Just one minute

A warm breeze blew around my face as I walked into work today.  It pushed a heavy strand of dark hair out of place from behind my unusually small ear.  The air carried the smell of a grassy field of wildflowers.  It must have gusted and rolled along for many miles through the dirty city to reach my finely attuned nostrils.   As I pushed through the silver doors, I imagined I was barefoot and swinging on the front porch.  Higher and higher, the wooden bench creaked and the springs squeaked.  Only briefly did I worry about going to high when it felt like the sky was the limit.

Bad Social Work

What is good social work?

Let me start by explaining what is NOT good social work.

Good social work is not finding problems and reporting the information back to an insurance company for research purposes. It’s not giving people resources that are tapped out or difficult to access. It’s not black and white with clear solutions and easy answers. Most of all, good social work is not business, it’s life.

Clients are real people with real problems that were there before the involvement of a social worker and likely will still exist long afterwards . The problems associated with poverty may appear to be easy to overcome on paper. They can be next to impossible to overcome in the real world, where the rubber meets the road, so to say.

Take for example a family who has no income and are living exclusively on food bought with SNAP (food stamps) or obtained from food pantries and soup kitchens. The kids in this fictional family get targeted at school for whatever reason and a referral is made to a social worker to get some eyes on the situation. The obvious solution for the adult(s) of the family is… do I even need to write it? Get a job, right?

Not so fast. What if there is only one parent involved and she doesn’t have her GED? She doesn’t have transportation to get to the library to finish the courses or the money to pay for the test. She doesn’t have any marketable skills or she has a disability. She doesn’t have the confidence required to apply because she’s never had a job or known anyone to hold one for an extended amount of time. There are a million reasons for her to get a job and a million and one barriers to her doing so.

It would be easy to refer this woman to a job search assistance program or GED classes to take at home and call it a day. Check the box that the assessment was completed, referrals given, and follow up with be done in a week or two. Realistically, what would happen? Maybe she would follow up on one of the referrals, find that it was a dead end, and continue trying to survive with her children in a mean world.

What is really needed to stop the cycle of poverty, to end the violence, struggles with addiction, and sense of hopelessness that keep people trapped and spinning in place?

I clearly don’t have any of the answers. I don’t even know what is good social work compared with successful meddling and good report writing. What I do know is that the problems of the poor don’t need more bad social work.

I’ll figure the rest out from there.

Cookie Quarrel of July

There’s a story that I want to share- but it isn’t mine to tell.

It’s about the most raucous fight between two demented residents of a nursing home over a box of cookies.
I want to go into the gory details of the residents springing up out of their wheelchairs to attack one another, much to the surprise of their aides.
Its killing me not to be able to describe the fight scene in which the normally sterile and lame setting of a nursing home transformed into a place much like the Wild West, sub out the tumble weeds for catheter bags and fast women in bodices for aides in scrubs and crocs.
Each resident was out for himself in the great cookie quarrel of July.
The story even has a tragic ending with the eviction of two residents to the unfriendly streets of the city.

Perhaps the worst part about not being able to share this story is that no one will ever learn what became of the box of gourmet cookies.

Mother Wit

“Listen carefully to what country people call mother wit. In those homely sayings are couched the collective wisdom of generations.” – Maya Angelou 

Thanks, Maya.  Now I’m really listening.    

Night Noises

Good night, sleep tight, and may the fleas you plenty bite!

Sharing a hotel room with another couple

Can be a challenge

Especially if one person

Has gastrointestinal difficulties    

And the other one snores  

literal fires.

frayed wires under blankets 

lay still in a silent threat

like a snake in the grass 

 patiently waiting

to strike   

On Love

Dear Readers,

Today I have a gift for you from one of my clients. 

It’s not much, just a little piece of relationship advice.

 

When you start sticking and stabbing your partner

and you know the day is coming

when you’re going to cut him too deep and he won’t stop bleeding

then it’s time to go.

 

She was married for 54 good years.

The secret?

They lived in different states.

 

Her separated husband told her one day that he had a dream.

The Lord came to him and said, “Hang on, Georgie, she’s gonna come back to you.”

She laughed and said, “That’s funny, ‘cuz I’ve been praying to the same Lord to never see you again.”

 

He passed away a few years ago on July 15. Lord rest his soul. 

 

As I opened the door to leave, a tiny cross-eyed man arrived at the door.  He peeked over my shoulder from the doorway.  The woman spotted him and yelled out, “Oooh-wee, you ain’t brought nothing for me to eat, but get in here anyways.” 

He shuffled in past me and jumped into her outstretched arms. 

I left with the woman’s sage advice and knowing that In the end, love prevails or something close enough to it. 

Small Victories

After taking the zillionth call of the day, I knew that my limit was reached.  A red light flashed on my phone, indicating that a voicemail was waiting with more questions and requests but there was nothing left for me to give.  I simply closed my laptop and headed towards the door for a walk.  The receptionist saw me leave and shouted, “Wait, I’ve got a caller on the other line looking for you.” 

I took a lesson from my clients and proceeded outside, pretending that I never heard her plea.   

At first, I walked hard and fast.  The sun was hot and I wore a long sleeve shirt, which was not great planning on my part.  Beads of sweat started to form on my forehead and I slowed down.  I focused on my breathing, like my husband/stress guru advised this morning.  I felt better about life and could think again.  The stress wasn’t controlling me.

I rounded the corner and headed back towards the building through the parking lot when I was spotted by Ms. E, the mistress of custodial services for the ladies restroom.  She was dressed in an all purple outfit and was holding a bucket of cleaning supplies. 

Ms. E called out, “Baby, why you walking when you have a car?”

I told her that I was having a stressful day and had to get out of the office, thinking this explanation to be justified and straight forward.   

Ms. E nodded her head in a knowing (or pre-Parkinson’s) way, “Baby, there ain’t nothing worth stressing over.  It’s like this, either you have the money for the bills or you don’t.   If you have the money, pay the bills.  If you don’t, then you don’t pay the bills.  It’s simple, see.  Don’t make it harder than it needs to be, Baby.”

Well, yes, that does make sense, I thought and nodded to let her know I was listening.  I yearned to look at my watch, sensing that my absence was soon to be noticed.  The sun beat down on my head and shoulders.  Beads of sweat now started to roll down the sides of my face and neck.

She continued, “See, there’s a difference between thinking and stressing.  I thinks about my bills all the time but I don’t let it get me upset, like you are now.”

Ms. E called me out in a parking-lot-style intervention.  She forced me to realize, while sweating and missing in action from my cube, that there really wasn’t anything to stress over.  If I can take action, do it.  If there’s nothing to do or I don’t have the right tools or abilities, then that’s it.   Nothing more and nothing less but no need for stress.  

I am grateful to this strange cleaning angel in purple for helping me to put this Tuesday into perspective.  

I told her so as I walked away and she yelled after me, “Looks like you were meant to run into me.  Be good, Baby.”

She disappeared behind me as I scurried up the back stairs and slipped back into my cube without a stress in the world.   Then the phone rang and it started all over again.

Tuesday’s Preface

I would feel less guilty as a fly on the wall.

The woman stared straight ahead at a blank computer screen.  Thin, brown hair fell against the cheeks of her very pale face.  The phone rang again.  She heard it through the thick haze that spread over her brain and filled her delicate ears.  She moaned in anguish and envisioned herself flitting out the window carried by a tiny pair of buzzing wings, able to see everything without the responsibility of knowing.

Why this guilt? You didn’t do anything, the woman berated herself. 

A tinny voice that may have been her conscious reminded her, it’s exactly because you didn’t do anything.  You should feel bad. 

Oh shut up, she told the tinny voice.  You are exactly what I don’t need.

The internal monologue may have continued for an indefinite time if it wasn’t suddenly interrupted and the woman was saved from herself.    

“Kel, I overheard you on the phone,” her red-haired co-worker, Samantha, said without apologizing for eavesdropping.  She rolled into the shared hallway, barefoot, like usual.  Her palms and fingertips pressed together as though in prayer, she was about to launch into amateur therapy mode.  The first woman had been subjected to this in the past.

 “You must tell yourself that it’s not your fault.  You couldn’t have done anything to change what happened.” 

“Thanks,” the first woman said, “that helps.”

“Well if you don’t want my help, why don’t you just say?” the red-head declared indignantly and rolled back into her work space.

Inside, the first woman cringed, she knew things could have been different if she hadn’t been too busy to follow up or make the right reports, if she hasn’t been so behind in her work or burned out, this never would have happened.  She felt certain that everything could have been avoided if she just tried a little harder.

She glanced at her watch and it was later than she expected.  

I will deal with this tomorrow, she decided.  She stood to leave the office, uncertain that she would return in the morning.  On second thought, she turned back and grabbed a picture from her wedding and a mug with the presidents’ faces on it. 

“Just in case,” she muttered and left.  

Swirl the dregs

Bormioli Riserva Chardonnay Wine Glass

On the day it was too hard to be a human

she drank a glass of wine to dull the sharp edge of sorrow,

she drank another glass to numb the dull ache of loneliness,

she poured one last glass just to finish off the bottle.

She slipped away into a hazy place between here and there. 

Tomorrow, she decided, would be better   

And her eyes fluttered shut against the flickering light of another dying day. 

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