We do have to do better, because kids are awesome.

19 12 2012

Last week, I had every intention of posting a new blog on Monday. I was planning for it to be something fun and lighthearted, since my last one was a bit heavy. Then on Friday, as I was standing on line for cheesecake at the agency Christmas party, a little pissed off that we were expected to return to the office for an hour afterwards, a coworker looked up from his phone to say, “They’re saying it’s at least twenty dead now.”

There are a lot of ways I thought I could approach this.

I could get into the need for a serious overhaul of mental health services in this country. However you feel about the author of “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”  and the general narcissism/martyrdom of mommy-blogging, (yeah, who am I to judge?) she’s right. And of course, we don’t need mental health services so us normies can be safe, we need it because the mentally ill are human beings who deserve treatment. Anyway.

I could also talk about gun control. My boyfriend’s a police officer, and there’s a gun in our home. This makes me somewhat qualified to say that anyone who thinks that a gun could be safely kept in a kindergarten classroom and that a teacher would have been able to stop this with returned fire is an idiot who shouldn’t be allowed to own a water pistol. Honestly. Peanut butter is too dangerous in our classrooms, but an M4 would be just fine? Not to mention that it’s hard enough to find good teachers when they aren’t also required to be sharpshooters.

OK, maybe I do have a few things to say about that one. But it’s all been said plenty.

I could talk about why interviewing children who’ve just been through unimaginable trauma, then defending it as “allowing them to share their story” instead of “trying to be the first ones to get the story with no regard for ethics or the well being of six year olds” is bullshit and wrong.

I could mention the sick opportunists blaming this on lack of prayer in school or comparing this massacre to abortion. But then I would have to think about them.

I also thought about writing about this woman and the other teachers there. People who are often criticized for not “getting it,” because they’re young or don’t have their own kids or are just doing it for their big fat paycheck. It’s hard to imagine that you could care about someone else’s children that much, but everyone I know who works with kids understands it completely.

Then I thought what would be best would be remembering why we care about these kids so much. How even when they drive us crazy, they are sweet and innocent and make us laugh. How the worst day can be brightened by a visit from a child. To remember who we’re protecting when we talk about all of the changes to be made and work to be done.

SJ: “Did your teacher tell you she called me?”
8 y/o: “Yes.”
SJ: “What did you think about that?”
8 y/o: “Busted.”
Ha! We call that insight.

6 y/o: “Did you bring play-doh? It helps me with my anger.”
Well, look at you.

9 y/o: “I have a concern. My dad snores. I can hear it through the wall, it’s ridiculous.”
I love the confidence it took to bring this up during a safety conference.

SJ: “Let’s talk about what you love about your family.”
7 y/o: “We have a fish.”
The fish’s name is Crunchy, it is pretty great.

6 y/o: “Hey SJ? When you’re done talking to my mom maybe you can come give me a hug?”
Oh…ok, that sounds lovely. It’s nice that we can schedule these things.

11 y/o: “My school said you were looking for my report card. Did they tell you it was beautiful?!”
It was beautiful.

SJ: “Are you excited for winter break?”
5 y/o: “Yeah, I’m ready.”
SJ: “What are you going to do?”
5 y/o: “Party.”
I bet!

7 y/o: “Don’t worry mom, I’ll help you take care of him. Hear that, baby? It’s you and me!”
This was said to his mother’s protruding belly, as she cried over her boyfriend having left the family.

4 y/o: “Hi SJ! This is my snowsuit. Wanna hold hands?”
Yeah, why not?

Everyone I know was devastated and overwhelmed with grief and feelings of powerlessness as they watched this play out. Some of us can help in concrete ways, but sometimes it feels like all you can do is bear witness by overloading on horrific news. We know this isn’t for the best, but it might feel like all there is. We can also bear witness by remembering, honoring, and protecting everything that’s wonderful about childhood. The reaction of so many people was to want to hug the children in their lives closer. It applies to us too.

The social worker the Bronx deserves, but not the one it needs.

30 07 2012

I remember seeing the 1960s Adam West Batman TV show for the first time when I was six years old, on a rainy day during a family vacation. This was a year after I had seen the Batman movie, starring Michael Keaton, which, as I was five, scared the shit out of me. But I was mesmerized by the cartoon-y, campy version, which led me to fall in love with the grittier film, and even more in love with Batman Returns. Then I just kind of fell in love with Chris O’Donnell (yes please) even though the movies got terrible. During this time, though, I came upon the wealth of graphic novels (or comics, if you want to be a dick about it) that kept my Batman love alive until Christopher Nolan’s brilliance reminded the rest of the world of what Batman had to offer.

So I had been counting down the days until I could see The Dark Knight Rises.

Most of us are only thinking of one thing when it comes to The Dark Knight Rises. I have a few friends who are refusing to see it in theaters. Not out of some sort of protest over violence in film, but because they’re really scared. I understand that. I don’t think it’s sensible, or going to keep them safe, but it’s understandable.

When I talk about Batman here, I’m not going to talk about the shooting. Because, like most people, I don’t believe the shooting had a thing to do with the movie. If it hadn’t been at this movie, it would have been at some other event. It was about a possibly ill, definitely terrible person, who was able to get a lot of weaponry way too easily, finding the easiest way to murder a lot of people. I’m terribly sad for everyone involved, of course, but there’s not really anything more to say here.

My love of comics expanded over the years, particularly to include the X-Men, but Batman always had a special place in my heart. He’s always reminded me of social work.

Back in Two-Face’s lair social work school, I did a presentation in my Social Work and the Arts class about using comics in our work. My main inspiration for that was The Crow. James O’Barr wrote it as a way of coping with the death of his girlfriend, who was killed by a drunk driver. He channeled everything he was feeling, the grief and loss and rage at not being able to protect her, and was able to create a character that could avenge the woman he loved, and protect others.

I mean, comic books are for kids.

The X-Men are part of a minority group, largely hated for the thing that makes them different, debating whether to try to change what they are, to fight the majority with violence, or to embrace what makes them different and use it to help others. Art Spiegelman dealt with the trauma and horror his family had been through, and shared the repercussions with the world, in Maus. One! Hundred! Demons! is all about exorcising those things that haunt you–abuse, bad relationships, weird families–through art.

And of course there are the actual issues that our superheroes tackle–Northstar’s coming out and recent marriage, (Mazel tov, by the way) Magneto’s life as a Holocaust survivor, Iron Man’s alcoholism, and Batman witnessing the tragic death of his parents, then growing up to take back his city from the violent criminals that have taken over.

If there was any question as to why Batman resonates with me so much.

I wrote about the young boy I work with who was randomly shot earlier in the year. There was another awful event in the city recently, in which a four year old boy was shot to death on a playground. Things like this happen a lot. We have random shootings and muggings with depressing regularity, particularly where I work.

Being social workers, we know it’s so much more complex than good versus evil. As much as the people who shot those children are the bad guys (and they are) we also know that they have their own stories. Their own trauma. We often wonder what makes some kids survive whatever they go through, and work incredibly hard to have a different life, as opposed to some kids who take the same path their bad examples and influences did. Sometimes it’s easier to conceive of it all as a choice between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent, Charles Xavier and Max Eisenhardt.

Sometimes it’s nice to fantasize that one of those kids is going to grow up to reject the drugs and gun violence that plagues our neighborhood and take it back for the hardworking citizens that make up a majority of the population. It’s nice to imagine that it’s a clear choice between good and evil, that good has an unlimited budget and some of the greatest minds in the world working on its side, and that the power of a symbol can unite people in hope.

Until that time, I’ll  keep doing the work, firmly in the grey area. But I’ll keep reading my comics, because we all need to escape, and we all need hope.