Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones

“I don’t believe the things my dad says about you.”
(Uh oh.) “Well that’s good. What did he say about me? Wait… do I want to know?”
“Probably not.” (Pause) “Let’s just say he doesn’t think you know what you are doing and you aren’t helping me at all.” (Another pause) “I think you are helping me though.”
“Hmmm. Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Sometimes people say things when they are upset that they don’t necessarily mean later on.”
This was a conversation I had with one of the kids I work with a week or so ago. Last year at this time I would have been livid over this comment. In fact, about two years ago almost the exact same situation did happen and I was FURIOUS. Another kid had shared with me during a session that his father (why is it always the fathers?) had said I was “too stupid to fix him” (meaning the kid). I already had a pretty negative relationship with this father so the defamation of character really sent me over the edge. So much so that I wrote this father a particularly nasty letter in my journal that night.
(WARNING: When I get righteously angry it’s not often a pretty sight. This entry is rated PG-13 for explicit language and spiteful content…)
February 22, 2011
Dear Sir-
It is my understanding that you think I am “too stupid” to “fix” your child, well I am here to tell you that if you weren’t such a piss poor excuse for a human being, let alone a father, your kid wouldn’t need “fixed” in the first place. You may not think much of my degree or occupation, but that’s perfectly alright as my esteem for low-life’s such as yourself is non-existent. Maybe if you stop beating your wife and emotionally abusing your eight year old son I could find some empathy for you, but alas, I find that highly unlikely. 
I also find it highly unlikely that you will understand the majority of this letter because, while you try to pass yourself off as educated, you are nothing but a smarmy asshole who uses too much hair gel and is probably lucky to have a high school diploma. And while I know many people who have lower educations and are perfectly amicable you seem to believe that you are some God’s gift to the world which makes you not only conceited, but a twat to think your presence makes this world a better place. While I may be “stupid” at least I can find enjoyment and validation in positive ways rather than terrorizing and threatening small children to make myself feel good. That just makes you a cocksucker and I hope someone comes along and dick slaps you in the face so you know what it feels like.
Sincerely-
Your friendly neighborhood social worker.
When I go back and re-read this entry I alternate between laughing hysterically (because it truly is funny) and being ashamed that I could be so hateful even if this man was a cretin. Then I remember that, like the father earlier this week who said “I didn’t know what I was doing,” being angry can make you do and say some crazy shit.
It is for this reason that I was pleasantly surprised that I WASN’T angry about this person’s recent comments. In fact, I found myself later feeling grateful. Why the hell would I be grateful for someone calling me incompetent you might ask? Well, because it gave me the opportunity to see how much I’ve grown. Almost the exact same remark from a couple of years ago ago made me spew venom and hate all over the page, whereas this week I said “that’s nice” and let it go. I am grateful because it was a lesson in self-confidence. I knew I was doing everything and more to help this family and that was good enough for me. If they don’t think I am doing my job then they can fire me- no big deal. (I would like to point out that they haven’t done so yet so I must being doing something right.)
As much as I complain about how much I hate my social work job, and whoa-buddy can it crazy stressful and intense sometimes, I have come to realize, that while it’s not something I want to do too much longer, it has definitely changed and challenged me a lot as a person.
When I first started working this job straight out of undergrad I was fresh-faced and optimistic that I was going to “change the world one client at a time!” Oh how sweet and naive I was. It’s almost comical now. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am a jaded, crusty old social worker (for one I am not that old), but I am a lot more cynical than I used to be. Some may see this as a bad thing, and too much cynicism can be, but it has also made me a lot less gullible and a lot more street savvy. It has helped me develop a “tougher skin.” It is much easier to take criticism than it used to be and I am a lot better at letting things roll off my shoulders than I was.
I think that confidence alone has been monumental. I have definitely had moments throughout the last three years as a counselor where I have thought- “Shit, if I can get through that I can get through anything!” From a kid projectile vomiting all over the shelter house in the park (yeah, that was fun), to impromptu couple’s counseling to save a marriage when I simply thought I was picking a kid up to go to McDonald’s, this job has really pushed me to be a better counselor, and ultimately a better person. Despite the daily stress and frustration, this has been the greatest gift I could have received.

With this month being over I am realizing that being consciously grateful everyday is a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. However, even if this new perspective towards my job is the only thing I gain from undertaking the virtue of gratitude for this month (and it isn’t), I would still consider it a win. Being able to say “I am grateful a parent thinks I am an idiot” is definitely not something I ever thought I would hear myself say.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I don’t secretly think those dads are twat-waffles, but at least I am not going to rage about it in my journal. That my friends– is progress 🙂

Switching gears, tomorrow is the first day of a new month, which means I am going to have a new focus. December is actually the only month out of the year that I am going to have two virtues- generosity and hospitality. My big projects this month are making mittens and hats to donate to a homeless shelter and adopting a family for Christmas. Every year one of the elementary schools I work for creates a list of students from low income families who cannot afford to have a traditional holiday. The staff then take these names and buy clothes and toys for the children to open on Christmas day. This is such a big deal for the kids because often this is the only time in the year they get any new clothes or a new toy. With that said, if anyone reading this is interested in contributing to either project please contact me via Facebook or at curioushawkstudio@gmail.com. Any contribution would be extremely appreciated not only by myself, but by all the families in need who will receive help this holiday season!

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Home Is Where The Heart Is…

They say- “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Or at least that’s what Kelly Clarkson would lead you to believe. If this is true then considering the simple fact that I am not already six feet under, I must have the strength of legions, it has been that sort of week.

I took possession of my apartment and started moving in last Friday. By midnight on Saturday my whole life had been packed into cars and shipped off to my new home, sweet home. While walking out the door of my old house for the last time I couldn’t help but gaze around at all the things missing, things that had made it feel comforting and inviting over the last two and a half years. It was a bittersweet moment. I silently cried a few tears at the thought of never again making another meal in my snug little corner kitchen, or coming home in the summer to sunlight streaming through the living room windows and illuminating the cricket green walls that always seemed so cheerful. I was deeply saddened by the thought of never making another painting in my bright yellow studio upstairs and in thinking all this I almost lost my courage right then and there. The little gremlins of doubt saw their golden opportunity and took up residence in my brain…

What if I can’t do this?

What if I can’t handle being alone?

What if I am not strong enough to tackle life by myself?

It’s really hard not to feel down when you are physically and emotionally exhausted and have crap like that running through your head. Somehow I managed to pick myself up, cross that threshold one last time and set off for my new home.

Home. What an interesting word. It can have so many different meanings and no one person probably looks at it exactly the same way. When I was in high school and found out we were going to have to move out of the house I had grown up in I was utterly devastated.

“It won’t be the same! It won’t feel like home!” I remember saying to my mom.

Her response, (and I will never forget it) was- “Mary Anne, four walls and a roof do not make a building a home. It’s the people inside that really matter. Family is what makes a house a home.”

She was right of course (mom’s usually are). It doesn’t really matter what you call the place where you lay down your head at night, home is a place in your heart where your loved ones dwell and no one can ever take that away from you. While I am sad to leave the comfort and protection of my old house, my apartment is already becoming a cozy little haven where in just one short week friends and family have continually frequented my door. It may not be big or fancy with a lot of shiny updates, but that doesn’t really matter because it’s the people you find there, the friends who come and go, the laughter and love that can be found inside- that’s what really counts. My apartment has already been blessed in that regard and for that I am so thankful.

I know the path I have chosen for myself will not be easy. Life has its ups and downs and I am not so delusional as to think that there aren’t going to be any challenges. (Like spilling water all over your laptop and completely frying it as a result…yeah THAT was fun.) But it’s those soul trying moments that really do make you stronger, and deep down in my heart I know that I too can be fearless with the support of friends and family in my new home as my foundation when I am feeling weak.

This week has been tough, really tough. Saying goodbye and experiencing change is never easy, but my supervisor shared a quote with me the other day that I really think sums things up pretty nicely…

When life knocks you down…calmly get back up, smile, and very politely say- “You hit like a bitch.” 

*There will be a video walk through of my apartment added as soon as I can get my technology to cooperate… it’s not looking very good for any time soon though : /  Be sure to check back for that after Thanksgiving when my tech savvy brother will hopefully help me get it working!

Update: My awesome brother helped me get the video going… thanks David!

The Scarlet "D"

“In all her intercourse with society, however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came in contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she had inhabited another sphere, or communicated with the common nature by other organs than the rest of human kind.”
-The Scarlet Letter
When I was a Junior in high school we had to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic- The Scarlet Letter, for AP English class. I don’t remember much about it except that I hated it with a passion. It was a tedious, painful reading experience and the only book to date that I have had to buy a Spark-notes guide just so I could muddle my way through it. However, the one detail that has stuck with me after all these years is the fact that the main character, Hester Prynne, had to wear the scarlet “A” to mark her as an adulterer, to make her stand out so people could essentially avoid her at all costs (snooty Puritans). While I am not, nor have I ever been an adulterer, I can relate to poor Hester and the alienation she felt. However, unlike like Hester’s “A”, my scarlet letter would have to be a “D” for “divorcee.” 
I knew ahead of time that ending my marriage would change the relationships I had with mutual friends and family, but I had no idea people would flip on me the way some of them have. People who I have considered friends and have spent a lot of time with over the past few years have suddenly dropped off the map and I haven’t heard from them in months. Worse still, are the people I have seen in person since announcing my divorce who proceeded to treat me like a pariah. One person even went so far as to leave the room whenever I entered to avoid having to talk to or even be in the same vicinity as me.
That hurt. A LOT. I was pretty depressed and extremely angry about it for awhile, but in time and after a couple of really pissed off journal entries I came to the following conclusions…
Cliched as it might sound, people really do come in and out of our lives all the time. Some stick around longer than others, but every single person is a teacher with something important to contribute to our journey. As much as I wish I did, I have no control over the way other people treat me, only how I respond to their words and actions however hateful they may be sometimes. So here is my response…
To all of you who will probably no longer associate with me (and you know who you are), I just want you to know- that I understand. It’s hard being put in the middle and made to feel like you have to choose. My husband and I have tried really hard to avoid making people pick sides, but ultimately it just happens. No matter what you may think of me or the choices I have made, in my heart I will always remember you as my friends and I will cherish all the wonderful memories we have made over the years. I wish you lots of love and happiness in your lives and I am extremely thankful for the time we did share together. Thank you for having been a part of my life and may God bless you all.
With that being said (and now that the tears are falling freely on my laptop), it’s time to let it go and move on.
As baffling as it has been to watch people turn away from me, the complete opposite end of the spectrum has also been equally as amazing. Some of my friends, many of whom I haven’t spent a lot of time with over the years, have not only welcomed me back with open arms but have quite literally become my knights in shining armor come to save the day. Considering this month’s theme is gratitude I feel it’s only appropriate to let these people know how much I love and appreciate them.
In the days after I told my husband I wanted to leave I started scraping together, the best that I could, a support system to lean on as I was nothing short of a hot mess. What I have found since is a family. From college friends, to coworkers, to members of the Grove, I have been showered with love and offers of support, places to crash and used furniture. I have had weekly, if not daily check-ins just to say “hi” and see how I am doing. I am getting phone calls and business cards for health insurance and legal aid because “so and so” knew a guy and had them call me. Rarely do more than a few days go by that I am not invited to do something just to get me out of the house, and I know when I move in a couple of days friends and family will descend in droves upon my home to help me start a new life in my own place. In just a few short months I have already begun making new friends who have embraced me as one of their own and my circle continues to expand. Now when people ask me how I am doing I can honestly say (to quote the Fab Four) “I get by with a little help from my friends.”
It makes me wonder if The Scarlet Letter would have ended differently if Hester had had one good friend to turn to in her struggles. Sure, the hurtful people would have still been there, would always be there, but I believe you can endure anything with a good friend by your side. I still have my moments and situations when I get down on myself and feel like that big “D” is emblazoned across my chest, but when I am with my friends I am not a “divorcee” anymore, just me- Mary Anne, and that is one of the most freeing feelings in the world. Thank you guys, (and again you know who you are!) I love you more than you will ever know.
Special thanks to Jordan, John, Maggie, Steph and Amber who were there with me at ground zero and have been there every step of the way since. You guys rock!