Days like this (in a good way!)

21 02 2012

Is it me, or have things been depressing around here lately? A crappy awards show encouraging America to embrace an admitted domestic abuser, children being shot, three days of useless trainings…

That last one was just me.

My twelve year old, the victim of the shooting, deserves all sorts of awards for being an incredibly tough, resilient kid, and is doing amazingly well. He is home and recovering perfectly. We’ve discussed the fact that this college essay will be flawless. I greatly appreciate all the support from readers, and I know he would as well.

So I think it’s time for some happiness.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a frantic phone call from a school social worker demanding that I get over to the school, as there was an emergency with one of my thirteen year olds. She went so far as to insist that I give her my personal cell phone number, so she could be sure I was on my way.

I pride myself on my trustworthiness and punctuality. Doubting them is a really good way to get on my bad side.

I asked what was wrong with Jackie Roberts (obviously not her real name, as I am not an asshole) but the school social worker told me that there was no time to explain. Honestly, explaining would have taken less time than that dramatic, Jessie Spano style “THERE’S NO TIME!!!!!!!!”

I seem to have a different definition of the word “emergency” than many people. If it doesn’t warrant a call to 911, I wouldn’t call it an emergency. If it is a real emergency, don’t call me, as I get queasy easily and will just try to put ice on things.

When I got to the school, Jackie was crying in the office.. The AP was impressed that I had gotten there so quickly, so the school social worker assured her it was because she threatened to come get me if I didn’t get over there right away. I said, “I don’t know about that, I’m here for Jackie,” and reminded myself that this school social worker has been a positive influence in my girl’s life and that dropkicking her would be a poor example to set.

Jackie tearfully told me that her mother didn’t care about her. There may be a thirteen year old girl somewhere on the planet who hasn’t felt that way, I just haven’t met her. Jackie said that her mother favored her other siblings.

The school staff explained that they had called Mrs. Roberts because Jackie kept having problems with one particular girl in her class, and they wanted the parents to meet. Jackie’s mother got frustrated and refused, saying she wasn’t dealing with Jackie causing problems anymore.

Not ideal. But let’s remember–mom has nine kids, one of whom is severely disabled, she has been clean and sober for five years, didn’t make it beyond the seventh grade, and has a terminal illness.

“Overwhelmed” doesn’t quite scratch the surface.

Mrs. Roberts is an extremely tough woman. She loves her children fiercely, but her favorite word is “fuck,” and they communicate their love via sarcasm and humor. Obviously, I love them dearly, but I can see how other people might misinterpret the family’s intentions.

My dear school social worker also told me that mom had a problem with Jackie being a “tomboy” (translation: gay) and objected to her having a “little girlfriend” (translation: no, really gay.)

This, I couldn’t understand. I was at the home when one of the older girls brought her girlfriend home for the first time, and mom’s only question was, “OK, you gonna be nice to her?” Mom has also always let Jackie spend time with her aunt and aunt’s girlfriend.

The school social worker started talking about the feasibility of removing the children, and whether they could find a foster home for all of them together. I thought that this was the equivalent of showing a man wedding reception seating charts while speed dating–jumping the gun just a bit.

We determined that Jackie was not afraid to go home (safety first!) and formed a plan. I went over to the home a few hours later, shortly before Jackie got home from school. I was prepared for one of “those days.” I figured I would leave with a child safe, but unhappy and feeling unloved. I was ready for Jackie’s mom to tell me that she didn’t care what I or anyone else thought, that Jackie was just fine and the family would do what they wanted.

That’s not what I got.

Mrs. Roberts was, in her words, fucking pissed. She didn’t understand why Jackie couldn’t stay out of fights. We talked about Jackie’s need for her mother’s love, and the fact that mom could relate to Jackie’s difficulty in controlling her temper. Mrs. Roberts agreed that she wanted to spend more time with Jackie and talk more openly with her.

I asked about the gay issue, as I had to. Maybe I had completely misread this woman, and she was a violent homophobe who was damaging her daughter’s self esteem.

“I know she likes girls, I don’t give a shit. I worry about her getting teased at school but there ain’t shit I can do about that. That’s why I got to be friends with her girlfriend’s mother, because the two of them spend so much time together. You know I like gay people, Ms. SJ. All my kids can be gay.”

She turned to Jonathan, her eight year old. “Jonathan, you like boys? You can like boys, you know.” He looked mildly scandalized. “Ma, I like girls.” “I know, you’ve said that, I’m just saying you can like whoever you want.”

Her seventeen year old son Anthony walked in. “Anthony, you wanna like boys?” “Ma, for the last time I’m not gay! Thanks for the offer, though.”

I guess I can see how her feelings on the subject were misconstrued…

Jackie got home, and the three of us sat down in her bedroom. Jackie was still emotional, because she’s thirteen and it is therefore in her nature. She initially sat at the opposite side of the bed, but her mother put her arms out and told her to move closer.

That cold hearted bitch.

Mrs. Roberts spoke openly and from her heart, more so than I’ve ever heard her. She was still mom, of course. Her speech was still sprinkled with obscenities, but Jackie and I both knew how it was all meant.

Jackie tearfully told her mother that she felt that she got blamed for everything. Mrs. Roberts told Jackie that she was sorry, and needed to try to yell less. This was the first time I heard this woman acknowledge that she had something to work on.

They talked about how the children used to get hit, when mom drank. Mrs. Roberts told her that she’s working on yelling less as well, but that it was a process. She told Jackie that she wanted to have more “girls’ nights” with Jackie and her sisters. They talked about Jackie’s girlfriend. “I don’t know what you did to that little girl, but she’s obsessed with you. Did you kiss her? Did you touch her butt?”

Jackie giggled furiously. “Ma, that’s gay.”

At this point, I couldn’t help it, and laughed out loud. “Jackie, you did not just say that. You are ridiculous.” Jackie and her mother, tough women of the Bronx, giggled right along with me.

I saw Jackie at school the next week, and she cheerfully told me about the night before spent chatting and play fighting with her mom. We also discussed Valentine’s Day gifts, as it was time for serious business, and what could be more serious than that?

That session with Jackie and her mom was one of my favorites I’ve ever had. This mother wants to love her child, and just needs some support in showing it. This girl does not want to leave her home, though it’s imperfect. They are far from a sitcom family. If one were to hear half of the things they say out of context, that person would probably catch the vapors.

But they love each other, and they’re making it work. They crack each other, and their social worker, up. They’re exactly what we’re working for. Families face crises and bad days. They’re not fun, but sometimes great things can come from them.

And that can turn one of “those days” into one of these days.

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16 responses

21 02 2012
m.

what a fabulous story. (and family.)

and this is why i love SWs like you. some SWs i’ve met — i work in family court — would have JUMPED on the suggestion of removal. you’re the best.

25 02 2012
socialjerk

Thank you so much! Because I don’t work for ACS, I can’t do removals even if I think they should happen (which I think was also confusing to this school social worker.) I don’t think people always think through the trauma and problems that removal itself can cause.

21 02 2012
SocialWrkGirl (@SocialWrkGirl)

Your Jackie & her Mom just made ME giggle… thank you 🙂 I’m glad you had a positive one of those days!

25 02 2012
socialjerk

Thanks so much! I am pretty much always guaranteed to laugh or learn a fun new word when I’m at that house.

21 02 2012
katie trachte

Thanks for the morning smile and sharing this!

25 02 2012
socialjerk

Anytime! It’s nice to make people smile for once 🙂

21 02 2012
Louise Taylor

was it an emergency because the school social worker thought she might actually have to do some work if you didn’t show up?

25 02 2012
socialjerk

Ha! To be fair, she has been really good for this kid when she’s in school. It makes me really happy that I get to work with the family as a whole. If you’re only hearing the teenager’s side, you are probably going to think that the mother is a nightmare!

21 02 2012
Michele

Lovely way to begin my morning! Excellent way to work with the family and meet them where they are, instead of expecting them to meet you at yours. You were very generous with the school social worker….her quick jump to judge and deem what she believes it the “right” thing to do for this family was deplorable. Bravo!

25 02 2012
socialjerk

Thank you! I’m fortunate that I’ve worked with this family for a while and have been in the home, so I can appreciate that this mom really is a good mother. I think only talking to her on the phone, or only hearing from Jackie when she’s upset, gave the school social worker a really unfair picture of the mother.

21 02 2012
Vetnita in MN

Thanks for the smile on a really crappy day at my work. That hug will be a memory for her to cherish long after the teen years.

25 02 2012
socialjerk

I’m sorry you’re having a crappy day, I hope it got better, and I’m glad this story might have brightened it a bit 🙂

21 02 2012
Thorn

This is great! Wow do I want to dropkick the school social worker, though.

25 02 2012
socialjerk

Thank you! Yeah, I was pretty furious with her for a multitude of reasons. But she is a really good support for Jackie in school. Unfortunately the only time she gets to talk with the mom is when something is going wrong in school, so she doesn’t have a good picture of the home at all.

22 02 2012
ML

Awesome. I love the part about it being a process.

25 02 2012
socialjerk

Thank you 🙂

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