Is Being Adopted Shaping my Career?

My psychologist is kicking my butt. She basically accused me of thinking too much and not letting myself feel (totally true. totally nailed it in session #4 people!), but I don’t really know HOW to feel. I do know how to think, how to over-think, and how to think some more. I also know how to catastrophize like nobody’s business.

At any rate, in an attempt to avoid feeling all the feelings about that early trauma of separation from my safe place (mom) and being raised by genetic strangers, I decided to think about my job. And it made me wonder…I am working with 16-20 year old “at-risk youth” in a community college setting. I am teaching them skills to succeed at school. And my biological mother was 16 when she got pregnant, and my biological dad was 20 when I was born. My biological mom did not finish high school, but did complete her GED, and my dad completed HS but had a 3.9 GPA and NOBODY suggested he go to college. And, my maternal half siblings did not finish high school (and my half bro got his GED…I think). I guess my question is….am I trying to work with my biological family?

Am I throwing myself into a situation, a passion, in some sort of karmic attempt at rescuing my parents? Do I see these vulnerable young ones and want to spark a fire for education in their life, to empower them toward greatness, so they don’t end up in a situation where they have to give their firstborn away as atonement for their “sins”? Am I somehow trying to connect with my family in this choice of career?

Or (or maybe an) am I trying to distance myself from my family? Do I like sitting on the other side of the desk, seeing that I have “made it,” that I am “not like them,” as if my life is somehow a proof that my biological parents made the right decision in letting me be raised by strangers. Because, see, I am not like them anymore. I am educated. I am in the middle-class. I am…fill in the blank.

Or, do I do it to prove something to my adoptive family? To protect myself from further abandonment by both excelling in education and also working in a compassion field to show my humility?

Could all of those reasons be true? Or not true? And does it matter? Does the motivations, or the impetus, or the reason that I end up in a job really matter? Or is what matters that I feel like I fit here, that I belong, that I was actually made for this type of work? Does me trying to work out my own identity or story take away from the “goodness” of doing this type work?

And how can I just let myself feel, instead of always just thinking about things?

I taught my last lecture on Thursday, and this upcoming week will be filled with watching our students’ final presentations. Should be easy-peasy and then off for the month of December. Looking forward to that with much anticipation. I have play-dates (for both mama AND baby) lined up, a trip across the mountains for Christmas, and plenty of just chill moments with our little family before I go back, and in anticipation of Boof going back (at the end of January).

With all of this joy and happiness coming up, why do I feel so dark? The days are darker. My nights are even darker, though, hallelujah Potamus slept for 4 hours straight last night. My anxiety is high, too, mostly around this whole idea of sending Potamus to daycare 2 days a week. I am freaking out about the drive (which route to commute to cut down on time), and the transition, all of the things that can go wrong while he’s gone from me for 10 hours a day, and knowing that soon Boof will be back to work during the tax busy season and that means only seeing him on Sundays. Which means, me working full-time and parenting full-time, alone…

When I’m in this head-space I begin to freak out. FREAK out. Like eat 3 boxes of Trader Joe’s freak out. And try not to break things freak out. Trying to stop imagining Potamus languishing in a Romanian orphanage instead of the hand-picked daycare that we chose. Trying to remember that who he will be as a 12 month old, or a 13  month old, will be different than right now, and he will be able to handle things differently.

I have been trying the herbal homeopathic way of dealing with this clear depression/anxiety. The 5HTP and St. John’s Wort was working, and then I started to forget to take it and I had another bout of extreme irritability. I am worried that it means I’m going to have to go back in to the doctor and get prescribed anti-depressants. It’s not the medicine that I am worried about, because the meds I use are fabulous and wish I could just keep the prescription re-filled again and again..it’s my doctor. It’s not that she’s bad. She’s just a little…cold? She has really tiny limp cold hands and doesn’t seem very personal, though she’s nice and polite and asks all the right questions. Boof thinks I should change doctors, but I am too overwhelmed to think about forming a new relationship with someone.

And this has been the first day in over 10 that I’ve been able to even form words to describe all the nonsense going on inside me. Instead I’ve been glowering and stomping around and trying not to cry. Boof and I have had some good talks, but then I decompensate and am unable to communicate again. Like writer’s block, except it’s my life. I think that November, and writing about adoption every day, was really hard and triggering for me, and added to my depression. We’ll see if I decide to do that again, or modify it so that I don’t completely fall apart.

Now What? Moving on After Rejection.

I’m trying to remind myself that we are all made of sparkle dust, souls merely existing earth-bound for a period of time, and that, in cliche terms, this too shall pass, but hot damn I haven’t cried so much in months.

Yesterday Boof found out that the job he wanted, the firm we felt SO good about, the one he had built relationships with people who seemed to really get him and be excited to offer him a job…isn’t going to happen. The official rejection letter came on Saturday. We were crushed. Not just crushed because, at this moment, he has no other options lined up, and that firms are so far into their interviewing/hiring process that he has virtually no shot, but because we had felt so good about it. So good. That gut feeling that I always get when something is going to work out…yeah…that meter is clearly off now.

Square one.

In the practical reality of things, nothing has changed, save the hope that things would be different come the first of the year. Boof is still studying for his CPA exams, watching Potamus in conjunction with his own mom, and we are still scrimping and relying on our in-laws to float us indefinitely. I am still the not-quite-enough-breadwinner, the one who gets up in the dark and leaves my sleeping boys to trudge through rainy traffic to the ‘office.’

Nothing has really changed.
And we aren’t even at risk for feet of flooding like my East Coast friends.

Sparkle on.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey: A Movie Review

I wasn’t allowed to watch much television as a child, save Mr. Rogers, so my experience with The Muppets and Sesame Street is rather limited. My conservative Christina parents did not like that Count Dracula was a vampire, and had various other misgivings about the whole Jim Henson world, so my exposure is a few random snippets of the shows over the years. However, I was around during the Tickle-Me-Elmo phase, and while mystified by the appeal of a squeling red doll, I did recognize that The Muppets and Sesame Street characters were influential to most of my peers. In fact, thanks to my height, Big Bird, was one of my nicknames growing up!

So, in looking for documentaries that showcase career development or overcoming obstacles, I came across Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, which chronicled the life and work of Kevil Clash, as he pursued his dream of being a puppeteer, and eventually gave Elmo the voice and character that we know today. While thinking of myself as a reasonably interested individual, the ADD media generation has certainly worn off on me, so I give documentaries about 5 (long feeling) minutes to grab my attention. If the documentary fails to draw me in in that time, no matter how good it might get further along, I am done and moving on to the next one. This is what happened while prepping for my lesson. I started on documentary and BLOOP moved onto another and BLOOP moved on to another until FINALLY I stumbled across Being Elmo.

I was skeptical at first. How would this relate to my life, let alone the lives of my students? But hot dang, the first five minutes went by and I was rivited. The storytelling is magical, and really shows how Kevin followed his dream against the odds and ended up doing something that he loves. While I did feel that it was redundant toward the end (think minutes last 10 minutes), the fact that it kept my attention for so long was amazing.

So regardless of whether you grew up loving The Muppets or Sesame Street, or, like me, you have limited exposure to it, this documentary will entertain you and leave you inspired. I am excited to share the story with my students, in hopes to inspire them to follow THEIR dreams like Kevin did!

First Week, Fall Quarter

Whew, what a whirlwind the last two weeks have been! I am happy to report that I have successfully completed my first week of teaching at a local community-turned 4 year- college!

In a quick turn of events, I was hired, gave my notice at my crisis-counseling job, and transitioned into this position that allows me the freedom and flexibility to be both a worker and a mother. I spend four days a week at the college, two of the days as an instructor and the other two as an advisor for 16-20 year old students who have dropped out of high school. The mix of kids is delightful. There’s the run of the mill “thug life” kids that bounced from school to school because of expulsions, suspensions, and pop-off attitudes. There are the little-house-on-the-prairie homeschool types, who wouldn’t dream of who have clearly excelled academically to a degree, but the somewhat intellectual arrogance has left them socially awkward and blowing out of regular high school. There are mothers, felons, medically fragile, procrastinators, and class clowns.

Regardless of the reasons behind dropping out, they are welcome here in our program, a 4 quarter structured program (much like a very scaffolded running start) where they are introduced to college and supported as they attempt to get an AA degree, or a transfer degree, or even a certificate in an area of focus. And I get the newbies, the ones who are first stepping into a college classroom and hoping to be changed.

Okay, that’s actually optimistic and lofty. Many of my kids are simply hoping to not fail again. And many of those intellectually arrogant are actually just trying to “jump through the hoop” of my class in order to gain access to their 2nd quarter where they can take an English class, and their 3rd quarter where they can “take the fun classes” (actual quote by a student today, as she pushed her glasses back up her nose).

My curriculum is intangible in so many ways. These students have been taught subjects, but in my class, I hope to give them the experience of learning about themselves in a different way. Because that’s what I learned in college…I learned to think outside of the black/white paradigm and analyze poetry and give my opinion on things without stuttering or wavering in discussion. Of course I will teach things like study skills and learning styles, but I hope they gain a sense of community at the end of it all.

My college self, the one who thought about being an English teacher,  but didn’t have the confidence to really finish that degree, is now standing in front of a college class, with unbridled freedom in planning and executing the teaching objectives. Want to watch an episode of Dirty Jobs to illustrate Career Development? No problem! Want to give “This I Believe” speech/essay assignment? Go for it! Want to design group work or have free-writes or listen to music lyrics? All acceptable.

And the best part, perhaps, is coming home at the end of the night, happily tired with enough emotional energy to drop to the rug and play with Potamus for a few hours until bedtime. While I’m not getting much sleep at night, thanks to full-on reverse cycling and Potamus nursing at least every 2 hours (if not more), I am happy. So happy.  But like a quietly contented happy.

Reflections on 16 months of crisis counseling

I have witnessed a lot in the past 16 months of crisis counseling, and as I sit on my last day, having discharged my last client last night, I feel so much hope in my move forward. But there is also this lingering sense of  heaviness from all that I have witnessed…

I accepted the job, as a Crisis Intervention Specialist, working with youth 3-18 and their families in King County, 24 hours after I learned I was pregnant. So my first 9 months on the job I was pregnant and the 2nd half of the job I was a new mom. While I have been employed there for 16 months, if you take out the maternity leave in the middle, I’ve solidly worked there for 1 year. But 1 year feels like an eternity. There are things I have seen, and witnessed, and felt that are hard to put into words, hard to describe to people who haven’t been there.

Like, how do you explain the feeling of arriving at an apartment, to find a 250 lb naked teenage developmentally delayed (can’t speak or understand language)  girl from a foreign country sitting on the stairs and realizing that she is the client. Naked. And what goes through my mind is, “my schooling did not prepare me for this.” To be body slammed and try to explain to the family through an interpreter how the mental health system works here in America.

How do I explain the smell of a pre-adolescent who hasn’t showered or changed clothes for the past 3 months because she sees a bloody axe wielding woman in the bathtub. How do I explain the condemend house infested with fleas with the family living in the basement? Or the 13 year old who was pregnant and kicked out of her house by her aunt, who said it’d be fine if she just went to live in a shelter. Or the 5 year old who put his mom in a choke-hold while she drives down the freeway. Or the meth-coke-crack-oxy-marijuana-alcohol abusing 15 year old trying to stay sober in a family of addicts.

Or what about the 12 year old prostiting herself because she heard her birthmother did drugs and was on the street and she hoped that maybe she would meet her out there, somewhere, sometime.

I have seen so much, and yet, what I have seen doesn’t compare to how much my family’s have seen. And I am leaving this position changed, in a way that is hard to put into words. Not much scared me before, but now there is very little that I am really afraid of in reaction or relation to teens or their families.

 

Four Years Ago? 11 Years ago?

I keep hearing repub-types saying things like “where were you four years ago?” in an assumptive attempt to sway votes toward the Ryan/Romney camp. But it got me thinking, reminiscing, on where I actually WAS four years ago…where I am today…and the implications of my answer might not make those repub-types as happy if it means I’m going to vote for this trend to stay the same.

Now don’t get me wrong, as a privileged white woman of middle class origins, I know that many many people in America have not been as fortunate as me in the last four years. But here is where I was four years ago:

September 2008
Boof and I  are three months away from our wedding date. I am taking 10 graduate credits, in full last-minute-wedding-planning mode, and working part-time as a substitue teacher. I lived in a little one bedroom apartment that had been infested with tiny little flies after the basement/crawl-space that had been flooded when a sewage holding tank backed up and overflowed.

In the four years since, I have gotten married, lived in a sweet 2 bedroom apartment (with no fly infestation), gotten a dog, received my Masters of Arts in Education, Community Counseling with a 4.0 GPA and honors, gotten pregnant, bought a house for a good price and in a good neighborhood, had a healthy/happy baby, become a licensed counselor, and had three progressively better paying jobs in my field of interest.

Whoa, that’s a huge list of amazing things that have happened in the past 4 years! And if that’s because Obama has been president, well, then I can’t really complain about his leadership.

And with this being the anniversary of September 11, 2001 it got me thinking. Where were YOU four years ago? But also…where were you ELEVEN years ago? It’s amazing for me to look back on such a tragic day and see how beautiful my life has become.

 

HOLY COW!

I am almost too excited to write.

Almost.

Today I interviewed for my dream job…32 hours a week, 2 days teaching, 2 days counseling/advising, on a college campus with at-risk youth (high school dropouts). My interview was at 11am.

They called me at 3:00 to offer me the position.

Holy Shit. My life is going to go from crazy unstructured crisis counseling with fitting in nursing sessions in between suicidal kids to 4 days away from Potamus for 10 hours (8 hour days plus about a 2 hour commute). BUT the benefit is 3 day weekends, only working 10 months a year (getting winter break, spring break and summer break off) so that I actually get time to enjoy my little guy without worrying that I would get some crisis call.

Plus, did I mention it was my dream job?

Literally.

On maternity leave I remember an anxious night where I went out and journalled what I wanted to do with my life. The list read:

20-30ish hours.
Structured but flexible.
Counseling/Teaching combination.
College.
By October 2012.

Seriously, I start September 17th.

Hi Universe, I owe you a big thank you.

Burnout

There’s a clinical term for the rage I fee: secondary trauma…vicarious trauma…burnout. Try to explain that rage, funneled into one angry outburst of angry “stop screaming!” at my teething/growing/over-stimulated baby tonight.

Not my finest mother-moment.

Sure there are many contributing factors to this rage: Boof being out of work due to his own dumbass mistakes and taking this intensive 10 week class while also working for the Mariners when they are at home (currently there tonight, yes, part of my frustration), and a family caregiver who loves Potamus dearly, but hasn’t quite gotten into a very good rythym of watching him due to the up-and-down nature of my job. She’s gotten too comfortable, scheduling hair appointments one day, nail appointments another, and while I’ve been okay for the most part, I am actually getting paid a salary, even if my work is slow, things come up and Potamus needs to be minded, and I can’t be the village raising my child. And as my clients get better, I seem to be getting worse, but then I beat myself up about wanting a new job.

Today I consulted with a dear friend, former colleague, and former classmate. She made me laugh when she said, “oh, you aren’t supposed to be affected by seeing suicidal kids everyday? by seeing the worst of the worst situations?” I do see the seedy underbelly of mental health and family life. I impart wisdom and coping skills and education to my clients, and am losing just a little bit of myself in each of these exchanges. I am having  a hard time stopping the slow leakage and its effecting me deeply.

The look on Potamus’ face when I yelled at him, was heartbreaking. While this isn’t my first time, when he was only a few weeks old, he reacted out of what seemed to be simply instinct. Tonight there was awareness. There was this flitting look on his face that seemed to say (before he broke out in even more tears) “but this is my mom who is yelling, why? why?”

After 30 more minutes of nursing/rocking/stroking of sweet baby hair, he was finally asleep. Will he wake up with forgiveness? Will I?

Focus, Intention, Purpose

ImageThe last few weeks at work have been hard. I wonder if they’ve FELT harder than they actually have been, though, since I tend to project anxiety and fear and frustration onto events and then focus on them intently. It’s like a meditation, an object of focus, and that tends to be the fear/anxiety/frustration spot that my mind rests on, rather than on the wide open space between all of the crises that arise. I think that’s the largest challenge in my line of work…navigating the space between the fires I have to put out.

So, this week I’ve been trying to focus on the large gaps of amazing time I get to spend with Potamus, as this summer IS slower than the busy season. I am also trying to focus on setting an intention for the future, but not trying to propel my anxious self too far ahead. It’s like that biblical verse about only fretting about today because tomorrow will take care of itself. I tend to try and project my current, very anxious preoccupied self, into the future, and into the busy season and think “oh my god, I can’t handle this. I can’t handle workin 16 hour days and shuffling my baby around between places.” But truthfully, that ISN’T happening (yet), as I am currently at home watching The Olympics with Potamus snoozing peacefully in our bed. It’s his 2nd nap of the day and it’s not even 1pm. Not stressfull. No crisis here, and with only 1 client on my caseload (and they are currently in the inpatient unit) I don’t have a whole lot to do.

So I’ve tried to open my heart, set an intention toward abundance and structure in the job department..or in the life department actually. The last time I did this, when I was in a session with Courtney, I ended up having the craziest experience afterward: I got a new job, found out I was pregnant and bought a new house…all within a few months. I was at a place where I was open to change, to abundance, to newness and fullness, but lately I’ve felt small and constricted, like the Grinch who’s heart was too small. My heart feels like a raisin that’s additionally dried out and shrivelly because it was kicked under the couch and has been relaxing next to lint for the past 7 weeks.

I’ve noticed a subtle shift inside me because of this new focus. I’ve actually found several jobs online that I think I would love AND fit my criteria of part-time or structure. Hmm, perhaps my whole world doesn’t hinge on one perfect position. Perhaps, as Anne Lamott says, I can just hop from stepping stone spotlight to the next. Even simply seeing different options for work gives me hope.