T.I.C. transitions

Jew on the Waves of Fate

Archive for the month “September, 2010”

Displaced Detention Worker

As I have mentioned I have begun studying for my master’s degree in social work.  I will nonchalantly remind everyone that I am pursuing this degree at Columbia University.  Do pride and arrogance really have to look that much alike?  Since October 2007 I had been working at the Boulder County Juvenile Assessment Center.  Nice name yet somewhat inadequate description for the multi-faceted juvenile detention facility where I worked up until the end of July 2010.

Now I must state that the facility where I worked was very progressive and not nearly as punitive as most detention facilities.  That said it was still detention, a locked facility staffed ‘round the clock.  Juveniles wore detention scrubs and were transported in shackles and handcuffs (do not be shocked, when you are arrested you are put in handcuffs).

Now I am entering into a very therapeutic atmosphere.  Social work school talks a lot about collaboration, self-awareness, and openness.  All of this is very important however I have not seen a lot of discussion regarding assertiveness yet.  It has been all of three weeks so who am I to complain.  I have heard mention about difficult field placements toughening a student and growing a thicker skin but it tends to be discussed as more of a negative; a “this is what has to happen” sort of dynamic rather than elaborating on the benefit that can be gained by ensuring you maintain a balance between being smooth and being firm.  I am a very strong believer and supporter of the search for balance.

We are taught about boundaries though the topic usually comes up when prompted by nervous questions regarding how much personal information a social worker should reveal to a client or whether it is okay to hug a student and similar queries.

I think one reason that I have begun to contemplate this is because I am noticing the influence of my detention work.  While I have and continue to view myself as a non-confrontational individual who leans toward collaboration rather than authoritarian methods I do believe the latter has its place.

My first year field placement is at a middle school in the south Bronx.  I believe it is safe to say that the majority of schools in New York City retain a harsher atmosphere than Oslo Middle School in Vero Beach, FL.  I was ready to be shocked and taken aback and wildly nervous.  I believe I am all of those things but not nearly to the level that I thought.  I have been in the field all of two days so my views and understandings could and will change.

I do however notice that I do not gravitate toward the softer attitude or approach in the school.  When discussing what to do with a student who is disruptive during a group session my first thought is of the various consequences: send back to class, send to dean, inform parent, and deprive of certain privileges.  My supervisor’s response was to simply send them back to class and inform her if it continues and we would take it from there.  My fellow interns, the different past experiences of whom I greatly admire, seemed unsure of a course of action though this could have just been my perception.

When a student came to the office and sat down with no explanation I remembered our supervisor telling us that students could not just spend time in the office as a way of avoiding something else.  They needed an appointment, to be scheduled in a group or have a pass to set up an appointment.  I engaged the girl, asked what class she had, what she needed and why she was not on her way to class.  After her various vague answers I politely yet firmly told her she needed to go to class, that she could not hang out but to return if she needed to when she was not in class.  This impressed a fellow intern yet seemed simply appropriate to me.

There were numerous other smaller examples (supporting a dean for having a student leave the assembly for speaking after being warned that if he spoke he would have to leave).  I believe, especially with adolescents, that being open and available is just as important as being firm and steadfast.  Follow through is very important and if a consequence is associated with a particular behavior not applying that consequence sends the wrong message.

I do not believe that “punitive” is the way to go.  I believe in collaboration especially the collaboration between being firm and being open, between being conservative and liberal if you will allow me to make such a comparison.  If I am willing to follow through on a reward I better be willing to follow through on a consequence and the other way around.

P.S. I must also note for my former co-workers that for someone who does not like and seeks to avoid confrontation I had to hold myself back from stepping in when students were being rowdy, this is no longer a part of my job…unless their rowdiness happens during something I am running.  I also picked up a bent paperclip and threw it out…I cannot let contraband sit…even if I am in a place where it is not contraband.

Yellow Card! Green Card! Blue Card! White Card!

No, I am not talking about penalties in soccer especially since I had look up “yellow card” to be sure that there was such a thing as penalty cards in soccer.  I am talking about Yom Kippur.  One of the three Jewish holidays most non-Jews are aware of.  This is the day that most know as the “Day of Atonement” and my family prefers to refer to as the “Day of AtONEment.”  Creative right.

Transitions are very important to my people.  We spend the day on Fridays preparing for Shabbat, the Sabbath when we make a separation between all the stresses and weight of the week and a time to focus on yourself.  It is the original weekend.

Rosh Hashanah is the holiday that begins a very important transition for Jews.  We blow the shofar (ram’s horn) on Rosh Hashanah also known as Yom Teruah (Day of the Call or Blast or Clarion depending on the translation).  It begins the Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe or AWEfull Days) when we try to repent for our mistakes, our missteps over the past year.  The Yamim Nora’im consist of 10 days that end with Yom Kippur.  After Yom Kippur we are supposed to be done focusing on our transgressions from the previous year.

I believe there is a beauty in this.  How many of us are guilty of dwelling obsessively over our various slip-ups?  It is not healthy to fixate on the negative however it must be dealt with at some point.  Therefore Judaism gives the opportunity to deal with our issues and then the chance to let go and move on.  I think this makes a lot of sense.

What do multicolored cards have to do with this?  Growing up in my father’s congregation in Florida we had a particular tradition.  Yellow, green, blue and white index cards were handed out to everyone.  We would then write one or more of our wrongdoings on these cards and each one represented the target of that wrongdoing.

Green = nature
Blue = yourself
Yellow = others
White = God

Here is my attempt at a poem to remember them:

Green is for what the earth has seen,
Blue is for you and Yellow your fellow,
And most difficult to cite
On white the sins against God we write.

Okay, I tried.

These cards would be collected on Rosh Hashanah and some would be read on Yom Kippur.   It was a cathartic way of physically letting go and moving on.  This is important.

With all that said let me apologize to those I have wronged over the past year.  We do what we can to be the best we can be but mistakes happen and people, our planet, our faith, and our ‘self’ can get hurt.  Sometime we are unaware of pain we may cause.  Again I apologize and hope that in the coming year I can grow and learn do my best to help bring about Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).

Zen Subway Riding

When I was younger I used to visit New York City every year with my family. It was part of our autumn tradition ever since we moved from New York State. On the way to Rhode Island for a thanksgiving/Davis family reunion we would stop and see my mother’s father and stepmother in Queens. Part of the tradition involved my father taking us into Manhattan to see the sites, his old haunts, and, I think, for the overall NYC experience.

A key part of that experience was riding the subways. This was insisted upon and my clearest memory of this was my father’s lessons in “Zen Subway Riding.” He would have me stand in a strong stance, often called a fighting stance. One leg in front of the other, knees slightly bent, the kind of stance I learned in Karate and Aikido classes. It was about balance. He would challenge me to stand for as much of the trip as I could without holding onto any of the poles or handles.

I am sure everyone’s parents had their own eccentricities that annoyed their children immensely and yet those children, as they grew up often look back on them fondly. This was not the case for this particular eccentricity. I feel as if I enjoyed the challenge even back then. I do not remember complaining much about it though my father may remember differently. I remember that as I tried to maintain my balance on the train car with my hand poised to grab the pole my father would tell me stories of his life in the city.

One story in particular that pertains to the skill he was teaching was how he taught himself “Zen Subway Riding”. But he added another component, he would ride between subway cars (DISCLAIMER-WARNING: Please do not attempt this. Adhere to all MTA guidelines when riding on the NY subway system). Needless to say I thought my father was…to put it in the most elegant terms I can, badass. Perhaps a little crazy but I would not want him any other way.

Why, among all the lessons my father has attempted to impart to me, does “Zen Subway Riding” stand out? I have found myself practicing it on the buses in Boulder and the airport tram at Denver International. I would still put my hand up occasionally, ready to grasp the bar if needed and sometimes cheat a bit, as I definitely did as a child, by saying I was not actually touching the pole when in fact I was leaning against it a bit with the palm of my hand.

I live in New York City now, riding on newer cars and some that look like the ones I rode in the 90s. I do not practice “Zen Subway Riding” each time I am on the subway but I think about it each time the train lurches to a start. While I try to fit in and read or check my phone while sitting, leaning against a door (you’re not supposed to do that either) or trying to look as nonchalant as possible as I awkwardly grasp a bar above my head I still maintain the stance my father always told me was the best way to keep my balance. Any time I stumble a bit I evaluate why it happened so I can work to avoid it.

It is not overtly noticeable but it is a connection across time that links my father’s life in the late 70s and early 80s to my childhood in the 90s to my adult life in the new millennium. Transitions. This one has reaffirmed or even created a shared experience and has not weakened the connection.

Post Navigation