Yesterday at work I got kicked in the knee; spit on (in my face); almost had poop wiped on me; got screamed at; got called a faggot repeatedly (in fairness, the kid was calling everyone a faggot, as in, “you faggots!” but I was included in that); had food thrown in my direction; had a door slammed in my face; got heavy, plastic couch cushions thrown at me; and came dangrously close to getting punched. But weirdly enough, I actually had a lot of fun and found the kids totally endearing.
Yesterday was my first day on the severe behavioral unit at work, where they keep the violent, unmanageable kids, and basically all day long you just try to manage total chaos (and to avoid a “riot situation”). There’s very little structure, but the lady that runs that ward has those kids under her thumb. It’s pretty remarkable, really, and I’ve heard other people at the center say they’ll work in that ward only if that lady is there. It could also be that I was there on a good day.
Other people really like that unit and choose to work there, which I didn’t understand before going in, but I think I do now. For one thing, the faculty there is a really tight team that sort of has the air about them of people having been through war together. They were also, in a way, a lot more accomodating and nice to the “new guy,” than the people on the other wards have been. I think maybe they’re just grateful for the hlep, wherever they can get it.
I also never in a million years would have dreamed that I would have had an aptitude for this stuff. But apparently I do. For instance, the kid that kicked me in the knee is one of the most disruptive kids they have there. He can’t attend school because he doesn’t have the attention span for it. He screams all the time and frequently gets locked in isolation because he can’t control himself. Well guess who he decided he liked yesterday. Yep. Yours truly.
After running around all morning screaming, throwing things, getting locked outside (they have a small, fenced-in yard area where unruly kids are often thrown until they can get a grip), trying to fight, and just being a huge pain in the ass, I sat with him in his room and helped him build a Lego castle for an hour and a half! He was totally focused, excited, disarmingly polite, “explained” it all to me in great detail, and meticulously cleaned up his mess when we were done. After dinner that evening, he wanted me to come help him work on it some more.
This not only won over the kid to me, but scored some serious brownie points with staff. He’s always one of the biggest handfuls (he’s also a large kid, around 13, and difficult to physically manage), and by my distracting him for so long allowed them all to work with some of the other kids whose attention is usually sucked up. That’s what I mean by managing chaos.
Before she left for the night, the manager of that unit asked if I was coming back tomorrow morning and when I said no, she said, “Shit! You’re great over here.” It totally made my week, especially since I’d been dreading working on this unit for over a week now.
The other units I’ve worked on have been fun, too, but in entirely different ways. There’s something so much more pleasing about figuring out how to wrangle in an ornery kid than there is in basically doing glorified babysitting for morose teenagers sitting around in black clothes reading the Twilight books over and over who just think you’re lame and get mad that they can’t call their friends on their cell phones because they’re not allowed to have cell phones.
One girl, though, who’s there for some self-harm stuff, told me the other day that when her mom put her in there she was so angry she swore she’d never talk to her mom again. But then 5 days passed, and she got homesick and broke down and called her mom, then told me, “Then I realized that she was the only person who was going to stick through this with me.”
That’s why I’ve already decided I love doing this. You learn so much about life, and people, that you could never get any other way. I know the burnout rate is pretty astronomical, which is why nearly everyone who works there is in their 20’s or early 30’s, and is willing to do this kind of crap for 10 bucks an hour. But I’m already grateful for the experience.