We Wilsh You A Merfy Christams*

21 12 2012

Confession time: I have Christmas spirit. Always have, and I hope I always will. I like the cheesy music, I like the gaudy lights, I like the predictable movies. Everything about it. As a kid, Santa was a big part of that.

Actually, Santa is still a big part of that. Twenty eight years young, people!

I believed in Santa until I was about eight. I had my suspicions earlier, but I persevered because I wanted to. It was fun. Sure, Santa had the same handwriting as my mom, and a lot of my Christmas gifts had tags from Sorrelli’s, her favorite discount store in Brooklyn that no self respecting elf would ever set foot in. I read Judy Blume books in which Peter and Fudge discussed the fact that there was no Santa. I heard my parents going in and out of the attic, where the presents were kept, when I was supposed to be asleep on Christmas Eve, and the only explanation I was offered was, “Oh, yeah, we…yeah.”

But I still believed. Why? Kids are stupid. Like I said, I wanted to. It was fun. I wasn’t particularly materialistic, but I had an innate understanding that believing in magic and preserving this ritual was a time limited thing.

I always thought it was sweet. Until I learned about the true horrors of this myth in this article.

JK, peeps. I’m pretty sure that article is the definition of “overthinking it,” and exactly what people worry I had to deal with when they find out my mother is a psychologist.

It’s something I’ve heard debated more and more. Should you support the Santa myth? Isn’t lying wrong? As almost always, I advocate for the middle ground. I think the real danger is when people fall into these “beliefs” or “schools” of parenting. It leaves little room for logic and dealing with things on a case by case basis.

Some people get all high and mighty about not “lying” to their children. Fine, I won’t lie to them either. I feel bad for the next child who hands me an art project! “Kid, you have zero sense of perspective and proportion. That picture of your grandmother looks more like a pineapple. It’s called shading.”

Not to mention, Santa is a cultural phenomenon. He’s everywhere. It’s not a damaging lie, like “that boy is teasing you because he likes you!” or even such an outright one as, “No, SJ, the toy store is closed.”

But some people go overboard. Remember what I said about the middle ground? If you are policing what your child reads and watches to make sure they don’t hear anyone expressing any doubt about my good buddy Kris Kringle, then maybe it’s time to relax. And if your kids are unholy terrors unless you threaten to call Santa, or because Shingles the Shelf Elf is watching, they probably need to have little more respect for your authority.

Side note: If my parents had an Elf on a Shelf when I was a kid, I too would have been on my best behavior. Because I would have thought it was waiting to murder me.

It seems like the more money people have, the more time they have to blow this out of proportion. Either they will protect the Santa myth to such an extreme that they have to sit Junior down before the grandchild’s first Christmas so he doesn’t expect reindeer to deliver the gifts, or they lay the smackdown on magic and provide strategies for investment banking while the child is still swaddled.

Most of my families have more of a relaxed approach. It makes me sad, though, that a lot of the kids stop believing so early, thanks to the harsh realities of life. Their parents don’t have the money to pull it off how they’d like and tell the kid not to be disappointed, mom asks for help setting up the Santa surprise for the younger kids as there is no older adult around…there’s just less time to be a child lost in a fantasy world.

So I like it when the kids are into it. Even if it will surely lead to distrust and incsecure attachment is super dorky.

A couple of years ago, I called a mother to let her know that the Christmas presents we had for her seven year old son just arrived. She came in with him, as there was no one available to babysit. She pulled me aside to say, “I told him that Santa was really busy, so he dropped the presents off here early.”

“SJ, my mom said Santa was here! Did you meet him?”
“I did. It was amazing. He shook my hand twice and he smells of peppermint. I’m so sorry you missed him!”

While I’m sure I did that child irrevecable psychological damage, it was pretty fun for the day.

Happy holidays, people!


*This is a joke that is only funny to my older brother and me. I hope this is a sufficient Christmas gift to him.

Our work is serious business. Please pass the glitter.

27 02 2012

My agency does a great job of offering trainings. Most aren’t mandatory, but we do have those as well. (They sure are fun. And relevant!) As long as your supervisor approves, and you can get all your work done (numbers, numbers, numbers) you can be trained to your heart’s content.

I decided to take a play therapy training a little while back. I chose it because I felt that I needed better tools to reach my younger kids, I needed a better understanding of what techniques work best with what kids, it didn’t interfere horribly with anything else, and it would get me out of the office. Oh, and I like to play.

Play is how kids communicate. No matter how clever and verbal they are, if they’re under eleven, they need to play. If they’re over eleven, they still need to play, though there are more options at that point for talking while playing. It can be hard to remember this, if you have an eight year old tell you “I need to lay on a couch and talk. Like, real therapy” or a parent saying, “So my kid is acting like a nightmare, and you’re sitting around playing games with him?!” But we need to educate our participants about what works with kids. I tried just talking with an eight year old, back when I was an intern. Rookie mistake, SJ.

This is even true for kids who think they don’t like to play. When my kids talk about playing, they are invariably talking about playing video games. I’m not against video games, but kids need to experience play and the worlds in other ways. Older kids see art as something for children, and boys see it as something for girls. But when you get them to try it, often you can’t get them to stop.

The trainer got me on board immediately when she said that she refused to use the Talking, Feeling, & Doing Game.

If you’ve never used it, it’s a board game in which you collect chips for responding to different cards. You either answer a question, share your feelings on something, or do a little something. I’m sure some of you love it. I just happen to find it quite tedious. I don’t feel like it really gets me anywhere. Also, I was once going through the cards, and one of the “doing” cards asked the person to pretend that they were looking at a magazine with naked pictures of men and women.

Um, no, I don’t want to!

Point is, it’s not for me. We have to be genuine in our work. I can’t feign enthusiasm or belief in that game. But there are many other games and activities that are genuinely awesome.

This trainer reminded us all of the importance of keeping things simple. We don’t need cutting edge therapeutic toys. It’s OK if you don’t have multiracial, anatomically correct puppets and a dollhouse. Doing things with parents and children that they can replicate at home is very powerful, and effective.

This is especially good because our playroom sucks. It is clearly filled with discarded toys that some kind soul donated, so that they can torture another generation. Most of them make noise. Great for counseling, and for the people working around us! The rest are in shambles and missing pieces. Playing Candyland with Sorry pieces and these people.

Here are my go-tos:

Ah, checkers. A real classic. Easy to set up (not like Mousetrap. Anyone else ever have that game? It almost drove my father to self-harm.) and not too hard to keep pieces together. Like with most low-key, traditional games, we can see and help kids to take turns, learn patience, follow rules–you know, all that crap that lets them be a part of society.

It’s just like checkers, but vertical! I have kind of an unnatural love for this game. As in, even in my personal life. It’s great for almost all ages, and it’s quick, so even if you destroy the kid the first time around, they’ll have another chance.

Kids love Uno. Why wouldn’t they? It’s awesome. It’s one of those games that they never feel too old for. It’s huge amongst my teenagers, they all play it at lunch. You can see pretty easily if a child is insecure when you’re playing–are they refusing to throw down a draw four, because they think you won’t like them? Time for a chat!

Regular playing cards are also great. They’re cheap, and often given out for free, so they’re easy to send families home with. It’s pretty awesome to teach a family Spit, Rob the Pack, Rummy, even Texas Hold’em (which I swear was a one time thing) and hear them talk about their game nights the next week.

My Lego bin is one of my most prized possessions. Legos are great. They’re a creative medium and they get kids engaged. (Boys and girls, both. Honestly.)

Crayola is my best friend. I try not to be a snob, but when it comes to art supplies I just am. There’s really no comparison. Don’t come at me with your White Rose. Watercolors are great, because you can totally finger paint if you want to, and they’re perfectly washable. It’s great for those parents (and kids) who get so worked up about the kids staying pristine and their clothes being unstained. Kids can be kids, no one will get hurt.

Of course, my number one favorite is Play-Doh. It’s tactile and great for aggressive or hyper kids to manipulate. Playing with it can easily be broken down into steps, which is great for kids who tend to get a little ahead of themselves. The weekly process of “What are we going to make? OK, which colors do we need? What do we make first?” was incredibly effective on a six year old with severe ADHD. And even more fun than laying on a couch.

I recently Tweeted this picture as an example of why I love my job. People never believe me when I tell them social work is fun, and I get that. But social work is fun. This is my desk drawer, containing a small example of my work supplies. As hard as the job can get, helping kids cope by playing with them is a pretty sweet way to spend the day.

As the Therapeutic Toys Turn…

14 02 2011

It’s been a while since we’ve gotten into one of the greatest reasons imaginable to work with children. Is it their laughter? The hope you can see in their eyes? The possibility of having an impact on their future?

I guess. But mostly it’s the toys.

Just a multi-ethnic gathering of friends.

Remember wondering what your toys got up to, back when you were a kid? Clearly they lived their own lives, and carried on relationships and dramas once you left the room. (I might have just recently watched Toy Story 3.) I think therapeutic toys would be even more interesting to watch.

The child figurines carry the burden of helping actual children to work through their issues fairly well.

Well, this is going to be an investigation. How did this baby’s arm get so unnaturally twisted? And also get fused to a ball? I’d say we’re looking at neglect, at a minimum.

This is just a kid in an awesome duck sweater. Nothing to discuss, unless anyone knows where I can get that in an adult size.

The adults get a little more difficult to control.

Ugh, Tom, always trying to show off the intellect. You know that’s actually a Dan Brown novel, wrapped in a “War and Peace” book jacket.

All right, bringing back the preppy look, I can get into that, and OH MY GOD WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR EYEBROWS?!

OK, just act cool. Sophia may look harmless, but purple and coral? They’re actually gang colors. She’s a member of the Stewarts, I’m afraid.

Seriously, Chester?! Chester is supposed to be…on sabbatical. Whatever, as long as he doesn’t try to volunteer in the day care again, we’re cool.

Um, hey Linda. Nice purse. But maybe try something a little more current? H&M has very reasonable OH MY GOD YOUR MOTHER DID YOUR EYEBROWS, DIDN’T SHE?

Hey, that’s nice, Joey’s mom is getting involved in his scout troop! What’s that? This is just her outfit? Oh, dear…

The single raised eyebrow says, “I’ve got a secret.” That along with the suspicious package puts Grandma Sylvia right on the no-fly list.

Seriously, someone please take me to this badass sweater store!

And so ends another saga in the lives of our toys. Tune in next week for answers to your burning questions: Why is Grandma Sylvia taking flying lessons? Does Sophia mean it when she says she’ll, “cut a bitch?” Will SocialJerk get a new sweater? Did…Chester, that’s it, I’m calling your parole officer!

Even jerks need a snow day and childlike wonder, now and then.

27 01 2011

One of my favorite parts of my job, as I’m sure people have guessed, is the great interactions I get to have with kids. I learn a lot from those kids. (Probably more than they learn from me…quick, someone make a cliché movie about me!)

I was particularly reminded of that on this day of days.

SNOW DAY!!!!!!!

Sorry. But when I got word that the office was closed this morning, I was happy. At first. Then I got to thinking about all the work I had to do. It’s almost the end of the month, and there are still people I have to see, intakes that need to be done, home visits that have been missed.

Most adults start seeing snow days like this.

Where the hell did my car go?!

Whereas kids continue to see this.


Goofy snowsuits!

Temporary graffiti for sub-par Gaga wannabe!




As I wandered Central Park today, fighting off mild exhaustion and frostbite, I thought about what snow days used to mean. Before I was all worried about work. Even before college, when “snow day” meant, “Quickly! We need to get rid of all this booze!” When it was just about playing until you were too exhausted and frozen to move, but you still didn’t want to be the first one to go inside.

I present to you, the most important lessons I’ve learned from children.

  1. Be direct about your needs. Yes, people might see you as being bratty. But can anyone say they weren’t warned? This situation could have been avoided if you had simply provided me with a milkshake, as I asked.
  2. Be honest. Kids don’t waste time bullshitting like we do. A pre-schooler recently told me, “Sometimes I really like when you come over. But sometimes I’m ready for you to leave.” It was like a breath of fresh air.
  3. Spread the news of your achievements, and take responsibility for your shortcomings.
    As in the case of a proud third grader insisting I read her straight A (OK, they use 4s now, but it’s the same idea) report card, complete with comments. Or the four year old, interrupting her mother and I to make this announcement. “Mommy, I farted. It smells really bad.”
    I’m not sure if that last one was accomplishment or failure, but she was proud all the same. You did it, stand up and take credit!
  4. Do what you love. OK, this might be more accurately termed, “Do whatever pops into your head.” I think we all get random urges to do the twist in the waiting room, or demonstrate our ability to do a headstand halfway through a therapy session. (I mean…I’m sure some weirdos get those urges.) The under-ten set seem to be the only ones who remember how to let loose and give into it a little.
  5. Appreciate the little things. Whether that is three kids all managing to play with an empty diaper box, or an eight year old being transfixed by a pink plastic journal and tacky star pen, kids are good at this. (Nintendo DS is nice too, but a box is a close second.)
  6. If you don’t want to wear pants in your own house, then dammit, you don’t have to. This one has come up way too often for me to even have to explain.

Social workers talk a good game about needing humor to get through the day. We also get rather cranky when people don’t take us seriously enough. “It’s play therapy, not just playing with kids!'” Harumph.

True. There’s a lot more to what we do than just “playing with kids.” But when you get right down to it, most of my days involve Candyland, and at least once a week, I have my hand up a puppet’s butt.

Occasionally being able to see things the way a child sees them, though, reminds me as to why that is a truly worthwhile way to spend an hour. If other people don’t see it, at the risk of another cliché, it really is their loss. They’re letting a pretty great part of themselves slip away, and they’re missing out on a pretty fun way to see the world.

Aside from the simple fact that Candyland is awesome.

Like sands through the hourglass, these are the toys of our lives…

13 08 2010

One of the perks of this job is the toys we get to play with. Sometimes, when I’m having a hard day, smooshing up some play-doh really helps me to get my feelings out. You just have to make sure that kids don’t hog all the good stuff.

We recently were able to purchase some great new therapeutic toys for the office. Included in this were some delightful family figurines.

Their little faces just tell a story (as do their snazzy clothes.)

Here’s a nice elderly couple. Just enjoying a day of standing next to each other in matching tracksuits. Grandma, that is a stunning necklace! Please ignore the suspicious bulge in Grandpa’s pants.

“Hey guys. I was just going to read the paper and groom my ‘stache. I’ll be in the bathroom if anybody needs me.”

Watch out for her. She loves that ball. Like, LOOOVES that ball. And I’m pretty she crawls out of your TV if you watch this one video…

Grandma Rosa always has to have the latest handbag.

What the…Chester, you know you are not supposed to be within 30 feet of a playground!

“What have you got there?”
“Block. You?”
“This sucks.”

Ugh, don’t even talk to Janet. Look at her in that vest, thinking she’s better than everyone.

What does Rosa really carry around in that bag? What’s got Grandpa so…excited? Why is…Chester, dammit, I told you to get out of here! Tune in next week for more misadventures!