Friday, March 27, 2009

Running the Gaunlet

I have a complaint about gyms. Is it just me or have you noticed that gyms are full of fabulous looking people? How in the world do they manage to wear t-shirts and sweats and still look fabulous? I hate them. No matter what I wear to the gym I feel like a disaster.

Walking into the gym is always the hardest part. Forget the actual work out. It feels like running the gauntlet. I am refering to the gauntlet as in a physical punishment, used by Romans and Native Americans, wherein a man must run between two rows of soldiers (the gauntlet) who strike him as he passes. Of course, as I walk into the gym everyone pretends not to notice. That little voice in my head says me, "they notice alright." And of course, the little voice knows. The little voice always knows.

Why do I have to exercise with those people anyway? I mean there are co-ed gyms and there are gyms for women only. I propose a gym for fat people only. No rock hard abs, or sculpted buns allowed. Only real people, real fat people. Geez.

Which reminds me, my husband is losing weight. Yep, he is and I am so jealous. What is his secret? He rides his bike to work and back everyday, and he watches what he eats. I don't know where he comes up with these crazy ideas, but it is working for him. Someone write a book!

Since it is working so well for him, I thought I would try it too. I suggested to him that I should ride a bike to work also. He got quite a good work out from that...laughing at me. Ok, so it is a few miles to his job and 20 miles to mine. Minor detail. I guess I'll stick with the perfect people at the gym.

About the eating, I watch what I eat. I watch every stress-triggered bite and tell myself, I really shouldn't be eating this. If mental wrestling burned calories, I would be among the perfect people already. I'll just keep working on that one.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An unusual autograph collection

I don't usually write about my own children, but today I just have to make an exception.

I have 5 children, 4 boys and one girl. My daughter, Vienna, is right in the middle. She is a character! A couple years ago she nicknamed her dad, "Poor woodcutter" for reasons we never could quite figure out.

Yesterday she decided to leave a note, some chocolate chips (she didn't have time to make cookies), and some quarters and other change for The Leprechans. I don't know where she got this idea, but last year she left something for them too.

She asked for their autograph, a four leaf clover if possible, some gold dust, a piece of their clothing and an unusual coin. She asked how tall they are and where they live, and "don't say next to the Easter Bunny like the Tooth Fairy did." Oh yes, she has left notes and got autographs from Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy also.

So today she proudly announced to me that the Leprechans live at the end of the rainbow so they can protect their gold. And "Mama, all magical creatures must be a bit mischievious because the Leprechans said they are taller than a catepillar, but how big is a catepillar?" The Leprechans left her a coin from Hong Kong, which she thought was much cooler than the dollar bill they left last year. I am scratching my head wondering what they will leave next year.

I suggested that she blog about it, and she just looked at me strangely and said, "why?" if there were nothing interesting or noteworthy about this conversation. What was I thinking? All children collect autographs from magical creatures, right?

Since she wouldn't blog about it, I did.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What NOT to do! -or- the night Leslie lost it

Remember I work with teenage boys in a foster care group home. With a few exceptions, they are there because they have behavioral problems that make them unable to live in a regular foster home.

I told you previously about Planned Ignoring, but that is certainly not our only "treatment tool". We also use things like proximity, redirection, hurdle help, controling the enviroment, etc. Another thing we try to do is recognize when a boy is becoming escalated. Usually when you look back on an incident you can identify a "trigger". The trick is to recognize the trigger and defuse the boy before he explodes.

As staff, we strive to be aware of what our own triggers as well, so we can stay calm and professional with the boys at all times. Notice I said strive. Sometimes triggers can change. When I first started, power struggles were a big trigger for me. I had little patience with boys who would not do what I asked them to do. Even in prison, if I asked nicely the inmates would usually do what I asked. If they didn't, I would be firm and tell them it was an order and then they would comply (99% of the time). Of course, they obeyed for reasons of their own. They want to be on the "good side" of female officers. . .use your imagination. It was maddening to me to ask a teenager to do something and have them ignore me. To deal with that, I learned that consequences are not always immediate. I also learned to let go of my pride about not "winning" every confrontation. I don't get triggered by power struggles anymore.

However, recently I discovered a new trigger. I call it "Relationship boundaries". One of the tools of treatment is to "use the relationship". All the people I work with are in this field because we want to help the kids. We may get really annoyed with them at times, but we genuinely care for them and want to help them succeed in life. Helping them can be a slow and difficult process and as one staff member put it, "soul crushing". So when we do feel like we have made a connection, a relationship, that is satisfying. Rewarding.

I don't expect that having a relationship with a kid will make them instantly into model residents, but I do think that there is a mutual level of respect on some level. When that is violated...trigger!

The other night at work one of the boys was up late again. Oliver, (I don't have to explain that that is not his real name and why, do I?) was angry with my partner. He decided to take it out on both of us, so he waltzed into the office.

Residents are never supposed to be in the office. He was walking around looking at things and saw my Diet Pepsi on the shelf and picked it up. He knew it was mine because my partner told him to put my Pepsi back, and he refused.

This was my first trigger. I had thought Oliver and I had a relationship. He crossed a boundary by taking my personal belongings. I could have suppressed my anger if he had just drank it. After all Pepsi is irrestible! But maybe he doesn't like diet, anyway, he stood in the middle of the office and started to pour small amounts on the floor saying, "This is for Tom, this is for Bob, this is for. . ."

It seemed to be some strange tribute to dead "homies" (friends, for those of you who don't know Teenspeak). Seeing him there not only wasting my Pepsi, but making a mess for us to clean up, something snapped inside me. I got up from the desk, grabbed my other Pepsi and walked over to him.

"Here take this for your other homies," I snarled and tossed the Pepsi at him.

He didn't like that (what did I expect?) and threatened me with, "If you do that again, you will regret it."

"Go ahead and hit me and we'll end this." I shot back at him, meaning that if he hit me, my partner would call the police and he would go to juvenile. End of story.

That caused him to back pedal a little, "Hey, I didn't say anything about hitting you." Phew!

I regained control and sat back down at the desk. Later when he was calmer, he left the office and he offered to pay me for the Pepsi. I said, "It's not about the money, Oliver." It wasn't, it was about relationship boundaries.

When I told my husband this story, he just stared at me stunned for a moment. Then teasingly he said, "What were you thinking? What if he had hit you? Oh, I can just see it. . .you would go to church with a black eye and everyone would blame ME!"

What was I thinking? Clearly I wasn't, that was the problem. Part of me didn't really believe that he would hit me. I just didn't like being threatened and wanted to call his bluff. Another part of me thought he might do it, but was too angry to care. After all, I've been through childbirth five times, I think I can take a punch!

Tonight I came to work and apologized to Oliver for asking him to hit me. "I'm sorry that was unprofessional." He said he was fine with it, but missed the cue that it was his turn to apologize. Sigh.

What are your triggers? What things, if you were aware of them, could help you be a better parent, spouse or friend? It is a worthwhile question for all of us.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I have been pondering heroes lately. Specifically, what makes a hero?

I looked it up on and it said:
1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.

Don't you love dictionaries? I ask the dictionary for clarification on heroes and it says, "someone who has heroic qualities." Gee, that was helpful. But you didn't really think I was going to be satisfied with the dictionary definition anyway, did you?

Mr. Dictionary speaks of brave deeds and noble qualities, saving a drowning child is specifically mentioned. But who decides what is a brave deed or a noble quality? I guess that it is within each of us to choose as we choose our heroes.

I believe there are many heroes who don't pull drowning children from pools, though they would if the need arose, but they go quietly about their lives touching the lives of others in more subtle ways.

I read today of a woman who had reached "the golden years" (often not so golden, I'm told), and she was angry. She was angry that she was still alive and she wanted to die. She stopped attending church. She also stopped all social interactions. She would sit with her caregivers and complain for hours asking why she was still here, what was the point of all this suffering. She did at last get her wish, but nine years after she had withdrawn from society.

Contrast this with the story Corrie ten Boom shares about her mother in The Hiding Place. Corrie tells us that her mother had spent her life serving others. In her older years, she suffered a stroke that left her unable to walk, or to speak accept to say, "yes" or "no". To communicate with her they would ask a series of yes or no questions until they were able to ascertain her needs. Her mother loved to sit and look out the window. Sometimes she would see someone walk by and get her family's attention. They would begin the series of questions, and often discover that she had seen someone walking by whose birthday it was. She wanted to send them a card. The family would get the card, write "thinking of you," and she would scrawl her name at the bottom.

I first read that book years ago and that story still touches and amazes me. Mrs. ten Boom had plenty of reason to be bitter. And yet even after the stroke, she was thinking of others and trying to serve them. To me that is the definition of "noble qualities." When I grow up I want to be just like her.

In the movies the Super Heroes, Spiderman, Superman, etc are just average people to their friends and family accomplishing great deeds then returning to anonimity. If we use the "Mrs. ten Boom" standard to describe heroes, how many Peter Parker, Clark Kent, or Mrs. ten Boom's, might be all around us: undetected? We could also look at this another way. There are people in my life that I consider heroes and yet I never told them. If you look in the right mirror, perhaps you would find that the Hero is YOU.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hootch and Shanks

Before there was a blog, there was a book. I mean I was working on a book. It is called, Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting, I Learned in Prison.

The idea was/is to share stories from when I used to work as a Correctional Officer in prisons (yes, hard to believe I know), and relate that to parenting.

But what can I say? Blogging gives me greater latitude for subjects to write about, and more immediate gratification. I'm still planning to finish the book, it is just going a little slowly.

Hootch and Shanks

Inmates are very resourceful, too often not in healthy ways. They have been known to hoard kitchen scraps like bread and fruit to make an alcoholic beverage called Hootch. Worse, they find scraps of metal and sharpen them in to makeshift knives called Shanks. They are only allowed to use plastic silverware for this reason. Once when I was working, an inmate was killed in some gang rivalry, the murder weapon? The sharp edges of a shovel.

Naturally, there are rules against this sort of thing, but inmates are notorious for not keeping the rules. Officers conduct routine cell searches for this very reason. In a cell search the inmate is required to stand outside the cell, or he may not even be in the area. The officers, always two at a time, go in and search the cell inch by inch for any contraband. Contraband, of course, is anything against the rules, which includes food, pornography, shanks, etc. Once Officers found a list of names and credit card numbers in an inmate's cell, that was obviously confiscated!

Children are very resourceful also, fortunately not with the same mal intent as inmates. To a child, any bed, couch or chair is a mini-trampoline; any surface more than 12-inches off the floor, a jumping off point; any stick, branch, wrapping paper roll, becomes a sword. Sometimes these activities are just fun, but they can have unanticipated consequences.

An old friend of mine, Todd, related to me his boyhood story of how he and his brothers had been jumping off the roof of a shed on their property. Unfortunately, his brother slipped, fell and sliced his stomach open on a nail on the way down. Slowly he made his way to the house, hunched over and bleeding. His mother, who having boys, had seen a lot didn't even look up from her mopping. She just said, "Go back outside and don't drip blood on the floor." There's a practical mom for you! Of course, once she realized the gravity of the situation, she responded appropriately.

In prison, there are many, many volumes of rules and regulations, the main purpose of these volumes of restrictions is to keep the officers, and the inmates safe. Officers, of course, cannot possibly remember all the rules, but they remember their favorites. Probably the most frequently used is "disobeying a direct order."

As a parent, I decided it would be better to keep things simple. After all what good are would volumes of family rules be if half of your subjects can't even read yet?

So instead of numerous rules such as:
1. Don't jump on the bed.
2. Don't jump off the bed.
3. Don't climb on the table and jump off.
4. Don't play with knives.
5. Don't throw rocks.
6. Don't...
7. Don't...
8. Don't...

We have one rule that covers all of the above. "Proper Use" I explained to the children that when things are used in a manner different than what they were intended for property can be damaged, or worse people can get hurt. So when they do something inappropriate like jumping on the couch, I just look at them and say, "Proper Use". They know just what I mean.

We have a one rule for teasing too. We are a family that loves to tease and joke with each other. If a day goes by that my husband does not tease me about something, I think he is mad at me. With children however sometimes teasing can get out of hand. Our solution is a one-size-fits all rule, "Both people must be having fun." At any point in the teasing if one person doesn't like it any more it must stop.

Success in teaching our children to obey simple rules now i.e. respecting themselves, others and property will protect them from ever having to learn volumes of prison rules. . .unless they want to learn them as an Officer.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ode to Octopi! Eight Reasons to love them

Octopi, octopuses or octopodes, these are all acceptable plural forms, honest! Call them whatever you like, I LOVE them!

Here are my top EIGHT reasons why I think they are Ocean Royalty:

1. They are highly intelligent...gotta respect that in any species
2. They can change color...who needs tanning booths, or sunscreen. Don't like your current color? Just change it.
3. They can change the texture of their skin! Smooth, rippled...imagine the possiblities...
4. They are curious. Me too!
5. They can squeeze their entire body into a space the size of their eye. You could pour yourself into your "skinny jeans" anytime!
6. They are great escape artists...Houdini has nothing on these guys.
7. They expel ink...who needs pepper spray?
8. They can disconnect an arm at will, much like lizards can disconnect a tail. And they regrow it later. Just think... ingrown toe-nail, no problem!

When I was studying Octupi (just for fun), I searched in vain at the library and on TV for Octupi DVDs. I should have just looked on Youtube! They have many videos. Here is a cool one for you!

Here are some news articles too.

Octopus gets inside Lunchbox at Boston Aquarium

Curious Octopus Blamed for Flooding

Legging it: Evasive Octopus who has been allowed to look for love

I proclaim this Octopus week! Eight cheers for the octupi!

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Mirrors of Self

One of my all-time favorite movies is Neverending Story. It earned that rank because it is not only entertaining, but there are parts of it that I think about time and again as they teach important life lessons. One such scene is when the hero has to go through a series of tests, to prove himself worthy to be the hero. One of the tests is to see himself in a mirror. He thinks that will be absurdly simple, but his mentor explains to him "this mirror is different." This mirror shows the REAL you. Some people are surprised and devastated by what they see. People who think they are brave look into the mirror and see cowards. You'll have to watch the movie to see what "our" hero sees in his mirror.

I think about that mirror a lot. Those moments that we see a glimpse of who we really are, for better or for worse. For example, I love water and for years I had this idea that I wanted to go white water river rafting. My husband, who has actually done it, had heard me talk about this many times, and for reasons known only to him, one day he decided to hold up the mirror. "Be real, you would HATE white water rafting."

"What?!" How can you say that"

"You hate being out of control," he replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Yikes! Guilty as charged. My fear of being out of control is so strong that I don't do water slides or any slides for that matter. Remember in Snow White, that mirror that could talk? Mine said, "There's nothing more out of control than white water river rafting."

I had to admit he was right, but what a shock. How could I be so beguiled? Anyway now, I'm thinking kayaking on a placid lake is more my style.

The tricky thing about mirrors though, is that you can't always trust the mirrors other people hold up for you. They are like those mirrors in the Carnival Fun House that distort your shape in some way, making you taller or fatter. They are fun, but not realistic.

Recently, one of my co-workers told me that I had "come a long way". He started before I did and he said when he first met me he didn't think I would last. He was sure that I would run away screaming. I wanted to tell him, "Hey, I worked in prison and with juvenile delinquents before coming here. I will out last you." I didn't say that though. The sweet-side of me (the reason he thought I wouldn't last) prevailed. His intention was to give me a compliment so I just laughed with him and let it go.

Even my husband doesn't get it right every time. One day we got into a discussion about bravery. I said I thought I was brave, and he laughed. The rascal! He defended himself with, "You're afraid of heights, dentists, closed spaces and slides and a dozen other things."

I said, "yes, but, but, but. . ." Actually I did have some ideas I thought proved my point, but he was sadly not convinced (so I'll spare you). I felt like this character created by Lewis Carrol: “I'm very brave generally,” he went on in a low voice: “only today I happen to have a headache."

Wouldn't you know, my job provided a mirror to answer the question. I think you can guess where I am going with this. When two teenage boys, that are in much better shape than I am start fighting, and I (fat, fourty and foolish) step in between them. . .well, I say that's brave. My sweetheart agrees. I actually love that part of my job because it allows me to see a different side of myself. A side I like.

Mark Twain explained it well, "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave." Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar, 1894

As we make our way through life, the reflections in our mirrors may hold surprise, disappointment, mystery or pleasure but regardless of what we see there, we are better for having paused and considered the view.