Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chronicles of an Overnight Shift


6/22/2011- 3:46AM
Tonight has been tough.
Since the new baby arrived today, I had a few extra chores to take care of. Installing car seats, washing all of her clothes, filling out/organizing paperwork, etc.
One of my roommates came by to help me, which was exceedingly nice of her. But it did make it take a bit longer. We like to talk. I was hoping to finish everything quickly so I could start studying while my mind was still able to function, but by the time she left at 2 o’clock I had already missed by optimal study-time window.
I opened up my psychology book and started reading about behavioral neuroscience. My goal was to read a whole chapter and take the quiz on it by the end of my shift.
At this point in time, things are not looking promising.
After reading approximately 3.2 pages, I lost almost all ability to comprehend the words on the page. It took me about 20 minutes to realize I was just staring at it blankly, so I decided to put my work to the side and take a really quick power nap.
(Don’t tell my boss.)
Unfortunately (but actually fortunately), my maternal instincts seem to kick in during these shifts. I somehow develop the ability to hear every sound in the house, so each time a child so much as sighs in her sleep I am instantly alert. The boy in the farthest room from me could just shift in his bed, and my heart will skip a beat and then immediately start racing.
According to what I just read in my psych book, that’s my sympathetic nervous system’s response to receiving the auditory stimulus of what could possibly be a child in distress.
Literally- I read that right before my brain stopped working.
Anyway, I couldn’t sleep at all- even though I was unbelievably tired. I was too nervous a child would wake up and- for some reason or another- need me.
Which is exactly what happened about 10 minutes in to my attempted power nap.
The baby started whimpering a little bit, so I thought I’d go in and pat her back for a few minutes to help her calm down. Immediately upon entering the bedroom, however, I realized she needed a lot more than a pat on the back. She needed a diaper change.
Stat.
So I pulled her out of bed- effectively waking her up the rest of the way. I changed her diaper, which was quite difficult given the fact that both of her legs are covered from top to bottom in casts- and started to snap her pjs back up.
It was at this point that I realized she needed a lot more than a diaper change.
Her pjs were soaked. So I had to change them completely.
I managed to do that with relative ease and laid her back down in her crib. At which point- you guessed it- I realized she needed a lot more than a change of clothes. She needed a change of sheets.
This was way more than I bargained for at 3 in the morning.
When I finally got her new sheets situated, I put her back into her crib. Again.
Naturally, she started crying.
A lot.
Worried she’d wake her roommate up, I started patting her back and singing some lullabies. She’d quiet down for a little while, but then she’d remember she didn’t want to be in her bed and start crying again. It was really sad. (And, let’s be honest, a little frustrating at the same time.) I sat there for about 40 minutes trying to calm her, but eventually I had to let her cry it out.
It took all of one minute for her to self-soothe and fall asleep.
Go figure.
She didn’t cry for long, but it was so hard to let it happen! It really is heartbreaking to listen to a crying baby without being able to help. But we both survived, so I decided to go back to the living room to attempt studying once again.
I sat down on the couch and picked up my book, at which point I realized (twist!) the baby was not the only one who needed a change of clothes.
I was covered in everything that leaked out of her diaper and through her pajamas. And I smelled awful.
Really, really awful.
Fortunately, a stack of t-shirts that were donated last week was sitting on the kitchen counter. My roommate forgot to take them home with her- hallelujah!! So, after a quick wardrobe change, I am sitting here now with 1) a dry shirt, 2) only a lingering smell of urine (huge improvement!), and c) a much, much deeper appreciation for Al Roker and the Today Show’s incredible excess of donations.
I am, however, no closer to finishing my homework.
Back to it, I guess….
It’s now 4:25. One and a half hours til bedtime….

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Also...

I forgot to mention...
If you happen to read this before the Today Show airs tomorrow, watch it. That's Wednesday June 15th.

You might see me if you look carefully, but you'll definitely see- and hear- more about Casa.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Poor Neglected Blog...

I know I've been awful at updating this thing, but life has been a little bit busy and I want to make sure I write an adequate post. Because I have a lot of things to say.
I will try- so hard- to write something legitimate soon. Like in the next few days. So... stay tuned. If you want.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hello June

Well, I finished my third day of work with the kids.
I am alive.
And work is good.
But it is very, very challenging.

I'm tired, but I'll try to write a better update soon.

Just know that things are going well!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Finally...

Today I get to put all of those long hours of training into practice.
I'm starting work for real this afternoon. Maybe earlier if I can finish all of my homework.
Yes, I have homework.
I'm really nervous. I feel like I've already forgotten everything I learned in training.

But, in case I haven't already said it in an earlier post, I am very, very excited.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day Three...

Okay. I promised some more stories, but so little and so much has happened in the past few days (I'll explain later), I'm not really sure where to begin. There has definitely been a lot to process in the short time I've been here. Which means my train of thought might be hard to follow in this post. Sorry.

I'll start with a CPR training story (I know I said I had a few, but I have a lot of other things to write about, so I'm sticking to one). Although, now that I'm about to write it, I'm realizing it might not be as entertaining as I thought it was yesterday. But things could get a little serious after this, so I'll try to make it good.

We went to our CPR training the other night, which lasted a little less than 3 hours.
It was the shortest CPR training I've ever been to.
And the strangest.
Our instructor was really nice, but I'm not sure she was what you would call thorough. And she taught things a bit differently than I've learned them in the past.
For instance, every time I've been through CPR/first aid training before I was told you have to ask permission before you help an adult in crisis. On the other hand, when you run into an injured child (and there is no legal guardian present) you have to assume implied consent and help said child immediately.
This is not what I was taught Wednesday.
Apparently, if an 8-year-old has glass in her foot and she does not want your assistance, you cannot help her. What you can do, however, is try to talk her into letting you help. You have to be calm and reassuring, saying something to the effect of:
"My name is such and such, and I want to help you. Don't worry, I've done this millions of times, and I'm really good at it. I just want to make sure you're around for as long as possible... You know, make sure you stay with us for a while."
...
Maybe I was a weird 8-year-old, but I'm pretty sure I would not have found that reassuring. In fact, it might have caused me to freak out a bit more than the glass alone would have.
And that is essentially a direct quote.
It took a lot for me not to laugh at the scenarios the instructor came up with.
So there you go. If you ever want to convince a child to allow you to help in an emergency, just tell him he will die without you.

Moving on...
Pretty much the rest of the time I've been here, I've been sitting through hours upon hours of training sessions. Which has been tough, since I have a frightfully short attention span in such situations. It's just not how I learn things, I'm afraid.
Today was an 8 hour behavioral intervention session, which we were (thankfully) able to break up with a few quick videos. I think some of them were made in the '80s, but I actually really enjoyed them. It was essentially a crash course in child development and psychology. Which was both fascinating and an incredible amount to take in.
The videos focused on the development of abused or neglected children and talked about how such trauma can cause huge delays in a person's emotional, mental, and even physical development.

(This is where I have a lot I want to share, but have no idea where to begin. Bear with me.)

A lot of kids in the foster care/adoption system today have experienced several types of abuse and neglect. And many dealt with it long before they were even born. A lot of their moms were physically abused, addicted to drugs, prostituted themselves for money, or all three- even throughout their pregnancies! This affected women's hormone and stress levels, as well as the nutrition and oxygen able to reach the baby. This (obviously) had huge impacts on the unborn children.
And not in a positive way.

Did you know that the brain grows faster in the first three years of life than at any other time? And that after those three years, it is significantly more challenging to change the patterns it has already put into place?
Not only that, but as your brain develops in those beginning years, it loses the synapses that don't receive stimuli. They shut down forever.
Example: If you don't speak to a child in the first years of its life, it will essentially lose all ability to acquire language skills.
In the same way, kids who are neglected during that time can lose all ability to empathize with others. They deal with attachment issues- even as infants- and struggle with any type of socialization.
Kids that witness or experience abuse will develop a mental template that labels that as "normal," and will be prone to aggressive and violent behavior.
And these are struggles that will follow them for the rest of their lives. The stress and chaos these kids experience in the womb and in the years after birth will impact them permanently.

These are the types of kids I'll be working with.
Which is a rather daunting thought.
But, in spite of that, I am so excited- and grateful- to do this job.

We also talked today about having an outlet. Having some thing or some way to release all of the heaviness we see in these kids' lives, because they have been through some truly horrific and completely heart-breaking things. Words cannot describe the things some of them have experienced. And most of them aren't even in kindergarten yet! Our instructor talked about not being able to watch the news, because if she did it would just be too much sadness.

Some of these kids are so impacted and affected by their pasts that it seems unlikely they'll ever be capable of changing their futures. They've become so used to chaos and trauma that it's normal, and that could mean they'll always function in ways that don't make sense to people who don't know their stories.

But that's why we're here.
To provide them with a new pattern of normalcy. To re-train their brains, so to speak.

A psychologist in one of the videos today talked about a somewhat cruel experiment a group of scientists performed a long time ago. They put rats in ice water and timed how long they would swim before they gave up and drowned.
It wasn't long.
Later they put new rats in the water, let them swim for a few minutes, and then took them out. They let them rest and put them in the water a second time the next day, at which point the rats swam for hours. They were able to work harder to survive because they had "the internal expectation that there would be a different outcome."

They had hope.

This summer, I have the opportunity to show these kids that there can be a different outcome.

So even if they end up back with their families, back in the midst of abuse and neglect and sadness (as many of them unfortunately will), they know there is the possibility of something better.

They will have hope.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"With the possible exception of the equator, everything begins somewhere."

It has been a very busy few days here in Houston.

Tuesday was my birthday. It included running errands, getting lost downtown, lunch with dear friends at the Hobbit Cafe, moving some things into my new home, and dinner with some of my family. The second half was lovely, the first half... not so much.

The day started poorly when I woke up in a state of mild panic. For some reason, as I was sleeping comfortably, a horrible thought entered my mind...

I have no idea what the hell I am doing.

Please forgive my harsh language, but apparently the half-asleep and completely stressed version of myself is not the best at editing those types of words from her vocabulary.

Anyway, I was laying there in bed when I realized that, in just over 24 hours, I would be somewhere completely new, working with a bunch of people I had never met, and sharing a house (and a room) with total strangers.
What was I thinking when I applied for this job??
I wasn't even completely sure what "this job" would look like, for goodness' sake!
Again- panic.

You see, one of the perks I have experienced in having an awesome twin sister is that I have always had a back-up friend around. So in the few instances in life when I was going somewhere new- college, for instance- I always had a friend close by. (This has only failed me once- in middle school- and that story is too traumatic (read: pathetic) for me to relive here. Maybe I'll tell you someday if you ask, but it might make you cry for the 11-year-old-me. And by that I mean laugh at the current me.)
To make this whole built-in-best-friend thing even better, my sister is really personable and great at meeting people, so she can do the work to make a ton of new friends and I can reap the benefits of her efforts. It's awesome. I'd compare it to the relationship between a shark and a remora, but that seems like a slightly flawed analogy.

But back to Tuesday. I realized that, for the first time ever in my life, I would be left alone to make new friends and have new experiences. Which might be ridiculous to admit since I'm 24 these days, but whatever. Deal with me.

So I'm panicking.
I'm lying in bed with all of these thoughts racing through my head, when, fortunately, I recalled a Mark Twain quote I came across recently. He once brilliantly said the following:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the thing you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

When I read this, it really resonated with me because, I'll admit it, I'm a little bit of a chicken. New things frighten me just a little bit, and the thought of missing out on great adventures because of that fear frightens me even more. It's awful.

And even though this might not be an extreme adventure (I'm only sort of in a new place; I did grow up less than an hour away from here), it is something different. I am sailing into the unknown- even if it's on a slow tugboat instead of a quick... whatever kind of boat is really sleek and fast and awesome-looking.
And that is exciting! (When I stop thinking about how it's terrifying.)

So I'll start with this small adventure, and after this I'll have more! I'll be starting graduate school (Lord help me) and working in a completely new city with a lot of new people for my internship. And then maybe I'll do something even crazier after that! The world is my oyster!
(I literally use that phrase every time I have the opportunity.) My life might be ordinary, but I definitely intend to have as many adventures as possible. Which I think sometimes means just looking at things a little differently and recognizing the adventures I'm already in the midst of- even if they are small.

So that's how I'm feeling now. Mostly excited, still a little nervous, and also a little bit overwhelmed. Yesterday was the first day of training on the new job, and holy cow... it was long. We have a manual that appears to have approximately 10 million pages in it. I think it weighs as much as I do.
I'd update you on everything from yesterday, but I feel like this post is already revoltingly lengthy. Plus I have to hold something over your heads to make sure you check back here every once-in-a-while. So, just to keep you on your toes, in my next entry I'll write about exciting things like drug testing, manual reading, and CPR training!
Alright, none of those things sound like they'll make interesting stories, but I am pretty sure I'll be able to squeeze a few out of CPR training at the very least. Our teacher was something else...
So stay tuned!
And have a great (and adventurous!) day!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Drug Tests and the DPS

Well, as is often the case when I'm trying to get a lot of things done, I had a frustratingly unproductive day today. And not because of a lack of effort on my part. Here's the scoop.
I need to get a basic drug test for my school internship that starts this fall. Since I'll be working in Ft. Worth, my employers sent me a form to get tested at some clinic up there. The problem, however, is that I am currently living about 5 hours south of Ft. Worth.
I asked if I could just get the test done somewhere closer to home, my employer said yes, and I thought I was good to go. But how wrong I was. How very, very wrong.
The other day I spend at least 30 minutes on the phone being transferred from person to person til I was back where I was started, just so I could be told that the clinic I usually go to here does not offer the drug test I need.
Blerg.
On the upside, they were nice enough to tell me about a different place nearby that offers the test. And, since I was still in Waco at the time of this eternal phone call, I was able to go get frozen yogurt (which will henceforth be called froyo any time I mention it) afterward to ease my anger a bit.
This failed attempt did annoy me a bit, but it was much better than today.
Not long after that happened I set up an appointment at the lab they suggested. My appointment was scheduled for this morning at 9:15- which meant that my other errand for the day would have to wait. More on that later.
When I arrived at this lab and got stuck in what, at the time, I thought was a long line. The lady up front was taking forever. But eventually I made it up there. I signed in, and not long afterward they called me up. I was feeling good about how it was going until the receptionist said "Do you have your registration forms?"
"....Umm... what?"
"Your registration forms. We can't perform the test unless we have forms from your employer. Did they give you any?"
"...No?"
She sent me back to my seat and told me to hurry and scan through my email to see if I was wrong. To make a long story short, I wasn't. So about an hour after I entered the building, I left without passing the stupid drug test.
Because they wouldn't let me take it.
I'm still not sure why I couldn't take it anyway, but apparently no one is allowed to screen themselves for drugs unless a higher power tells them to. Go figure.
So once again, I am frustrated after trying to get things taken care of for this drug test. But this time I couldn't go get froyo. Ohhh no. Instead, I had to go to...
The DPS.
And let me tell you, nothing makes me feel like a terrible Christian quite like waiting in line at the DPS.
And wait I did.
For more than

four

hours.

And how long was I in the back getting my license renewed? Less than 4 minutes.
Yes. I timed it.
It was awful. I was stuck in front of a woman who- based on her phone conversations- was selling illegal copies of workout DVDS, and I was facing a woman who- based on her outfit, iPad, pink sparkly iPhone case and, again, her phone conversations- could easily be on an episode of Real Housewives of Houston. At one point, I heard her say to her friend on the other line "I mean really... This place it Hell! I should take a picture and show you the people sitting around me. I shouldn't have to be here!"
Apparently she thought we were all both diseased and deaf.
Anyway, I made it out of that place moments before I lost my sanity. But it drained me of any motivation I had to get other things done. Like getting my oil changed, which I guess I'll have to do tomorrow.
So there you have it, folks. Another day of adventures for me. But the real adventure begins soon! I'm about to consolidate my packing and get things organized to move downtown tomorrow! I won't be staying there yet- just moving my stuff in before I start work on Wednesday morning. But I'm (still) pumped!
Thus ends my most boring post yet. I'm sorry.
Kaley out.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Big Move

As of yesterday, I have officially moved to Houston.

Well... sort of.

I'm just north of Houston for a few days, living with the fam until I start work Wednesday morning.
My mom is on vacation, which means it will be just me and my three brothers for a few days. I'm excited to spend some time with them, although the thought of listening to Eminem blasting through the walls of the room next to mine doesn't seem particularly enthralling. Some people might be surprised by this, because I probably strike most people as a hardcore rap fan, but I've never really gotten into Eminem's music.
Go ahead and take a second to recover from that shock.

Anyway, I have a lot to get done in the next few days. Mostly things like renewing my driver's license, getting a drug test for my fall internship, having my oil changed... things that are possibly too thrilling to write about in here. I will also, on Tuesday, celebrate my 24th birthday. I've been told that this is a big one, since I'll be 24 and my birthday- as it often does- will fall on the 24th. It's supposed to be magical, but I have a feeling it will be dreadfully boring. Most of my birthdays tend to be that way- it just comes with the territory of being born in May, I think.
Fortunately, I did get to have a sort-of-birthday-dinner with my twinner and a few friends before leaving town. And last night my dear friend Mo accompanied me out for a night on the town as a semi-birthday/we're-both-stuck-in-Houston-for-the-summer/we-survived-the-rapture...again! celebration. So, really, I'm doing pretty well in terms of birthday festivities.

As uneventful as the next few days promise to be, I am relieved to have a bit of down-time before I start work. It will be good to have some time to check things off the to-do list and (maybe) rest up a bit. Judging on what little I know about what my job will look like at this point, I think it might be a slightly exhausting summer.
But in a very good way.
I am really excited.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Where I'll Be:

For those of you who are interested, here's a description of Casa de Esperanza de los Ninos, which is where I'll be spending the next 10 weeks of my life.

For 29 years Casa de Esperanza de los Ninos, Inc. (House of Hope for Children) has been providing safe and loving homes for infants and young children affected by abuse, neglect, and/or HIV in Houston, Texas and surrounding communities. It is the only agency in the Houston area providing specialized care for young children exposed to HIV/AIDS. Casa de Esperanza provides residential, medical and psychological care according to the needs of each child, while working with the birth parents to resolve their crisis. When family reunification is not possible, Casa de Esperanza can implement adoptions at no cost to the adopting family. The ultimate goal is to break the often multi-generational cycles of abuse and neglect. No fees are charged for any services, and the agency accepts no government funding. Therefore, it is dependent on donations to assist in the care of the children.

Pretty awesome, right?
If you are bored and want to learn more about it, check out www.casahope.org

Thursday, May 19, 2011

An End. And a Beginning...

"The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
"
-JRR Tolkien

Sorry for the nerdy intro, but I recently watched all of the Lord of the Rings films with some friends. I couldn't help it.

Today was my last day of nannying. I've been working for an amazing family for 2 years now, and it truly has been incredible. I've seen one little boy grow from an infant to a toddler and watched as they welcomed another precious boy to the family. I've changed countless of dirty diapers, been covered in spit up, mopped up vomit, and I even once had the opportunity to dispose of a half-eaten squirrel (shout out to the dogs). I have also seen first steps, heard first words, spent way too many hours listening to Raffi, and shared an immeasurable amount of joy and laughter. As I look back on the last two years, I feel remarkably blessed. And very, very thankful.
It was a teary "see you later" today. And really, teary doesn't even begin to describe it. I'm generally not a big crier, but I was an embarassing mess. I know I'm going to see this family again after the summer (assuming we're not raptured at 6PM on 5/21!), and I fully intend to be a part of their lives for a long time (whether they like it or not), but even so I was sad to walk out the door this evening. As I watched them waving to me from the front porch, I couldn't help but think about the first day I met them all. Their son was an only child at the time, and he couldn't even crawl. He mostly just laid on a mat and watched himself in the mirror above his head. Now he's running around, eating solid foods and talking constantly. I remember working so hard to teach him how to blow a kiss and (almost as important) how to do a "Sic 'Em Bears," and now he can do both of those things masterfully. We've been through a lot together, so it's sad to see this chapter of my life ending.
But as hard as it is to finish these pages, I am excited to turn the next one and see what lies ahead.
I already know the basics.
I'm moving to Houston for the summer in about 2 days to work at a foster care agency. But, honestly, I have no idea what to expect. When I stop and think about it (which I generally try not to do), I am a little bit terrified. It's going to be a tough 10 weeks. But at the same time, I am so excited. For the challenges, the stories, the joys, the heartaches, the learning and the love that I will have the opportunity to experience.
Hopefully this will become a journal of sorts for those things. A place for me to write about what I'm doing and learning so that I can share it with you- whoever you may be. So if you ever happen to read this, thank you for walking alongside me as road I'm on once again joins a larger way. I'm looking forward to the adventures it holds.
And whither then? I cannot say.*

*(I'll try to pull the nerd card out a lot less in future posts.)
(Maybe.)