No one warned me that social work could be socially awkward (work.) You’re in people’s homes, you’re in people’s lives, and you see and hear things that you ordinarily wouldn’t. There’s a delicate balance between helping people to see what they could be doing better, and how their family needs to change, and maintaining a good relationship with them. Sometimes you need to gently point out that taking your six year old to the new Freddy Krueger movie might not be the best choice, or that carpeting your hallway with garbage and unwashed clothes might present a bit of a hazard. But you need to do it without seeming like a nosy white bitch.
I was visiting a family with my supervisor, when a mouse ran across the apartment floor. The mother and children didn’t notice, but we certainly did.
It’s not a judgment issue. Everybody in New York has mice. I have them in my apartment. We have them in the office. Both of us typically react by shrieking, running across the room, and causing a huge fuss that gets everyone around us involved.
But we managed to sit silently. Because to do otherwise in someone else’s home would have been rude. And for the rest of our time working together, I would have been the crazy lady who jumped on the table in the middle of the conference.
Last week I stopped by another family’s apartment, because they had missed their appointment. I could hear the young single mother in the hallway, talking loudly to a friend as I walked up. She didn’t notice me as I was coming down the hall, and kept right on with her delightful conversation. “He was like, bitch give me my shit back, and I was like n**** give me my pussy back!”
What in the world does that mean? Honestly. I’ve asked around, and no one has any ideas.
But the immediate question was, how do I react? My response was to be the most lace curtain Irish I’ve ever been. “Oh, I’m sorry for interrupting.” I actually said that. Sorry for interrupting your little chat about n-words and pussy. It sounded like it was just getting good.
Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for social manners, this woman was not in the least bit bothered. She apologized for forgetting the appointment, and brought me in to meet with her son. Before I left, she told me, “I appreciate you. I know we aren’t supposed to be friends, but, we cool.”