Last night I did five loads of laundry, baked a cake and did bed checks every fifteen minutes, which kind of sounds like a lot, but really it's not. I have a lot of down time each time while things are baking or drying which means that I spend a lot of time reading and I think that might be why my eye has been twitching for a week and they have a dull ache all of the time. It might also be because my schedule did some crazy changing that meant that only had one day off at a time instead of three so I never quite caught up on sleep so the only thing that I had the energy to do in my time off was sleep and play The Sims, also known as, continue to only focus on things close to my face and maybe that's why I shouldn't be looking at the computer screen right now, but I have it dimmed as far as it will go so I think it's ok.
The point is, I basically get paid to do laundry, cook and read but that's not actually the good part. The good part comes at 5:45 am, when I get to wake up the breakfast cook and help her cook, ease her frustrations when the egg doesn't flip or the pancake doesn't turn out perfectly. When instead of letting her get frustrated and give up I get to stand next to her with my own pan and walk through step by step over and over until she can do it on her own. Sometimes it takes until the end of their two weeks as breakfast cook before they're willing to do the things they had trouble with without me by their side, but so far I haven't had a single girl give up on anything as long as I've kept my calm and encouraged them. It may sound stupid, the importance I put on teaching girls to flip eggs, considering the lives a lot of these girls have been through that lead them to using and ending up in juvenile hall in the first place, but that's the thing, that's what most of them need, normalcy. A lot of them really haven't had anyone show them how to make anything more complicated than cereal, a lot of them haven't had people in their lives that encouraged them and showed them the easier way to do things when they were frustrated and gave up, many of them have been using and in trouble for so many years that it's more comfortable for them to find ways to fulfill the expectation that they'll keep fucking up then make attempts to succeed. So that's what I can do in the morning, I can tell them that I really truly believe in their ability to make pancakes and as silly as it sounds, a week later instead of constantly stating that her breakfasts are terrible and the other girls are going to hate it, that girl will be eagerly taking on the challenge and excitedly showing me the things that are turning out well. After all, belief in one's self has to start somewhere, why not in the kitchen?
At 6am I wake the rest of the girls up. At 6:30 I poke my head into everyone's room to make sure they're up and moving and to give them a heads up that they have 15 minutes until breakfast. Most mornings everyone does what they're supposed to do. That is the expectation I set for all of them, even the ones I know regularly have trouble sticking to schedule because the moment I set an expectation for anything less, the moment they sense a loss of confidence in them or respect they will fulfill that lower expectation. Do they always do what they're supposed to perfectly 100% of the time? No. Are there days when it seems like the whole house is moving slower than molasses just to piss me off? Yes. Are they sometimes totally bitchy, grumpy teenagers when I make them respond to me during their first wake up call and again during the 2nd? Of course. But what would you expect if you were waking up any group of teenage girls at 6 in the morning? For me, they're mostly well behaved, but I've seen them with staff that gets more easily flustered or that treats them with less dignity and they don't give a rats ass if they get in trouble if they can push that staff member's buttons instead.
I'm not a hard ass, I tend to be fairly flexible in regards to most things as long as everyone gets their jobs done, but I'm clear on consequences if anyone tries to drag their feet too much and mostly I've found the most effective tools are "Please" and "Thank you". Be polite and decent to the girls and they will be polite and decent to you. I do not expect their respect or trust. Many of them come from households where their only role models were addict parents. They were forced to learn to take care of themselves as best they could for as long as they can remember, they learned early that adults are flawed and often have a natural distrust in adults after years of let downs and that, I can relate to, that, I know intimately. So I do my best to treat them with respect, because I do respect what they've made it through and I respect the decision they've made in regards to their recovery. All of the ones that have been there longer than 6 months have run, but they've come back by choice (relatively speaking, the choice is back to R House or back to juvenile hall, but juvenile hall has less rules and expectations) and none of them have used. They are carrying a lot on their shoulders for 15 to 17 year olds.
On a daily basis my job is not hard on me. I am aware that most of these girls will relapse. The best I can do is help them build some basic self confidence and discipline and know that the other staff are giving them the basic skills and awareness of AA/NA to know how to find a meeting and start their recovery whenever they decide to get sober. This is enough for me. This is not the part that as is difficult.
The part that is difficult is the morning where I look at the girls and realize that it's only the twist of fate of being born into a wealthy and caring enough family to be taken away from the same shitty situation most of these girls have lived in that kept my life on a different track than theirs. All it takes in most cases is one adult that shows they care and encourages a child to keep them from delinquency and/or addiction. What kind of fucked up world do we live in where these girls didn't have a single aunt, uncle, grandparent, teacher or neighbor that couldn't take the time to act as a mentor or role model? Seriously, think about it. And then go become a Big Brother or Big Sister, or volunteer with AmeriCorps or a local battered woman's shelter or CASA or any number of local community organizations that would only require a couple of hours of your time a week and maybe my job would become obsolete or at least a lot less needed.