What’s your sign?

1 10 2012

My college roommate and I were not a match made in heaven. It wasn’t one of those nightmare situations you hear about, with lots of sexiling and murder attempts, but we just didn’t click. I remember a friend telling me that she confided in him that she was concerned we wouldn’t get along when we moved in.

“Your Trainspotting poster kind of freaked her out.”

Her loss. I stand by that poster.

With my best friend in high school, however, I had the opposite experience. We were vaguely connected, because my uncle grew up with her dad’s brother. This meant that our parents arranged for us to take the two hour bus ride together. I mean, we were practically sisters! So they said.

We didn’t say anything, hardly made eye contact, really, until she flipped open her planner, and I saw a picture.

SJ: “You like Hanson?”
BFF: “I love Hanson.”

We were inseparable for the next four years. Ultimately, the friendship ended when she stole from me (note: that actually happened) but we had a good run.

What the hell is SJ babbling about, you’re surely all asking? It’s about signs. Seemingly insignificant things that make you feel like it’s all going to be all right, or like you should just get the hell out now.

We all have these in our personal lives. Of course they exist in our work.

CPS has their items that trigger a happy face. In this case, they don’t say, “let’s be friends,” so much as, “let’s leave these kids here, and be on our way.”

Number one is compliance. Opening your door and answering your phone. Informing them of a changed phone number is even better. Not objecting to a background check of friends, relatives, babysitters, and the mailman is key, as is accepting just about any referral. There may be issues, but they can be addressed if the family is compliant. This is the number one indicator that someone is a dedicated parent. (Hmm…)

Paperwork is also key. A folder with the children’s immunizations, prescriptions, pediatrician information, recent report cards…that’s golden. If it’s an accordion folder with tabs on the dividers, just pack up and go home.

The final major one is having a clean apartment. The more scrubbed down and organized the better. It sends the message that this parent is in control and not overwhelmed. It’s not that sloppy people can’t mistreat their children, but what are the odds?

My list is a bit different, as the word “compliance” makes me itchy, I myself once accidentally discarded my passport by accidentally throwing out a worn out purse, and I live with someone who would never hurt a child, but does sometimes put his dirty clothes next to the hamper. (Side note: why?) But there are things that send my strengths-based social work senses tingling. I’m so predictable.

1. Any discussion of family night.

A whole night, just for family? When you go to the movies or play games? I might explode. You guys are so bonding. Could I come by sometime?! No, of course not, that would be weird.

2. A kid who loves to read.

No matter how bad things are in the rest of their life, I always have faith that a child who loves reading will be ok.

3. Chore charts and schedules.

Yes, I’m a nerd. They’re just so useful when you have lots of kids. No confusion, it’s all right there. And we rotate, so it’s fair! I have a ton of respect for good organizational skills. To me, this says that parents are teaching responsibility and preventing fights. I just got a tingly feeling.

4. Parents who let their kids get dirty/dress like kids.

A parent who does not dress their three year old brand name white clothes head to toe, only to have a heart attack when the kid is soon covered in paint and bodily fluids, isn’t just practical to me. They’re understanding developmental stages. They’re letting their child act in an age appropriate manner. I’m a total sucker for that.

Our jobs are hectic, people are often afraid to tell us things and are therefore not totally upfront, and we’re generally non-judgmental people who are put in a position of making some serious judgments. We need these signs and signals to clue us in and help us to mentally organize what we’re seeing.

We just need to be aware of them. Sometimes we feel a little more personally betrayed when things go awry with a family, and don’t know why. Maybe it’s because they hit all of our favorite personal marks.

Just because someone likes the same AWESOME not-boy-band as you doesn’t mean that they won’t one day throw your friendship away over snagging $15 from you. (I’m over it, I swear, it’s just still shocking.) Just because a family has a beautifully organized home and a weekly board games night doesn’t mean things are a-ok. And just because someone dresses their three year old exclusively in floofy pink dresses doesn’t mean they’re always wrong.

OK, maybe the dresses are wrong.

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