Archive for July, 2011

What I wish I was doing right now…

Hunting for mulberries in the tree with Carl.  Or maybe…

Eating dinner outside with the family.  But maybe with the heat, we’d rather be….

Swimming in the pool!

Soon we will be doing these things together (well, except for the mulberries!) in Bowling Green!  With a side of….

Mammoth Cave National Park.  And….

A little bit of Nashville.  Humorous Thinker and Carl get to see a little…

While Perpetual Motion Boy, Miss Imagination, and I do a little…


Who knows what more fun we have in store for us!  Only a little bit more until I get to…

Kiss these sweet faces again.  I can’t wait!








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Constructive Criticism

One major facet of clinical boot camp is constant supervisor feedback.  I think we all came into this time knowing that our supervisors would be watching, and rating how we did; I did, at least.  However, the reality of getting that feedback hasn’t been quite so straight-forward, at least emotionally.

I am not unfamiliar to constructive criticism, and even not-so-constructive criticism.  I don’t for even a small moment think that I am perfect, or the best there ever was.  I know I have room for growth–a lot of room in many areas.   And I specifically asked to be challenged at boot camp.  On my information form, I said I wanted new things, clients that would stretch me.

Even with this mindset coming in, when I got that very first feedback form from a supervisor, it was not as easy to be so pragmatic.   The feedback form has a left column with 19 different areas.  There are then columns to check excellent, good, average, or needs improvement, along with a small area for written comments.    On my very first form (for the second session), I received several average, and most good.  It doesn’t sound so bad, but I looked at it and almost immediately started crying.

I can, even now, look back and see how silly it is. But it’s an emotional thing, to be seemingly judged on how you interact and work with a child, when you’ve only just met the child.  And while I know I have room to grow, this is one area in my life where I feel that I am actually pretty good; at least, the kids I work with make progress on their goals every year!  So to read “average”, which isn’t even bad, was hard to swallow for this overachiever.  Add this to being away from all that is familiar, living in a hotel room without my family, and I felt suddenly incapable of handling even the most minor correction.

So, I went home, and cried.  I then sent a message to the very best mentor and former supervisor there is.  When feeling discouraged, there is nothing like the encouraging words of someone who knows you well; in this case, someone who has seen me do therapy for much longer than 2 sessions total.  She talked me down, reminded me in the nicest possible way that I am here to learn, and to take feedback in that way–as an opportunity to learn even more.  She also reminded me that I am good at what I do, but that being good at it doesn’t mean I never have to learn any new tricks.

So, I did that.  I relaxed, and was able to go back and read the feedback form again with a less emotional lens.  I found that my supervisor had some great comments for me.  Her suggestions were valid.   They related to behavior management, not an area in which I normally have problems during the school year, but that’s because I know the kids with whom I work pretty well.  I could see that my method for working with a new child was not the best, and that with the wrong child, it could really backfire.  So, her suggestions would be very useful for any new child, and, for many of them, might be all they needed in the longer-term, too.

I thought about it a lot over the weekend, and then went into Tuesday’s session ready to implement it.  In this session, she even came into the room to give me a therapy suggestion.  I was able to immediately implement it, and it really made a difference.  My feedback form gave me all “good” and one “excellent”, and had many comments written on it.  I spent even more time thinking about what she was suggesting, and figuring out how to implement it.  For the Thursday session, I did it.  I did everything she was suggesting.

And, that session was amazing.  I knew it even when I was in the session.  The behavior management worked amazingly for him.  The therapy technique she gave me was perfect, and really did aid his understanding of the concept.  This is also something I’ll be able to implement at work.  The whole session felt smooth and effective.  He worked hard, and made a lot of progress on his goals.

Even before I got my feedback form, I was very happy with how the session went.  It felt good.  And then, I got the form.  This time, nearly all “excellent”.  I was happy that I was able to grow as she’d suggested, and that it really did work.

And yet, I know that my work isn’t done.  I guess this lesson is even deeper than getting “excellent” on my feedback forms.  I learned that part of growing as a clinician will mean making changes that are suggested to me, and learning how to implement those changes into therapy.  I am not suddenly completely “excellent” with no need for any other improvement, ever.  I know that on the next feedback form, I may have more “average”, as I may encounter an area in which I need to grow.  I know that I always want to be able to incorporate new ideas into my therapy, and to be able to grow and change.

Even if it sometimes makes me cry.

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Compassion and generosity from Compassion

Our family has sponsored children through Compassion International for seven years, starting when Humorous Thinker was young and Perpetual Motion Boy was just an infant. Therefore, getting letters and occasional pictures from our sponsored children, Rajes in Indonesia and Josephine in Rwanda, along with writing letters together at the dinner table, has always been a consistent part of their memories.

Here is a picture of Josephine, who is now 14. We have been sponsoring her since she was 7.

And here is Rajes, who is now 11.  We also have been sponsoring him since he was 7.

As Humorous Thinker gets older, it has been such a privilege to watch him grow compassion and generosity in his life, some of it directly related to Compassion.  Recently he has been reading the Compassion magazine which we receive periodically in the mail.  It includes a section for kids.  In the summer issue, there was something that inspired him, and I’m not even sure what it was.  One day at dinner he told Carl that he was going to only have a small portion, with no seconds, and eat no evening snack.  He wanted to do this, which is very contrary to his set pattern, because he wanted to express solidarity with the large percentage of the world who had no choice but to eat in this way.

This concept has also helped him when he’s felt frustrated, near a meltdown due to not being able to eat some food.  He is gluten free, and has been since he was 3.  Recently, though, the concept of eating different foods, or doing without, has been much more difficult for him than it ever has been before.  My attempts to cajole him, or promise different snacks later, have been mostly ineffective in placating him, and really have done little to change his heart and attitude.  However, once he learned more about what kids in other countries eat, he has  been able to treat every opportunity where he has had no hamburger bun, for instance, as an opportunity to pray for kids who are making do with much less, and might not have enough food at all.

And this all culminated in his desire to sponsor another child.  He earns some money by mowing lawns for neighbors and for us, and  he is always after ways to earn money in the home by doing extra chores.  He’s very responsible and generous, so we do try to help him find ways to earn money frequently.  He decided that he wanted to help the family support another child, and committed to give some of his money every month in order to meet the sponsorship.  He picked out the child, and wrote the first letter all on his own.  So now our family has added 5-year-old Rudic from Nicaragua.

I look forward to seeing Humorous Thinker grow in compassion and generosity through this new sponsorship, and to seeing Rudic grow as well.  It requires sacrifice and effort on HT’s part–he has to continue to earn money in order to meet his part of the sponsorship.  He has to be responsible in the letter writing.  We’ll learn more about Nicaragua, and find ways to encourage Rudic together.  And I know that Humorous Thinker, and the rest of the family, will continue to be led to remember that we have so much that it is absolutely necessary that we share some, or even most, of that with others.

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Suffering? (Sermon reflection)

Today’s sermon at Christ Fellowship in Bowling Green talked about suffering.  The message focused not on why we suffer, or if we will suffer, but how do we suffer well?  I thought it was an intriguing take on the topic, and I really felt I learned a lot.  I won’t go into it all of those details; for those who are interested, I assume it will be up soon on the website.

The whole discussion on suffering really led me to thinking about the concept of how I might consider that I suffer.  Intellectually, I know I don’t suffer, not really.  I live in the United States, in a mostly middle class family, with plenty to eat, a nice house, a husband who loves me and gives so much to me, a healthy family… I could go on for quite awhile!

It seems near ridiculous for me to even contemplate suffering in a global sense. That’s not to say that people in America don’t suffer.  Many do, and I know that it will happen at some point in my life.  However, it’s not the case right now.  But, the point of all of this–I realized that if I am really honest, I do sometimes consider certain things in my life to fall into the category of “suffering.”  Upon reflection, however, they all fall into the category of, “This did not go as I planned.”

I like to make plans; even long-range plans.  Even though I know that any number of small changes could drastically change the trajectory of a given path, I still like to make plans.  And, I have found that when those plans are challenged, or even shattered, in my mind I consider it to be a big hardship, almost even suffering.

Take our move from California.   Yes, there was great uncertainty for a period of about 10 months.  We had no idea where we would be living long-term, what exactly we would be doing.  And yes, that was hard.  But was it suffering?  Not really.  We were so clearly loved by friends and family, and really never had to do without basic necessities, even with no income.  We lived with my parents for 8 months, squished into their small house, and they were never resentful.  We were supported by Carl’s parents, and they never expressed even disappointment.

Yet, it felt like suffering.  I cried about the uncertainty, and about the loss of the dreams I’d had living in the Bay Area.  I still cry, often, even today, about the loss of some very special friendships.  (side note: I did not lose these friends.  They are very special friends, and they will always be special friends, with a very sweet spot in my heart.  But it’s different when you live very far away, and I did lose that closeness of seeing someone several times a week, hanging out together, living life together.)

Certain events in the last few months have brought on another round of this “suffering.”  I had, even though I knew it wasn’t a sure thing, made my own plans to live in South Bend for years and years.  I really love it in South Bend.  I love my house, I love our neighborhood.  I love the sweet friendship between Perpetual Motion Boy and the neighbor boys.  I love my school; I love walking there.  I love the educational opportunities for Humorous Thinker on the horizon–the next two years seem promising, and then there is the option for 7-12 a school that is nearly my educational ideal for him.  I love the diversity of the community and school for Miss Imagination.  It seemed near perfect for the forever home.

But, these certain events have made this forever home an uncertain thing.  It seems likely that we could live here for 5-6 more years; after that, there is just no guarantee.  And I found myself mourning and grieving, and responding like I would to suffering, faced with yet again another shake-up of my plans.  I felt hurt, and anger… and suffering.

This morning it occurred to me that I need to draw a firm distinction in my mind and emotions between suffering and disappointment.  They are so very different.  I can be sad about the loss of a clear future plan.  I can be disappointed that I don’t know where we’ll be living 10 years from now.  But that disappointment does not mean I’m suffering.  On the contrary, the mere ability to be disappointed about something so minor shows that I really am not suffering at all.  This is not disappointment over major loss.  It’s not even a real loss, just a perceived loss, and this “loss” could lead to far greater things.  Because, 3 years ago, I never imagined this current trajectory of my life, and it is such a fun time!   It took some disappointment and sadness to get this, and the next transition we have, if we have it, may also contain sadness and disappointment, but will likely lead to some more surprised I couldn’t have even begun to dream.

It’s not suffering to have to let go of dreams.  I’m not sure I can stop creating dreams, but I do pray that with time and maturity, I will get better at letting go of them when they turn, so that they can turn into something even more than I ever could have imagined.

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It probably seems reasonable that being away from home for 5 weeks would lead to loneliness.  Today, though, the twelfth day in, is really the first day I’ve felt lonely.  I have, of course, missed my family greatly.  But I haven’t really felt lonely.  In general, it’s been too busy to be lonely.

Week one was all about meetings and paperwork.  We had to listen to information overload from 9-3 or so every day.  In addition, we had to review each file, write an Individual Treatment Plan, and write our first lesson plan for each client.  We were all together, though, all day long–no time to be lonely.  There was always someone around with whom I could chat, or eat lunch, in any spare moment we had, and we had very few.  In the evening I went out to dinner once, had a group class outside together once, went out for ice cream, and collapsed in my room.  I still had time to talk to Carl every day, and the kids most days, and I went home on Friday afternoon.

This week has been a new kind of insanity.  I have all three clients on Tues/Thurs, so they are busy days, with 3 hours of therapy, and at least an hour of taking care of paperwork.  Trying to gather materials, set up sessions, and think of fun activities that are also useful for working on specific goals (7 sessions is not a lot of time to make a lot of change in a client’s level of performance, so everything is carefully planned for the most efficacious use of time) takes up the rest of the time.  On Tuesday, I didn’t even look at my cell phone all day long, and never had time to eat lunch.  As someone who carries a caseload of 100 during the school year, I was sure 3 clients couldn’t be all that overwhelming.  And, I guess I’m not overwhelmed, but I’m surprised by how busy I am still!

On Wednesday, I did screenings at a nearby Head Start all day.  We were there from 9-3, and I drove another classmate there; we had a great chance to talk and get to know each other.   I also had great conversations with another classmate who was there.  When I got back to my room, I had to plan for Thursday’s therapy, and then got to go out for dinner and drinks to celebrate a fellow classmate’s birthday.  It was a lot of fun, and it’s harder to be lonely when you’re laughing hysterically.

Today, Thursday, was of course busy.  I woke up at 6 am and left my room at 6:20.  I had to get groceries for my first therapy session, and still needed to do paperwork on the computer before I started.  I was less scattered today, which was wonderful, and I had time to eat lunch, but it was still busy.  I managed to get all of my paperwork done to turn in by 4pm:  SOAP notes for 6 sessions, and 6 lesson plans for next week.  I had some good conversations with others, and I even squeezed in my first of 25 observations.

But now, the point of this whole post, I guess: I’m lonely.  We have a meeting tomorrow from 9-12, but then we’re done until Monday morning.  The reality of being here, away from my family, is sinking in.  I’m lonely for conversation with my husband, for sweet conversations with my kids.  I’m lonely for the familiar.  I miss South Bend, and the things that are familiar to me.    I’m an extrovert, with no plans the whole weekend with others.  There will be others here, and I know that I’ll do things, but I don’t know what they are.

I realize this is the first real quiet moment I’ve had here since I got here.  It’s been busy, and hectic, with no space for mental down time. And now that it’s here, it’s hard.  It’s not all bad–sometimes things that are hard are really good for you.  I know I will have time to think, to rest, to contemplate, to pray this weekend.  I appreciate that time!  If I consider it as a retreat, I will enjoy the time alone.   I could set up a meet up with somewhat-nearby friends, but the thought of driving even 3.5 hours one way makes me feel exhausted.  I know that mentally I will do better to stay here, even if it means I’ll be lonely.

And is it all that bad to become comfortable with the thought of loneliness?  I think not.  Sometimes I think I may need to be lonely, in order to be able to better appreciate and enjoy my family when I’m with them.  I’m sure that’s not true for everyone, but nothing makes me want to be fully present with my family than being fully absent from them.  I also know I talk too much, and sometimes being quiet is good for me, even if it takes me being alone to be quiet.  We’ll call it practice.  Not to mention, even when I’m home, I’m somewhat lonely.  I have started a lot of blog posts about loneliness and grief over missing my friends in California.  So far, they have mostly languished there, as just writing them has been therapeutic, but they are too raw to share with anyone else.  This experience of being lonely falls right along with that:  deep loneliness while still being happy.  Because, I am happy.  I am really loving boot camp, the whole experience, meeting my classmates, doing the therapy.  It’s fun right now, and it’s fun to consider that when I’m home again, I will have just one year left in the program.  I’m not sad, or depressed, or miserable.  I’m just lonely.  And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

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