feel better. Then he pointed at his father, and yelled, “You’re like a ship that won’t leave its dock!” They had been working on metaphors in school. And this kid finally got it. He couldn’t understand why his parents and I started laughing. By the time I was getting ready to leave, the kid had calmed down, and asked me if I’d like to take a marshmallow for the road. I’d never been offered that before. But who the hell turns down marshmallows? He put one carefully in a ziploc bag, and then told me that his father had just started using Odor Eaters.
His dad pretty quickly pointed out that it was time for me to get going.
There’s so much in the news these days about mental illness being overdiagnosed, especially in children. How in the world can anyone tell? Childhood in general seems to be a time-limited period of schizophrenia, ADHD, and ODD, with a sprinkling of bipolar disorder thrown in. Nothing gives me greater joy than being able to tell a parent that the bizarre, inexplicable behavior their child is exhibiting is, actually, right on target developmentally.
“There is something wrong with this boy. All he wants to talk about is doo-doo.” This came from the single mother of a seven year old boy. With a perfectly straight face, I called on my advanced degree, experience, and knowledge of child development, to inform her that all seven year olds love talking about “doo-doo” and find it to be the highest form of humor. I suppose if I really wanted to sound intellectual, I would have said “feces,” but I felt that might be going too far.
I’ve heard other social workers talk about reaching just one child, or seeing someone graduate from high school, or finally getting a parent to connect their abusive upbringing to the way they discipline their kids. People say that moments like these make all of the hard times worth it. And they’re nice, those moments. They mean a lot when they happen. But they’re few and far between. What really keeps me going are those moments, when a child looks up from his drawing to tell me, “I think I was actually born a chicken.”