On Mondays I work in the Day Treatment Intensive program which provides a welcome distraction from the burn out I'v been experiencing in the Outpatient clinic. I first volunteered in October and have been steadily enjoying it more and more. There are two programs: the morning is for preschoolers and Kindergartners and the afternoon is for school age kids. All of these children have been diagnosed with severe emotional and behavioral problems that are often associated with unstable families, trauma, abuse, the effects of poverty and poor nutrition, the effects of substance abuse while in utero and on and on. Putting these issues aside and just getting to know each child has been a joy. These kids are well oriented to therapy and know all of the buzz terms we use during their day that it might be quite possible for a couple of these five year olds to actually run a process group.
I first met NJ when she was three years old, a beautiful little girl being raised by her grandmother following her fathers death. Her grandmother's subsequent depression and mother's absence was clearly affecting her. Sessions were short, structured and offered emotional containment. What I remember most about her is how she loved the sand tray which I placed on the floor for her atop a picnic blanket. Like any three year old she scooped up toys without giving it much thought and dropped them into the sand, she scattered sand in the far corners of the room, detoured for hide and seek, and then with fatigue from the driving force within her, climbed into the sand tray. I had forgotten about her 4th birthday party we had in my office but yesterday she reminded me. Where had that memory gone?
The day before Thanksgiving, I wandered into the Day Treatment room when she ran up to me to show me her t-shirt. On it is a picture of her father with his birth and death date and 'Rest In Peace' written above. As she was showing me her t-shirt I had the faint memory that I had seen it before, only the t-shirt was much larger on her when she was a much littler girl. Just then a little boy came over to say hello when NJ turned and told him her father died; the little boy looked scared and shocked. NJ was standing on my left, the little boy on my right, I was kneeling down so I could be at level with their eyes, a hand touching each of them as if to gather them both to safety. At least, that is what I felt like doing. The boy was learning to comfort his friend, and she, beyond her years in sadness and loss, coached him to do so. It is moments like this that make it all worth while and remind me that I do not need to heal them, but to facilitate and teach them to give themselves what they need.
One of the things I love to do is make up stories. I base my stories on living, real life creatures that inhabit the characteristic qualities of the child. The creatures will utilize their body or their environment to find a solution to the problem the child presents. Reading stories to small groups of children is also a wonderful experience. For kids whose parents don't read to them they experience the attunement of the reader as well as the experience of taking the story in. I always try to check in with each child following the story to ask them their favorite part and to draw out their thoughts regarding the part of the story that fits with their life. The last part of the exercise is to provide an art activity that prompts the child to tell their own story as it fits in their world. My shelf is becoming full of books I've found, bought or snagged that have the capacity to become a therapeutic tool or a helpful learning guide for someone who may need it.
Yesterday, the same little boy handed me three books to read, the ones I brought in from my office that I was meaning to choose from to develop a group activity around. We sat on the couch and I covered him with a quilt. He is in the first grade with limited speech that varies between English and Spanish. I read him a story about a mouse named Frederick who didn't partake in the gathering of food and other chores that needed to be done to prepare for the long and cold winter. Instead, Frederick gathered the rays of the sun, the colors of the Earth, and the taste of corn and saved them for when his mouse family needed them. Closing our eyes we imagined the sun warming us with food in our bellies, and passed the time away just as Frederick guided his mouse family to do when it became too cold and there was little food left. As his eyes closed and he saw the image of the sun and began to gather the rays, his face lit up. So I began to gather my own rays, finding comfort that against the odds, the genuine feelings we have for these children can offer guidance that no amount of traditional "therapy" can provide.
Kitchen Table Kibitzing is a community series for those who wish to share part of the evening around a virtual kitchen table with kossacks who are caring and supportive of one another. So bring your stories, jokes, photos, funny pics, music, and interesting videos, as well as links—including quotations—to diaries, news stories, and books that you think this community would appreciate.
Readers may notice that most who post diaries and comments in this series already know one another to some degree, but newcomers should not feel excluded. We welcome guests at our kitchen table, and hope to make some new friends as well.