Sunday, July 26, 2009

The most popular girl in the room - unfortunately

I volunteered this past Friday and Saturday nights.

I have decided to make up fake names for the kids when I talk about them. It's easier than saying the 5-year-old, the 3-year-old. To protect their privacy, the names that I make up won't even be close to the children's real names. Also, I will not describe them physically or say very much about why they are there.

On Friday I spent time with Linda, a very quiet 5-year-old girl. She gradually opened up and near the end of the night told me a little about her mother and her older brother. Then she asked when I would come back. I told her it wouldn't be for many days because next week I'll be out of town.

I usually don't go on Saturdays, but I decided to go because I was thinking about Linda and the fact that I wouldn't be able to go back for while. When I got to the playroom, Linda was in a another room getting a shower so I started to read books with a cheerful 3-year-old named Joy. Actually, it was more like Joy reading books to me. She would turn the pages and chatter happily about whatever was pictured in the book.

Then a 5-year-old named Jennifer comes into the playroom after her shower. Jennifer is looking lost and crying for her mother. She must have arrived today, because she was not there last night. I ask her if she wants to read books with us. She says yes and sits on my lap. She is still crying and I listen to her while she tells me that she wants her mommy. I hug her and try to comfort her as best I can.

Linda shows up after her shower and sits down next to me. I have Linda and Jennifer each pick out a book. We read. Jennifer cries and says she wants her mommy. I continue to hold her and try to comfort her. Linda gets a sad look on her face and whispers something about her mommy under her breath. I ask Linda, "Do you miss your mommy too?" She nods her head solemnly and a tear rolls down her face. With crying Jennifer in my lap, I reach over and put my arm around Linda and tell her, "I know you miss your mommy." Linda doesn't go into full blown crying and I can see that a little bit of attention from me makes her feel better. Joy is still happily reading to herself near us.

We leave the playroom to have a snack in the kitchen. After snack time, everyone sits on the floor in the living room for singing time. The singing starts but Jennifer, still crying, leaves the floor and crawls onto the end of the couch. I'm sitting in the middle of the couch. I am hoping one of the staff will go to her. I'm only here a couple of hours a week. Wouldn't it be better for the person who is going to be spending the whole night with Jennifer to go and comfort her? Give this frightened child a chance to bond with someone other than the lone volunteer who is going to leave in an hour?

All through singing time, Jennifer is on one end of the couch, alone and crying. I'm staying on my side of the couch - waiting, waiting, waiting. Hoping a staff will reach out to her. Singing ends and they start the movie. None of the staff go near Jennifer. Finally, I can't take it anymore. I move over to Jennifer, take her in my lap and hold her while she cries. When the movie starts, Joy comes near me and also starts to say she misses her mommy. Joy sits to my right and alternates between happily watching the movie and saying she wants her mommy. Linda comes over and sits to my left. I try to smile at her and talk to her during the movie so she doesn't feel left out. She smiles back.

At one point during the movie I have crying Jennifer on my lap, Joy snuggling on my right, Linda sitting quietly on my left and a 3-year-old comes over and leans against my legs while watching the movie. I am a kid magnet.

The night has a painful ending. Joy, Linda and Jennifer all want me to read them a book in their rooms. Luckily, Linda and Jennifer are in the same room. I go to their room and start to read. Joy is screaming because she wants me in her room. I finish the book and say goodnight to Linda and Jennifer. Linda smiles at me. Jennifer continues to cry.

I go into Joy's room and she stops screaming. I read a book to her and her sister. I hear Jennifer start to cry loudly in the other room. After I finish the book I try to say goodnight to Joy and her sister and leave. I really want to go see how Jennifer is doing. But Joy starts to scream again when I try to leave. So I stay in Joy's room and sit by her bed while she falls asleep.

While I am sitting with Joy, Jennifer has escalated to screaming in the next room. I feel horrible that I can't be in both rooms at once and that I have abandoned Jennifer, who was so fragile and vulnerable all night. I hear them take Jennifer out of that room and into another. Eventually, Joy falls asleep and Jennifer quiets down.

I leave.

A heartbreaking night.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Operation Enthusiastic Cupcake!

The plan is in place.

Cupcakes have been baked and frosted.
Mr. Roger's Day at the Circus DVD has been ordered.
My smiling muscles have been assigned a rigorous training regimen.

Operation Enthusiastic Cupcake
has begun.

No, that is not me. She looks pretty enthusiastic though, doesn't she?

I have become tired of hearing myself complain about the movies that they show to the youngsters at the place where I volunteer. If I am not going to try to do anything about it, then I should shut my mouth.

So, what to do?

One of the reasons I haven't said anything to the staff about it is because I have never felt quite comfortable with them. Never felt like they even wanted me there. I have been going there once or twice a week since March and none of them have ever asked me my name. I usually come in, smile and say hello to the staff people who are there and then look around to see what the kids are doing. When I first started to volunteer I was completely surprised that none of them said anything to me about what I should do or how things work. I thought that if they saw a new face, someone would acknowledge my newness and try to fill me in. Nope. Nothing.

But of course I need to take responsibility for not being more assertive myself. I could have introduced myself to any of them and told them I was new and asked for direction. I felt intimidated and awkward. The vibe was so weird. Maybe I am too sensitive, but I really got the feeling that they could care less that I was there. Sometimes when I said hello they barely grunted at me. To this day, I still haven't figured out if there is one lead staff person on duty.

I am also aware that no one appreciates a person coming into their workplace and telling them how to run things. Especially if that person is only around a few hours a week.

So I go in and play with the kids. I have no problem sitting down on the floor with a bunch of two- to six-year-olds and interacting. Play just naturally happens with them. It is their sole purpose in life and it flows out and around and between and through them as easily as breathing. I'll try to engage with some of them and let them decide if they want to allow me into their play world. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. If not, I can sit back and wait for other chances to interact. Some nights I end up reading and playing with many kids at different times. Sometimes only one or two.

I was talking with someone about my experiences there. She works for an organization that helps troubled teens so she knows a little about the child and foster care system in this area. She pointed out that there must be a lack of leadership there and that the staff are probably under-appreciated and don't feel like they have clear direction. In a challenging social services job like that, it is easy to become unmotivated and apathetic if you don't feel genuinely supported by your management.

It made me realize what I have to do.

Operation Enthusiastic Cupcake went into effect at 1800 hours on Wednesday, July 15, 2009.

Here is the plan:
1. I have to get over my shyness and feeling awkward and start to be more engaging and friendly with the staff. I have to initiate conversations and ask them questions and start calling them by name. I have to get past my anxiety about making small talk and just do it.

2. I will show them that I appreciate them. I baked cupcakes. I frosted them with chocolate frosting and colorful sprinkles. I brought them with me on Wednesday and gave them to one of the staff. She said thank you and I heard her tell some other staff that I had brought them in.

3. I will give them genuine compliments that acknowledge their strengths. I will ask them how the day has been going and sympathize with how hard it must be sometimes.
The goal of all this is to make them feel more comfortable with me and make me more comfortable with them. Then it will be easier to approach one of them with a suggestion or concern. Hopefully I can bring up my concerns about the scary movies in such a way that they will not feel attacked and will be open to listening.

I can also bring in the Mr Rogers Day at the Circus DVD and suggest we watch it some night. If that goes over well, I can bring in more.

If I can't get through to them and there continues to be ridiculously inappropriate movies shown to these fragile youngsters, I will be forced to change the battle plan.

We'll have to resort to
Operation Ballistic Chicken
....and nobody wants that to happen.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Google & Grasshoppers

I've got a little thing at the bottom of the blog that shows traffic to the blog. It displays the location of people who view the blog and sometimes it shows that they found the blog by doing a Google search.

Every once in a while someone gets to the blog by doing a search involving grasshoppers.

Below is the funniest search I've seen so far. It might be hard to read, but if you click on the picture, you'll see it better.

And in case you can't read it, someone from the UK searched for

"how to keep a grasshopper a live when you sister has bit half of his leg of."

Friday, July 10, 2009

My previous post

I have been feeling quite bad about my last post. It feels mean-spirited. I don't like to think of myself that way. I want to think that I am kind and compassionate.

I didn't mean to be mean. It's not that I dislike people. People scare me. Sometimes I don't have the energy or confidence or something that I need to interact with others.

I could use the magic of my computer to delete the entire post. Pretend it never existed and erase all evidence of my misanthropic tendencies.

But I have to face the truth about myself. Sometimes it's a struggle to be kind and open to the world around me. I try, but I need to accept that I can't always do it.

But I'll keep trying.

The Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion and Mercy,
Avolokitesvara Bodhisattva, in Chinese called