Thursday, August 27, 2009

Missing Pieces

I should have my own TV show. All of those sturdy, sausage-fingered nannies in sensible shoes out there raking it in by offering stern disciplinary advice to frayed parents have nothing on my "nannying as vacation and vocation" approach. I will put this plan into action once I get caught up on sleep and do not look like I've been dragged through the apocalypse backwards. The sun finally set on ten days of leader orientation, or "stress camp", as I came to call it, and though I miss my raucous community of fellow itinerant sado-masochists, I am nearly weeping with gratitude for having the next week to relish life without the responsibility for the safety and sustenance of thirteen young adults stalking my dreams. In comparison, helping out with the two blond bundles of California sass that are my niece and nephew feels like a much tidier handful.

Yesterday, I was putting together a wooden puzzle with Kate (the aforementioned female bundle), who was associating each painted piece with where someone that she knew lived or "growed up". "Where do you live, Aunt Jewie?" (Note: This is the latest incarnation of my first name, and infinitely preferable to the perjorative "Auntie Dirty".) "Whelp, that's a good question", I replied. If a two year-old can arch a brow, then arch she did. Her look clearly implied that "Where do you live?" does not, in fact, constitute a good question, nor was my glib answer satisfactory. "I don't really live anywhere, Kate. I move around a lot and just... stay with people sometimes. Like when I come to see you." Likely more bored than mollified, she returned to her puzzle. I tried not to take it personally that she didn't ask me where I "growed up". Once bitten, twice shy, and I suspect I may not qualify for her "growed up" classification anyhow. Meanwhile, the auto-complete in my brain clicked in. When I'm not "in the field", I trade childcare for warm meals and a bed. When I'm working, the responsibilities are strikingly similar, the meals aren't always warm, sometimes the "bed" is a patch of dirt, and the remuneration slight enough to pale in comparison to the sloppy kisses I get from my diaper-wearing kin. The dart of longing this loosed in my gut to have my own meals, my own bed, and perhaps even my own diaper-wearing offspring was disconcerting.

Despite this, the last ten-days of logistical preparation and skill-sharpening reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the semester to come. I am committed to doing this thing the best way I know how, and I'm feeling a tentative rush of confidence in my newest co-leader- a "salt of the earth" former wrestling coach from Maine, whose work ethic and sense of discipline may have me looking like a bon bon-scarfing Peg Bundy by comparison. Still, there are only so many variables within one's mortal grasp, even for a dynamic duo such as ours. As we hunched over our student files one night, trading the remarkable and/or relevant tidbits as they were excavated, we were sobered by the preponderance of students in our batch of thirteen who are or recently have been under a physician's care for everything from substance abuse to psychotic episodes. Even for someone who has navigated the waters of therapeutic healing work (and perhaps especially so), this is edgy territory.

I have never been medicated for anything more dramatic than a stomach bug, and the ever-increasing presence of high-powered pharmaceuticals in the personal med kits of my students is alarming. More alarming still is the undeniable reality that this cross-section of American adolescents is by no means outside the norm. In today's classrooms, of you can name it, you can medicate it, and it seems this is ultimately preferable to trying to analyze the complex cocktail of causation (unequal parts diet, peer influence, mass media, family genetics and dynamics, and a host of other mystery ingredients) provoking the behavior. I feel confident in my ability to work with people, but medication also has a voice, personality, and needs of its own. This weighs heavier on me than the blood ties that bind me to the swelling ranks of my nieces and nephews. They are mercurial and sweetly mad and right where they should be for the four-and-under crowd. But why should I think that in ten weeks with near-strangers, I might succeed in doing with my "soft skills", my example, and my keen travel sense what parents and doctors have surrendered to big pharma? This, too, draws another dart of longing from the quiver, not so much for the meal and the bed, but for the safety from harm they represent-not just for myself, but for my students as well.


  1. I've been trying to work a Peg Bundy reference into my writing for a while. thanks for beating me to the punch. I like the new format.

  2. thanks, good buddy. my little sister just told me she hates it. will you be my new little sister?