Saturday, February 27, 2010

99 Things I ought to have done

Found this on a friend's blog, and thought I'd share mine.

Copy the list, bold the ones you've done (with explanations if needed), share with friends.
1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band (does a school band count?)
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a thunder and lightning storm (nothing beats a summer storm!)
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community (Lancaster county, Pennsylvania)
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt (I was a child on a trip visiting family in Montana, but won't ever forget it)
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling (snorkeling in the Bahama's on a trip with a girlfriend)
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching (had the chance to when I went to a conference on Cape Cod, but was the typical "good girl" and didn't play hooky with the others--should have!)
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma (can't anymore due to some weird results 2o years ago)
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check (not proud of this one. Total accident- bank read one of my checks written for $200 as $700 and it messed everything up!)
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy (it's still at my mom's- Sorry Mom!)
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job (It was a temp job. I took a day off to take my brother to get his wisdom teeth out. I thought they told me they would call me when I had another job assigned. They thought I would return to the site I was at before I took the day off-they told me not to come back when I didn't show up)
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been a passenger on a motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Kissed a stranger at midnight on New Year’s Eve
86. Visited the White House (as a child, my girl scout troop went down to see the trees decorated inside. I don't remember much of it)
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Got a tattoo
94. Had a baby (times 3)
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee

Wow, I've only done 34 of these things. Clearly, I haven't done enough

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

back to the grind

Today was the first day back to school since the snowmageddon of 2010. We had a delayed opening which made the day even more disjointed than normal.

I left the house with plenty of time to get to work early this morning. Of course, "the best laid plans..." and all that jazz. It ended up taking twice as long to get in to work than usual. Traffic was gnarled by snow plows and front end loaders removing snow, people walking in the streets because the sidewalks hadn't been shoveled, and poor timing of a 2 hour delay for schools and the federal government. AND THE POT HOLES. Holy cow, the potholes. I think I saw one the size of Delaware!

After arriving to the parking lot 10 minutes after I should have already been in my office, I was blocked from parking in my usual place, by what else, a snow plow and front end loader clearing snow from the staff parking lot....while students and staff are arriving. I had to fight for a parking space in the staff lot that is usually not crowded. Someone should have been checking for parking permits today. I finally found a spot at the back of the lot. I think I have to walk a half a mile to my car this afternoon. So stupid!

I really wish the county would get out and actually ticket the people who haven't shoveled the sidewalks. So many kids were walking along the side of major roads in order to get to school this morning. I am amazed that no one got injured (so far). It is absolutely crazy!

As insane as my commute to work was this morning, it felt so good to get here and do SOMETHING. 10 days home with your kids and not much to do is painful! I love them, but there is only so many craft projects you can do!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

reflections on a life lost

If you haven't heard, the DC area got hit with a ridiculous amount of snow this past weekend. During my time "off the grid" I thought about a lot of things, one of which was this post. It has been rattling around in my head since about last Wednesday or so and I am just now getting the opportunity to put fingers to keyboard to get it written.

I love my job as a high school counselor. I enjoy being able to work with kids and make a difference in their lives. There are few perks to the job (yes, I know, I get holidays and SOME time in the summer off- I do have to work 4 weeks in the summer beyond what a teacher has to do), but really the only real rewards of the job are knowing you've helped someone. there is the occasional note from a parent or student to say thank you, but that is about it.

However, last week was one in which the exact opposite happened. I told a colleague of mine on Tuesday, that it was just these occasions that make me wish I had a job where I didn't have to worry about the mental health and well being of anyone other than myself. Sometimes, the responsibility is too great, the depth of a mental illness too deep, and the ability to help becomes futile.

On Monday, February 1st I received a phone call that I will never forget. The head of my department called to let me know that there had been a crisis involving one of my students. My mind raced to a few different students who I knew were troubled, one of which had just been in my office the week prior in crisis, threatening to hurt herself. When I heard his name mentioned instead, I almost collapsed. It was all I could do to hold it together until the end of the phone call. Pat knew there was something wrong, as the call itself is unusual, but he heard the tremor in my voice. He walked out to the kitchen where I was on the phone, ending the call. As soon as I hung up, I leaned on the island with my head down and sobbed. I sobbed like I had lost one of my own family members. One of my seniors that I had been working closely with had committed suicide. Emma thought I was laughing and began to laugh along, until Pat told her I was sad. He told the girls I needed to be left alone and the big girls listened, Emma followed me into the dark living room, crawled up into my lap and just hugged me. How on earth she knew what I needed, I don't know, but it surely helped.

This is the second time I have received a call about the death of a student in a little over a year. I can't exactly put words to my feelings, but this one is different. It completely shook me to my core. When T. died in November of 2008, it was a tragic and random act of violence. In this case, P. decided, with thought and determination, to end his own life. I can't but think of all those left behind in the wake of this horrible event. So many of us asking why and what if.

Everyone was in shock that next day. As I drove into work, I was preparing myself for a stressful day of grief counseling. Of wounds opened and re-opened with the news of another classmate dead. I was prepared, I kept telling myself I needed to hold it together for the kids.

My strength lasted all of 2 minutes. As soon as I entered the building, I started tearing up. By the time I reached my office and saw the beginnings of the crisis team setting plans in motion, I lost it. I remember my vice-principal coming in and talking to me about the plan to follow P's schedule and talk to his classmates. I hadn't even taken my coat off and I looked at him through teary eyes and he said to me, "Oh, I guess you were close with him." Yes, I worked closely with him.

I then realized, there was no way I should be talking to already emotionally fragile teenagers. The contagious crying would never end. At that moment, as my wonderful co-workers came in to see me in a steady stream, the counselor became the counseled.

Over the course of the day, the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. P was an incredibly bright young man who, a year ago, had such great promise. He was a gifted writer who often used his talents to write lyrics for the band he formed with friends. He was a great football player and enjoyed his time on the Varsity team since his freshman year. A broken ankle sidelined him during his junior year, in a rush to get back on the gridiron he permanently damaged his ankle. I believe that this was the beginning of the end for him. He lost his identity and from this point forward, he continued to search to find another way to find his "place" in this world. The band was one way, but it seems it wasn't enough.

Last spring, I began to see P's grades suffer. I was concerned, but not majorly. We met, we talked about it, and he knew what he needed to do to get back on track. This fall, his grades continued to drop and he was often in my office. He would come in to see me, knowing full well what I was going to say and what he "needed" to do. He flashed his big, bright winning smile, and would leave telling me exactly what I wanted to hear. There were flashes of serious problems early in the year. Child Protective Services came to meet with him based on a call they received about him having been kicked out of his house by his mother. Through the whole interview, P was evasive and denied that there was a problem, but in such a way that I was sure there was some truth to the matter. He would bob and weave and you never felt like you were getting a straight answer out of him. That is how many of my conversations went with him.

There had been such a dramatic change in P, that I was concerned that something major was going on with him. We had a conference with his mother and his teachers and everyone voiced their concerns. There wasn't a single teacher in my office that day that didn't truly feel as though there was something amiss with this young man. We so strongly wanted to see him get his life and grades back on track. At the same time, I was beginning to get word from my colleagues that indicated there may have been more going on. His friend's parents had contacted another counselor in my department concerned that P was talking to himself and was declaring himself the son of a king and proclaiming that he was destined for greatness. Another counselor mentioned to me that one of his students felt as though P was stalking her. He had expressed feelings for her that she could not reciprocate, and he took it hard. He was calling her often and was found sitting on her front porch one night.

I spoke to P's mother about my concerns and she had expressed that she was having difficulty at home, but seemed reluctant to pursue anything. I was concerned that there were serious mental health issues that sounded suspiciously like schizophrenia. P's mother did ask me to send home numbers for counseling resources but I also encouraged her to contact his Physician for a direct referral that would work with her insurance.

As the second quarter wore on, the grades were not improving. P seem in denial that there was a problem and refused to let me move him out of his AP English class. He was convinced that he could pass his classes and earn his way to a half-day schedule for second semester (something he really wanted and that his mother said he could have, if he could pass his classes for 1st semester). Around Thanksgiving, his mother asked me to make changes to his schedule to place him in an on-level English class, so he might be able to pass it. It was way too late in the semester to make the change, so we had to wait to make the change until second semester.

Through out all of this, his teachers never stopped communicating to me (and P, as well as his mother and sister) their concerns about his grades and dramatic lack of enthusiasm for school. I met with P regularly and he always left my office with that trademark smile.

During exam week, P. came to me to adjust his schedule for the next semester. He knew he failed English 12A and would need to retake it after school in order to graduate. He seemed to have a different aura about him, as if he had made his peace with his grades and determined to do whatever it takes to get to graduation. I thought we had turned a corner. Just a few days later, I spoke to his music teacher and she expressed that he was not doing anything in class and just kept his head down. I made it a point to write myself a note to see him when all the start-of second-semester hubbub died down. He had also just submitted an application to a local college and I needed to go over a few things with him before I could write my letter of recommendation.

I never got to meet with P. The sticky note with his name on it still hangs off of my monitor. All I could do that horrible day last week is think, what if I had seen him, what if I had noticed something, what if I could have reached him, what if...? I suspected mental health issues, but I never saw him as a suicide risk.

As a counselor, I know that I worked hard to help P, I did what I could with the information I had, but I still couldn't help thinking that there was something more I could have/should have done.

When I met with P's mother that day, I know she was looking to me for answers. Part of me was angry with her for not getting him help, for not being able to look past the cultural stigma of her upbringing to see that he needed help. But all of me was mourning with her, I could see her genuine pain and that her tears, as she clung to me during our embrace, were real; a mother, lost in her grief.