Sometimes there isn’t much to say

7 02 2012

It’s rare that I run out of things to say. Really, really rare. Especially when I’m writing.

But lately, it seems like there’s nothing to be said.

I recently came in to work, confronted with the worst message I’ve ever gotten. One of my little boys, a twelve year old, was shot while playing basketball. He was in his own neighborhood, in the afternoon, on an unseasonably warm and sunny winter day.

He’s progressing well and is going to be fine. Weeks in the hospital are unpleasant, but he’s walking already and getting back to his usual self.

It’s almost scary how quickly things seem to be going back to normal. How not entirely shocked the family was. They were devastated, of course. But they’ve all been in situations where they had to run from gunfire. Their friends have been shot. There’s almost a sense that it was just a matter of time.

The day it happened, I can’t say I handled it well. At first I walked around the office frantically. No one else was here, and the nervous energy within me couldn’t be burned out. By the time my supervisor got in, I thought I had it under control. I started sobbing in her office, though, and I realized I didn’t.

I held it together when talking to the family, when visiting this child in the hospital. But all I could think of was how completely, disgustingly unfair it was that this child was traumatized, physically hurt, his life changed forever. Kids shouldn’t have to deal with this.

The thing here is that there are no lessons to take away from this. This child did everything right. He is a smart kid, goes to school, is involved in extracurriculars, always tells his mother where he’s going. Going to college and getting out of the Bronx has always been his focus. His building is run by gang activity, but he’s always managed to stay out of it.

He was a child, playing with his friends. His mother was happy to send him out to have a good time.

Hearing the phrase “everything happens for a reason” has sent me into a rage that’s a little shocking, even for me, since this incident. There is no reason for kids to be shot by stray bullets while being kids. There is nothing to take away from this.

He wasn’t in ” the wrong place at the wrong time.” Where exactly do you go when you’re twelve and want to play basketball?

I usually like to wrap things up nicely. I like to end my rambling thoughts with an affirmation that we’re doing the right thing, that I’ve helped someone, that things aren’t all bad.

But how much are we helping, when we’re sending our children back out into a war zone? When these things can happen so easily? When there are human beings still walking around my neighborhood who think nothing of opening fire on a goddamn playground, while little kids are playing there? When others know what happened but don’t come forward?

Better to be complicit in horrifically injuring a child than to be a snitch, right?

I know the right answers, I really do. We can’t just give up. Some things do get better. We can’t control these random tragedies–he could have just as easily been hit by a car if he were living a charmed life in the suburbs.

But this is a time when it feels like I can’t do it anymore. That’s selfish, and it’s wrong, and this whole situation is not about me. It’s a shitty situation that I couldn’t have prevented, and that I can’t fix. All I can do is support the family and this child. Bring them McDonalds and beanie babies and Metrocards.

Even though all that makes me think is, what’s the fucking point?

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11 responses

7 02 2012
Eryn

You tagged this “complaining” but I don’t see complaining, I see a PLEA. We have to do better. You’re not complaining that Fran sits by the office thermostat & turns it up to 87 every day.

A friend of mine was a genetic counselor & required to photograph all babies that were stillborn. Every time she’d photograph a lost baby, she’d fill up the rest of the roll of film with pictures of roses in the hospital garden.

We each have to find a way to cope. I am so proud of you being there, doing a job that so many wouldn’t. I am glad you’re there to fight for this boy & all the other little ones that deserve better. I wish we paid social workers what they’re worth, but I’m not sure there’s enough money in the whole country.

7 02 2012
Jeni

I agree! You should be proud of yourself for sticking with something that can hurt so much, but can benefit the people you work with in so many ways. I wish internet hugs were the same as real ones, but I’ll give you some nonetheless. ::HUGS!!!::

7 02 2012
misti

I used to work in inner city New Orleans. We had to keep kids late in our after school program one day because of a shooting just around the corner. As I drove one of our ten year olds home, he said, “Why were they shooting already? They are supposed to wait until it’s dark so us little kids are safe.”. I had no words for him. It is such a heartbreaking reality these children live in. But you are right, we can’t give up. It may be us social worker’s who are the only positive influence in their life. Keep up the good work…hang in there.

7 02 2012
Vetnita in MN

The fucking point is that this is all wrong. Children should be able to play basketball without dying. America is supposed to be SAFE!!!! So go back to fighting the idiots, the gangbangers, the NRA, and the clueless elite, by making sure that one more kid survives and goes to college and has a great life! Hell, make it clear to every kid that you work with that you expect them to succeed to the point that they never live in an area with gunshots. Then, go home watch a Glee marathon and eat Ben & Jerry’s. We are all with you.

7 02 2012
Jeni

I think everyone who works with children of poverty deals with this on some level. I tutored a child whose brother was nearly shot outside of a shoe store on the corner by his apartment. I was supposed to only work with students when their parents were in the house, but the mother explained that she had to leave to see if her son was still alive. (He was, thank god). The child I was working with and I sat there, and he just started to laugh. Uncontrollable laughter. But he was laughing because he didn’t know what else to do. And there was really nothing I could do to comfort him. We stopped our studies for the day and just sat together for a while until his mother came back. And they were two of the most grateful people I had ever been blessed to work with. So yeah, it’s not fair, is it?

As an educator working in head start, I know that there is only so much I can do to help my children and their families because we are all a part of a larger system. A system that fails some people every step of the way. I “learned” this at Bank Street in terms of the “ecological model of education” but I learned it more seeing the families I work with struggling. If you are afraid of being shot, there’s no way you can learn. It just isn’t possible. Our physiology, our fight or flight responses won’t let us.

That said, I think we all have the mindset going into the work that we do that it won’t be easy. And that doesn’t make it easier. But it prepares us for the shit we wade through on a daily basis….Not sure where I was going with all this…I think I just lost my words too.

7 02 2012
ciniscinerem

I’m so sorry that this happened – sorry for the boy, for the family, for the other children who witnessed it, for the many people who have been through it, and sorry for you. I am not a social worker, so I cannot say I understand your job, but from what I’ve read, you have been a heaven sent for many families. I’m not going to tell you to keep chugging along because only you can make that decision. However, I do think that, if it weren’t for you, a lot of the people you have talked about would be worse off. You’ve given your clients a person to confide in, a person to reach out to, a person who can help them. You’ve given this family support during a very difficult time, even if that support constitutes beanie babies, mcdonalds, and metro cards. You may not be able to save the world, but I am completely convinced that you have made it a better place.

8 02 2012
carolynsocialworker

There are no words, only hugs. Sending many your way!

8 02 2012
Nectarine

Wow, this is really terrible. Terrible and sad and heartbreaking, and not that shocking. I hope that you can give yourself the time and care that you need to keep going. I hope this little boy has a good recovery.

9 02 2012
Kelly

You are awesome!! Even if you quit tomorrow you have made a difference. It is hard challenging work but because people like you it is changing. with all the challenges you still go and fight the good fight. so that is the point.

9 02 2012
Nellie

As a current MSW candidate, I am constantly inspired by your posts. I understand the burnout, the hopelessness, and the compassion fatigue. I remember the days when I would come home from work and say “What’s the fucking point?” How can we help when it’s too broken to fix? But that’s how social work happens — we build our clients back up piece by piece. This boy was broken but not destroyed; he is still alive and able to be built up again. This post reminds me that yes, there will be those times when it just seems too enormous to handle. However, your blog reminds me that we are all in this together, and that I (nor you) will never be alone in the struggle.

I hope I speak for all of the social workers in-the-making who read your blog when I say that I stand with you, I support your work, and I am sending my good thoughts to you and this boy 🙂

12 02 2012
Dorlee M (@DorleeM)

I’m so sorry for your little boy, his family and you… at the same time, am so grateful that he is alive and recuperating and that there are wonderful supportive and caring social workers like you who are there to be there for these families in need.

You are making a tremendous difference in this boy’s life (as well as in the lives of all the other people with whom you are/have worked) – we can’t save the world but if you save just one person, if you make a difference in one person’s life…you’ve had a tremendous positive impact which will ultimately lead to subsequent positive ripple effects… Hang in there – you and the work you are doing are too precious to give up on… Sending you a big hug!

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