We might need some education.

26 03 2013

I am a proud product of the New York City public education system. I know there’s supposed to be a joke in there, something about a criminal record, or the misspelling “edumacashun.” Classic stuff. But I choose to skip it. I get a little defensive. I got a great education, I swear! I was fortunate enough to have the benefit of quality gifted programs, a mother who was familiar with the Board of Ed, and parents who…y’know…made me go to school everyday. (Even when it meant that I threw up in class. Twice. In seventh grade. Really secured my popularity, guys.)

I have a soft spot for public schools, is what I’m saying. Despite all of their issues.

But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t a hotbed of crazy.

I visit schools a lot. I have spent more time in Mrs. Whoozywatsit*’s third grade class than I ever did in eleventh grade physics. (Sorry mom.)

Overheard in school:

“Miss, I like your piercing. Did that hurt? You got tattoos, right? I want a tattoo. I want a butterfly on my back.”

This was a second grader. A child unknown to me. During reading time. No one noticed she was talking to me. No one noticed the strange adult in the room, either. Hold off on tramp stamps, kiddo, there will be time.

“Um, I don’t know. I guess so? Whenever?”

A school secretary, when I asked if I could come visit a child. Seriously.

SJ: “What are your other triggers for your anger?”
13 y/o: “FIGHT!”
SJ: “Seeing fights?”
13 y/o: No. FIIIGHT!

The point was moot, as the child I was quietly counseling ran past me to observe and heckle a brawl in progress. I slipped out shortly after.

Then there was the time I was present for a fire drill. Well, I say fire drill, it was actually some little jerk pulling the alarm and fucking my shit up.

I had to evacuate, of course. With 4200 excitable teenagers.

“Hey, you need to be escorting your kids away from the building.”

What’s that? “My kids?? Oh, right. Why would an assistant principal know who his teachers are? Yes, he thought I worked there. It was a chaotic situation, and I have a helpful nature, so I just did it.

“Hey, put that phone away!”

A security guard, chastising me for live tweeting the event. Because I had suddenly become a student.

“I’m here to see Reginald Von Gooberschmidt*.”
“Well his class is in gym.”
“OK, can I see him?”
“We don’t know where he is.”
“I thought he was in gym.”
“They don’t usually go.”
“Can you check? I mean, I called and you told me to come in.”
“We don’t know where he is. He probably left the building.”
“This is a fourteen year old child, no one can tell me where he is?”
“Probably not.”

Me and a guidance counselor. I’d go on, but my spleen ruptured.

There are, of course, great moments too. Watching a veteran third grade teacher redirect a chaotic group of thirty two kids, many of whom are supposed to be getting one on one help but aren’t, with nothing but rhythmic clapping? That’s amazing. A pre-schooler requesting that I go down the elephant-shaped slide, then excitedly introducing me to all of her friends is a dream. (Hint: she is friends with everyone.) Getting to be on a first name basis with a guidance counselor who is constantly, heroically available to every kid in that school. It’s rather rocking.

Public school employees and social workers have a lot in common. We’re underfunded, most people don’t have a clue what we do, our jobs are way more dangerous and they should be, and however we might feel on a rough day, we’re doing it for the kids. So let’s remember our common goals, and laugh and work together. I suggest we start with high fives.

Everyone loves high fives.

*Not a real name, unfortunately.

When life gives you lemons, take its comments out of context and mock it on the internet.

15 05 2012

Most of my job is spent trying to meet my clients where they are. However, there are times when things get a little chaotic, crises occur, or a court date is coming up, and we need to meet where no one wants to be–the ACS office.

This office is a thrifty property flippers dream. If there are swamplands in the Bronx, picture them, and that’s where we are. Scenic, and far, far away from that pesky civilization. Inside, the place is rather cheery. Nicely spruced up with grey paint that all social service agencies buy in bulk, as well as many a plastic ficus.

There’s also the playroom, which is separated from the waiting room by plexiglass. It gives me flashbacks to watching the baby chimpanzees at the zoo. Look at him stacking the blocks! He thinks he’s people! Of course, instead of a tire swing, there’s a heavy metal file cabinet.

Kids love those.

I can’t judge, of course (well, I can, I’m really good at it, but I’ll try not to.) Our playroom is just to the left of atrocious. It’s hard. Kids destroy things, and everyone is short on cash.Most social service agencies leave something to be desired in terms of interior design. Anonymous Agency could use a visit from Ty Pennington. No, wait, he blows things up and his hair annoys me. Is that Queer Eye for the Straight Guy dude up to anything? Maybe him.

I get so familiar with the asthetics at this office because most of my time there is spent waiting. Clients often don’t show up. So we wait. We give them time. We’ll give them an hour if we can. I once got a phone call that my client had arrived three hours late, when  was back in the office, and was rather miffed that I hadn’t waited. After all, she had traveled all that way.


Waiting can be frustrating. It means your entire day can be thrown off. It might mean that you don’t get to see a family that is really in crisis, or get in a contact with them that you really need.

However, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse things than waiting. Technology certainly makes it easier. Having a smart phone means you don’t get to complain nearly as much. There are crossword puzzles to do, somethings to draw, and fruits to ninja. Oh, we can also type up notes, I guess. I also have a Kindle in my bag, meaning I can laugh inappropriately at Tina Fey if I’m feeling down, or if I just want those around me to think I’m strange. The city is also kind enough to have kids’ movies (like Despicable Me. HEAVEN) playing in the waiting room. Of course, I did once see the shadow of a man’s head, presumably going on a popcorn run, during one of those DVDs. That’s right. They’re a bunch of bootleggers.

There are lots of ways to pass the time. My number one favorite, though, is eavesdropping.

Overheard in the ACS waiting/playroom:

“Elmo, you don’t shape up, Imma punch you in the face.” – 3 y/o to a stuffed animal.
It’s almost like this kid is trying to tell me something. I mean, Elmo can be annoying…

“No, I don’t have to deal with you. We don’t have to talk. This does NOT go beyond today. Good bye!” – Receptionist to Chinese food delivery guy.
That was weird.

“I wear breakaway pants to these things now, so they can check my legs easy!” – 12 year old on the bruise-checking procedure.
Young man, you are depressingly savvy.

“Look! Look! I tied the Barbie’s legs to the bed!” – A random 9 year old, eager to show off his handiwork.
1. So glad you’re not mine.
2. We need to find who is responsible for you.

“I don’t care where we are, I’ll beat your ass.” – A mom I fortunately don’t work with to her five year old.
Come on, I’m sitting right here. Don’t do that.

“But I have to go now. I really do. Can I piss in the cup here and then take it over there?”
“We are taking the bus. What the hell is wrong with you? Wanting to get on public transportation with a cup full of pee. I’m about to let them have you.” – 15 year old and his mother debating the logistics of getting over to the urine drug testing facility.
I’m just going to say that you both have valid points.

“They have me in here like I’m smoking crack. I’m not smoking crack! I’m not a crackhead. At least I’m not smoking crack.” -A mother apparently feeling she was being treated unfairly.
I get this excuse all the time. Most often from people doing cocaine.

There we have it. We’ve got to wait, there’s just no way around it. We’re busy, and we need to scheduled things back to back, but at times we just have to let go and let clients. As long as there are conversations to eavesdrop on, I’ll be all right.

Self-determination, unconditional positive regard, and eavesdropping

20 10 2011

It’s been a while, but I believe the time has come for Overheard in Social Work: 3rd Edition. The things we hear can’t be unheard. But they can be shared and enjoyed!

“I told Grandma, we have to go see Miss SJ today, we haven’t seen her all week!” – Favorite 4 y/o ever.

SJ:     “What are your friends like?”
5 y/o: “Strawberries.”

Client:                       “Oh Miss, you cut your hair!”
Client’s boyfriend: “HOT.”
Client:                       “Something seriously wrong with you.”

“Miss! Miss! I’m pregnant!” -7 y/o with a strategically placed bowling ball.

SJ:       “What else would you like to have in group?”
13 y/o: “Cheeseburgers. And fries.”

“How am I supposed to facilitate a family conference with the store downstairs blasting club music? I’m going to start dancing while I’m asking them to identify their strengths.” -Coworker, while booty popping to demonstrate.

SJ:        “So unicorns eat crabby patties?”
12 y/o: “Of course, it keeps their hooves glittery.”

“I’m leaving the office now. Miss SJ is fine. She cut her hair. It’s short, ma!” – 14 y/o, updating all on the scandal of the century.

16 y/o: “I can’t meet this weekend, it’s the gay parade. That’s right, I’m out now.”
3 y/o sister: “I’m out now too!”

Woman on the street: “Do you want to buy a $4.50 Metrocard? I’ll sell it for $3.”
SJ: “No. My agency just gave you that. Come on.”

SJ: “If you woke up tomorrow, and everything was perfect, what would it look like?”
13 y/o girl: “Adam Lambert would be with me!”
SJ: “OK. I’m pretty sure you’d be disappointed.”

“My daughter will walk you downstairs. I don’t want you getting stabbed.” -Terrifying, but thoughtful, grandmother.

Assistant principal: “He was suspended for breakdancing in the hallway. This is very serious, someone could have been hurt.”
Laughing SJ: “I know, I’m not laughing.”

“That child isn’t in school today, but would you like a complimentary copy of the New York Times?” -greatest school secretary of all time, who might have been a flight attendant at some point.

Never has and never will be overheard in social work:

“That staff meeting provided some much needed clarity.”

“I’m always grateful for insight from people who haven’t done direct service work for 23 years.”

“Can I get some more cases? I’m feeling a little bored.”

“I took a sick day, and did not think about work once.”

Come on over, friends, social workers, therapists, teachers, and people who interact with humans. Share the funny shit you hear! I promise it helps.

Overheard in Social Work: Revenge of the Eavesdropping

2 12 2010

It was either that or “Overheard Part Deux.”

We’ve been through this before. I find myself hearing and saying things I never thought a human would have a need to say. So let’s get to it.

Overheard in Social Work

“Show me the Carfax!” -7 year old boy pretending to be a dog

“Do not talk about my son’s package!”- 21 year old mother to child’s father, who was talking proudly about his 5 week old son’s genitalia (really)

“I forge my clients’ signatures all the time!”
-co-worker, who was definitely joking.

“Mommy! That’s my butt!” – 2 year old getting a diaper change.

“I need a more detailed description of the apartment.”
-my director
“I included how many bedrooms and where it is. Do you want to know about the drapery? Are you redecorating and looking for ideas?”
-overly snarky, fortunately not fired, SocialJerk

“Can you bring brownies this time? I took the leftover cookies home last Thanksgiving, and they got stale after a week.”
-very presumptuous coworker who doesn’t know how cookies work

“Hey, white girl reading Harry Potter!”
-loud man at the bus stop who doesn’t know how nicknames work

“I think that I got so upset when that girl yelled at me because my mother always yelled at me. That was the only way we communicated.”
-15 year old girl. (Seriously)

Still Never Overheard in Social Work

“I need more passwords. I’ve got one for the computer and three for different programs, but I really feel that we need more security.”

“You know, I really wish my clients weren’t so darn punctual! Can’t they relax a little?”

“It’s just as well that I just missed that bus, now I have time to catch up on my knitting.”

“I’m here to remove your children, the police are waiting downstairs…OMG I’m totes kidding. You should have seen the look on your face!”

“They offered to paint the office, but I think ‘hospital-white’ gives the place a homey feeling.”

Go forth and be nosy, everyone.

Eavesdropping isn’t rude if you post about it on the internet.

7 10 2010

People who know me know that I have a problem. An addiction. I need to cope with it.

Does anyone know of any support groups for people hopelessly hooked on Overheard in New York?

I can’t help it. I love eavesdropping. But sometimes I just feel that I can’t relate to all the quotations from NYU students, or homeless people on the subway. I mean, there are spinoffs. But still, I’m left wanting more. So without further ado, I present:

Overheard in Social Work

(I never said I was original.)

“I took four dance classes! Hip hop, ballet, tap, and belly dancing. The only one I skipped was flamingo.” -8 year old

“All right, well my client and I look forward to hearing from you. Have a nice day.”
Co-worker on the phone, hangs up.
“Bitch, don’t fuck with me.”

“I’m praying to Allah to make me good.” – 9 year old boy
“I don’t know where he gets this, we’re Baptist.” -mom
“As-Salāmu `Alaykum!” – 9 year old boy

“The people down the hall are smoking weed in the hallway again. How dare they not ask us to join them.” -Co-worker

“Moooooo!” – 4 year old in a tiger costume.

“I’m going to keep this stuffed chicken in my office. If anyone is feeling frustrated you can come in and smack it around.” -Supervisor

“Can white people eat collard greens?” – mother at an agency picnic.

“Do you have any idea how difficult it is to finance a $200 a day drug habit through panhandling?!” – social work school classmate (who seemed to have some very specific ideas on the subject.)

“He’s just so hypersexual for a 12 year old. Should I tell his mom to get him porn?” – co-worker

When this becomes a big hit, we’ll introduce our own spinoff:

Never Overheard from Social Workers

“We should document more. I don’t feel like I’m writing enough notes.”

“I heart clients with poorly trained dogs.”

“They offered me office supplies, but I really prefer to bring my own pencils.”

“It’s somebody’s birthday? OK, but I’m really not in the mood for cake.”

“Staff meeting? And a brainstorming session? That will surely solve ALL of our problems!”

OK, social workers, get out there and eavesdrop. Everybody do your part.