Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Benchwarmers Defense of the Participation Trophy

It's a common refrain to hear these days about how my generation is lazy and entitled. I won't go into how ignorant that statement is (there are a plenty of lazy entitled people in my generation, but they were in yours too, and the one before, only now we have social media to share about them).  That's another topic for another day.

Months ago I ready a story about a pro-athlete who took away his kids participation trophies to "teach them a lesson," and SO MANY people were commending him for it. It made me sad, but this is a common thought many people share. I get where it comes from, and I see what they mean, but I beg to differ.

What I hear often is that the "participation trophy" or "participation ribbon" breeds this entitlement. That the every-kid-gets-a-trophy generation is ruining America. What's funniest is I often hear people MY AGE complaining about this, people from my hometown - talking about how kids these days are all getting participation awards and are being raised to think everyone deserves to win, when I know good and well they were on the same teams I was, and guess what - we got participation awards. Almost always. Do I see things happening in my generation and the one after that breed this entitlement? Sure, but I think scapegoating this to the participation award over and over is a tired statement that simply doesn't makes sense.

Allow me to elaborate.

I participated in EVERYTHING from the moment I was allowed do. To this day I don't know what to do with free time. It's never been a part of my life. I was a cheerleader from kindergarten to twelfth grade, I played tee-ball at 4 and continued playing softball through high school. I ran cross country. I was on the track team. I was in the beta club and the student council and the "whatever you name it if I was allowed to show up I was there" club. I played two instruments in the band and studied others on the side. Gymnastics, church choir, drama club, dancing.... EVERYTHING. When it comes to participation, I'm your queen.

If you visit my parents house and look in the bedroom where they store all of my things, you'll see a host of trophies, ribbons, medals, etc. One might see that and think "man, she was good at EVERYTHING." And you'd be dead wrong. Pretty much the only things I ever truly excelled at were cheerleading and band. I spent 13 years on tee-ball and softball teams warming the bench. I finished dead last in more cross country meets than I can count. Yet I cannot recall a single time when at the end of a season I wasn't given some sort of trophy, ribbon, certificate, etc. I'm sure there were, but I can't recall.

So maybe I'm entitled. Probably. We all are, aren't we? Let's discuss.

I loved playing softball. I loved singing the dugout chants while my teammates were batting. I loved spending my Saturdays at the ballfields. But you know what? I was TERRIBLE at it. Not just like, a little bad, I was off-the-deep-end bad. I've discovered as an adult that my theory that I had depth perception issues that were preventing me from catching and hitting properly was true - I do in fact have a sight problem that affects depth perception, but I digress. I was out there for every practice. I asked for extra time at practice so I could get better. I practiced pitching in my back yard in hopes that maybe I was good at that and I could show it to a pitching coach one day and they'd let me try my hand at it. I was not just in, I was all in. Yet every week when the lineups came out I was always a sub. I played the bare minimum innings required by the recreation department and that was all. It didn't bother me all that much, it just was what it was.

In high school, we didn't have to try out to be on the team. We were all allowed to participate - knowing that there was a chance we may never play. In order to letter, one had to complete nine varsity innings over the course of the season - our games were 7 innings so that literally mean playing just over one game. It took me three years to reach a year in which I played enough varsity innings to letter. 30+ games per year, I sat in the dugout tracking  pitches and refilling gatorades. But I was there. I travelled all over Louisiana and the Gulf Coast with my team, gaining some of the more memorable social experiences of high school, seeing small towns and high schools I would have otherwise never known existed, learning valuable life lessons. Softball was a crucial part of my high school experience - yet in my junior year I nearly quit. It was exhausting - as it fell the same time of year as track, which I was also a part of. I knew I wasn't good at it. I knew I wasn't going to get much playing time, and I just couldn't figure out its value in my schedule. At the end of the year I'd be awarded with a certificate of some sort, and MAYBE I'd finally get a notch for my letter jacket, but that was about all my high school self could see of it. Thankfully, my track coach told me I was foolish and encouraged me to continue. And I did.

At the end of my senior year I received an award for my dedication. It was incredibly meaningful. I was awarded for getting out there every day and asking for extra practice all while knowing I probably wasn't going to ever play in any important games. I still strived to. This lesson is SO valuable. When you're in a job you don't necessarily like and don't see yourself moving forward, but you don't have a valid reason to quit, pressing on gets noticed. And even if it doesn't, you know you're pressing forward. There's no value I can place on the positive impact being a crappy softball player who never quit had on my life.

And then there's cross country.

Folks, in middle school I could not run the two laps around the parking lot without wanting to cry. I was always the last person to finish. Yet something sparked me to want to start running for fun (can you imagine ME not a runner? like, think about this).  I would get up at 5 am and drag my Dad out to the high school football field where I'd run eight laps before school. Dragging my feet and wanting to cry half the time. My sophomore year of high school, I decided to join cross country. Again, a team we didn't have to try out for. Our coach built a system in which points were earned for participation, and those points translated to ability to letter, the privilege to travel to the state meet if in Natchitoches even if you didn't qualify place-wise, etc. My first year it was a chore. I dragged myself out to a couple of summer practices, and then when the season got going I made it to all of them - gradually learning to actually like it. I earned my points. I got to go to the State meet each year. It was what I looked forward to most.

My cross country friends and coach changed my high school experience altogether. I had a new social circle, and a coach who believed in everyone. Yet here I was, dragging up the back of the pack - never scoring for my team (you had to be in the top 8 on your team to score any given meet - I usually was 10 or 11 out of 11).  I worked my tail off for THREE YEARS to get my two-mile race time under 20 minutes. It was hard. But guess what, I got to participate, and I got rewards for my participation. And you know what else, I busted my tail just as much as the good people did, so why not? They got more rewards - chances to compete at higher levels, scholarships, extra patches for their jackets, etc. Participation awards do not necessarily mean that the achievement awards go away. 

Had I been discouraged from being on the cross country team or not rewarded for my efforts my life would be DRAMATICALLY different. For those who know me, you know I run. A lot. A lot a lot. I don't run like an ultra-runner, but at any given time I'm running 30-40 miles per week. I could go on and on and on about how valuable running is to my mental health and general well-being, seriously - it's so so so so so important. The lessons I learn from running and the dedication it takes and that feeling of beating MYSELF from one race to the next, oh my I could go on all day.

But all that because my participation was recognized. I was never discouraged.

I look around and see kids like myself busting their tails and never being quite so good. I agree with not giving awards to kids who just show up, sign their name, and never do anything, but when a kid is out there week after week participating, practicing, doing the same drills the uber-talented kids are - there is value in recognizing that. Trust this benchwarmer when I say it.

 I see a lot of the people who were really good at the sports in high school no longer being athletic at all. They might casually hit the gym once or twice a week, sometimes, but sports are no longer a part of their lives. Not everyone, but many, and yet I see many people like myself who were not very good, but we're still at it. We learned that participation is what matters. I actually see the opposite - the people who were really good and knew they were going to win have no drive once there's nothing to win. It often doesn't translate to other arenas of their lives. Yet those of us who always knew that just being out there and putting forth the effort mattered, we know that that's how life works. You aren't always going to win, but your efforts are valuable.

I recently have started placing in my age group in some races. I now tend to finish in the top quarter of participants in almost every race I run.  It is icing on a cake that took many years to bake. It gives me an incentive to push harder - but I'm not planning on placing in the NYC Marathon this November. I'm not planning on coming in the top three at the Brooklyn Half. But gosh darnit, getting a medal at the end of months and months of training feels good. I busted my tail, and I get something for it, and I don't feel entitled to that at all.

I love sharing what being a crappy athlete who never quit has done for my life, and will gladly go on and on about it to anyone who cares to listen. We talk about participation awards like they're this new thing. They're not. you probably got a few and don't remember. There are plenty of reasons to think people are entitled, but blaming "participation awards" is simply misplaced.

Friday, February 12, 2016

4 Train Musings of my Social Worker Brain

I had today off from my full time job and, as I often do when I have a weekday off, I decided to return to the classroom for a little extra cash. It's a mind-break from the puzzle that is social work, and gives me the chance to spend more time with kids and teens themselves - which I sadly don't get to do as often these days despite the fact that I essentially parent ten of them (or so their schools think I do).

The school where I taught is en route to my office so I was engaging in essentially the same daily commute with a plan to get off the train a few stops earlier. For some reason I decided to change to an N train - something I typically don't do because I've learned it isn't always faster - and then I got on a 4 instead of a 5 at Atlantic Avenue knowing I'd have to transfer at Franklin - something else I typically don't do because, well, I tend to doze on the train and I don't want to miss the transfer.

As I stepped onto the 4 train I immediately was taken aback at the sight of a woman sitting across from me in a long ombre-blonde wig and pants that were pulled down to her knees. Yes, her bare backside was squished right up against the same subway seat thousands of other riders sit down on every day. But this is New York, and I've seen crazier, so I kindof brushed it off and felt sad thinking about how she must have some mental health issues to work out like most people sitting inappropriately on the train and went about my normal ritual of rapping along to Hamiltunes and reminding myself not to stay on the train at Franklin.

I then noticed her top. This was a rather large woman - the denim jacket in her hand clearly reading 5x, which was probably a little too large but not by much - yet all she was wearing was this tiny zip-up hoodie that probably belonged to a child. Her entire right breast was poking out from under the sweater, and no there was no infant attached to it. She then began speaking. She was smiling and tossing back her hair as though she were flirting with a man she just met, telling him about how she was "cherokee and white" (she was not white, I can't speak for her Native American side though) and that's why he found her attractive. She said several other flirtatious comments to this man who was not there. It seemed clear at this point that she was in the middle of either some sort of schizophrenic episode or had gotten her hands on some K2, the latter seeming more likely.

Still, this all falls into the realm of fairly standard New Yorker behavior.

I then noticed that the two quiet, well dressed little girls next to her were playing their DS and not even a little bit concerned about moving away from her. They appeared to be around 8-10 years old and, while a LITTLE early,  it isn't uncommon for kids that age to ride to school on the train or bus unescorted at that point. But there were empty seats abounding, why weren't they moving? Could they be with this woman? Nah, they're not even reacting. They're so well dressed, they're just distracted by the game and don't feel like getting up.  Also, what was I going to do, jump up and ask them in a closed train within earshot of the obviously unpredictable woman? Nah I'm good.

We pulled into the station where I exit the train and hop over to the train I need to take. I look back as the woman continues to yell at this "man" she is speaking to and notice another woman around my age speaking to the little girls. She exits and I ask her if the little girls were with the woman.

"Yes. I work at Kings County and I told them that when they get to school they need to tell the school mommy needs to go to the hospital." She said they were receptive, and I then realized their quiet ignorance of the situation was likely a defense mechanism for the fear and uncertainty of what exactly was happening. How could it be that these two girls with perfectly styled hair and coordinated outfits were sitting next to their mother as she didn't even have her clothes on properly much less stylishly. I then began to wish I had asked what school the attend. The social worker in me wanted to get to the bottom of this and start making phone calls to the school to see if they could be waiting for the mother if and when she arrived to offer help, but I needed to catch my train and those trains don't wait - and I was already at that point where the next train would have made me officially late (this was one of those "last minute" assignments where I had to run out the door). I boarded the 2 train with a heavy heart.

And then the train didn't move.

I struck up a conversation with the Kings County lady and a colleague of hers who said she's seen this family on the 4 train more than once. We waited as the trains continued not to move. I began to worry I would be late, but also to question whether or not I should try to quickly run across the platform to do something ANYTHING to help these two little girls.

"Due to a stalled train and a signal malfunction there will be no 2 or 5 service between Franklin Avenue and Flatbush Avenue."

We wait a minute to see if they repeat that message, and they do, and I realize I've been given a chance. I'm going to be late at this point, what's a few more seconds? I dart back across to the 4, which has inexplicably also been hanging out in the station, tap one of the girl on the shoulder and ask what school she goes to. Mom stands up as if to ask what's happening, but she's so clearly not even present in the moment that I just kind of ignore knowing I'm about to run out of the station anyway.

The young girl, seeming a little confused by the question and obviously unsure she should be telling a stranger this (I was breaking all the stranger game rules here), tells me the name of her school and I thank her and dart off. As I leave the station and walk toward the bus I call my agency to let them know to notify the school where I'm working of the delay, and then I google the little girls' school. It's nowhere near where we are, leading me to be even more concerned as to why they were on the 4 train with their drugged mother after school hours had already started. I call the number google pulls up and navigate my way through the standard DOE touch menu until I get a human on the phone.

As I tell the lady on the other end what I have just seen she is horrified.  She had me describe the girls' appearance and clothing and I begged her to please call 911 upon arrival.  It then occurred to me that I probably could have done the same at the train station but I was so flustered I did the best I could.

I have no idea what came of this situation. Did these girls ever make it to school? Did they make it home? Is their mom okay? Did she get some help?

This haunted me ALL DAY. The images of those two girls sitting quietly as though this is simply their reality and there's "nothing to see here" is burned on my brain.

As I spent my day with a group of rambunctious, nerve-wracking, but genuinely adorable fifth graders I just kept thinking of how those two girls could be any of them. We have no idea in our schools what has happened at home the night before, or on the train on the way in. We have no idea if these kids had to get up this morning and get themselves dressed and ready and fed and out the door.

And yet we continue to push academic rigor and test scores and unprepared/unsupported teachers as our agenda in education reform, because that makes sense.  Have one social worker per 500-1000 kids, have no sort of nurturing routine for the teachers, base teachers job evaluations on their ability to get kids to stand in straight silent lines, sit up straight while reading, and prevent disruptions. Yes. all of this makes sense.

Until we start providing more support services in our schools, you're going to see lots of kids riding trains with schizophrenic moms to a day of being told to walk silently in single file like you're in jail and then wondering why they can't seem to figure out the difference between one one hundredth and one one thousandth.

But for now, I'm thankful for changing up my normal commute and train delays, because the realizations I came to this morning while on that train were disturbing but necessary. We take for granted the option we have to opt out. Those of us from middle-class stable homes who went to decent schools have the choice to sit back and say "I'm so sorry I wish I could do more" and then go about their daily lives, but I just refuse to let that be a reality.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

They all have worth.

A few nights ago I was enjoying a happy hour with my coworkers when I glanced down at facebook on my phone to see that two suspects had been identified in a Westbank shooting last week. As I do with most of those, I open to see if I know them, or to see if I taught them during my brief stint at Worley. It isn't uncommon to see a kid I knew of while working there get arrested or shot for something. Because I was only there briefly and because they've all grown, I usually only recognize them by their name and try to remember how I knew them.

I opened the page and gasped. Staring at me at the top of the page with darting eyes and an angry snare was the mugshot of a kid whose smile instantly popped in my head.

Before I even had a chance to read down I knew his name, and I remembered his hugs in the hallway, his frustrated moments in which he would pull me aside and tell me he couldn't calm down.

Here was a kid who had every card stacked against him, and the cards won.

I remembered many a happy-hour withe my Worley crew in which his name would pop up and everyone would instantly have some frustrating story about how he'd disrupted their lives on this particular day. He was that kid who would stand up and walk around the classroom for no reason at all. He was the kid who would get angry over something really small, recognize how angry he was, then interrupt your class to try to talk to you about it. He was a kid who DID NOT WANT TO BE THIS WAY. I watched him try. I remember him coming in and telling me almost every day "today I'm gonna do my work." "Today I'm not going to let that kid bother me." "Today I'm gonna sit down through the whole class."

The mental health issues were all over the place. Serious learning disabilities, major oppositional defiant issues, emotional disturbances, etc. His family life was rough. His father actively advocated AGAINST putting him in special education, despite just how badly he needed supportive services, because he felt like the special ed programs were too soft on the kids (they kindof were, but that's neither here nor there).

He might have frustrated the heck out of me, but he made me laugh. He made me feel appreciated. He made five of the most difficult months of my life a little more palatable because he gave me a vision.

When I'm asked why I switched from teaching to social work my answer is always the same - because I loved the difficult kids the most, but I couldn't teach them to save my life, so I wanted a field where I get to spend my day working with the difficult kids.  I always have about three or four specific faces that come to mind while talking about it. This kid is one of them.

And now, that angry face from the newspaper is burned in next the one I've always had of him.  We lost the battle. At 21 years old, this kid is wanted for murder. This kid will likely spend the rest of his life locked-away somewhere, with little-to-no support. This kid will remain a "thug" in the eyes of everyone who didn't know him. And this is why I do what I do.

Every time there's a horrible news story about a crime, I catch a lot of flack for "sympathizing with the criminal."  Let's be clear, this is not a zero-sum game - wondering what was going on in the head of a criminal, what brought them to that point, what could have been done to help them along the way, and feeling truly sorry for whatever it is they were experiencing that brought them there - that does not take away from my absolute heartbreak for a victim and their family. They are not mutually exclusive. But I will NEVER sympathize with you when you call them scum, when you say they don't deserve to live, when you say they are worthless. I just won't.

Because I know them.

I see the kid that has made the last three months of my life unnecessarily difficult because of the tremendous amount of maintenance it takes to care for him, and I see that he is absolutely on the road to be yet another kid on the streets getting arrested left and right and probably ending up killing someone. I see him playing basketball and telling me about his girlfriend. I see him calling me every racist, sexist name he can think of, and then laughing and begging for my attention.  I see him terrified and shaking (but of course swearing he's not) when he's being moved to yet another unknown home because whoever was caring for him couldn't do enough. I see him proudly displaying the new beautiful pair of sneakers someone gave to him.

I see myself watching baseball on a Thursday night after moving him to a new facility where he is no longer under my care and wondering how he's sleeping. Is he upset? Did he cry after we left him but try to pretend he didn't care? Should I call and check on him tomorrow? (and I remember the relief I felt when I did and his new social worker told me how kind he had been to her).

I am often given a lot of flack for not carrying a gun to "protect myself" against violent criminals, but my response is that I know I wouldn't be able to shoot them anyway - because every time I see the face of one of those violent criminals, I see my kids. I see their worth. I see that they are loved by a God who knows them better than I do and knows their worth, and it makes me want to know their story, and I would probably die before being able to harm them.

The work I do is hard - like, really exhausting difficult frustrating makes-me-wonder-why-I'm-not-in-business-making-more-money hard, but seeing the face of one of the very kids who inspired me to do this work in the first place as he is wanted for the very thing I work so hard to try to stop these kids from doing, it keeps me going. I'm not writing this to toot-my-own-horn, because I don't think that this work makes me any kind of hero, it is simply something I feel morally obligated to do not just because I see the problem, but because I know I CAN and a lot of people CAN'T and if those of us who CAN don't do it, who will? I'm writing this to beg you to open your eyes to see that there is more to the story. I'm writing so that maybe we might consider that our own world is very small, and there are a lot of things we can't understand but if we take the time to not brush them off, we might be able to gather a little piece of understanding.

Please know that every time you refer to one of these kids as a "thug," as "evil," as "worthless," you are breaking my heart. Whether that matters to you or not does not make it any less true. I know them. I know their worth. Please, take the time to consider that.  Consider that they too have a story, and a purpose, and that someone out there loves them and wants to see them do well.  I've worked with, quite literally, thousands of kids in the last 9 years of my life. Each of them had a story. Not one of them was worthless.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sometimes we fail, and that's okay.

I've worked for the same company off and on for five years.  In that time, I've worked in over sixty different schools, probably for a total of well over 300 days.

On Wednesday, I received my first ever bad review.

My representative called me and said she wanted to discuss some feedback I'd received from a school. She named the school, where I had been last Friday, and have been too more times than I could count in the last four years. The school has almost entirely new staff, and they don't know me. This school used to request me every single day. Every.... Day..... But the last two years have been full of turn over and I can count on my hands the times I've been there.

The school informed my company that a teacher had observed me sitting behind the desk much of the day and playing on my phone.

And you know what? I was.

I know better. I do. I even thought to myself that day, "You should be circulating more. You need to put your phone away - you're not hiding it by just putting it behind your purse." The kids were being WONDERFUL, and I was exhausted, so I wasn't working my hardest. THIS IS NOT ME. this is not how I normally perform.

And I got caught. I admitted to what I had done, though I'm sure my defenses had me downplaying it.  My representative thanked me for being honest, told me not to let it happen again, and moved on.

I called back a few minutes later on a totally unrelated note, but I apologized again and told her all the steps I would take to ensure I never had another day like that. And she was fine.

But worst case scenarios flooded my mind. "OMG what if she calls the school and they tell her it was way worse than I made it sound?!?!" "I'M GOING TO LOSE MY JOB!!" "These schools all know each other and they're going to spread the word and no one will want me!" "I'm never going to be able to use my network of schools to help me find a job when I graduate!" "My company isn't going to think of me as one of their favorite employees anymore and I'm going to get trash-talked during staff meetings." "They're not going to give me work on Friday just to punish me and I have Christmas presents to buy!"


 But the truth is, none of the above is true. The ordeal is over, two short days in, and things are back to normal.... I hope.

You know why?

Because our failures don't define us. They teach us. When my representative called me she was SHOCKED. She told me she assured the school that I was one of their most requested employees and that this was very much out of character.  She backed me up in saying I must have been having an off day.  AND WE ALL HAVE OFF DAYS. But because I've spent almost five years establishing myself as not just a reliable employee, but a superior one, my representative knew that this was an isolated incident.

I learned from this experience. I learned that being really good at what you do does not exempt you from following rules.  It made me reflect up on my time at Summit. When I was there, every day I felt like I was a failure. I felt like I could do nothing right. I wasn't very good at the job, and even when I thought I was doing a great job, I was called out on something I didn't do right. It was miserable.

I am so thankful to have found a field in which I excel. I've had three different social work internships at this point, and I've left all three of them each day feeling like I'd been successful. I'm so thankful for the relationships I've built with almost all of my schools.

I showed up to work at a school today nervous. I felt as though a cloud was hanging over me waiting on me to fail, even though, in over three hundred days I've only had the one complaint, but it was looming.

Today I am working at a school where I have spent many of days over the last two years.  I even got their social worker her job after they started asking me when I was graduating and did I know anyone who was available for this year.

I walked into the office this morning, rushed because it was a day-of assignment. I rounded the corner to see the receptionist.

"Hey!!! It's our favorite person from school professionals!! So glad you're here!"

Yeah, I think one failure is okay.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What I like about where I am

I said after my last post that I would follow it up with a post about why I love my current field placement oh-so-much, but then, grad school happened, and I haven't been up for writing this semester (This is not just applicable to the blog, I straight up don't feel like writing even for school. This is foreign.)

Somehow this semester felt especially draining. What I realized eventually is that
a) I don't have any time during my work day in which I can write process recordings or work on papers - and I had plenty of that last year
b) While I love love love this internship, it is far more emotionally draining than last year, and while that may not affect me AT work so much (okay, sometimes it does), it manifests itself in little ways like making me feel extra tired in the evenings and causing me to be a little bit more absentminded.

All that to say, I do want to share why I feel so at home where I am.

As I said before, I work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at NY-Presbyterian Weill-Cornell Medical Center. I do family work, particularly with parents whose newborns are being treated for critical illnesses.  My primary job is to serve as a support system for these families. I meet with them when they are first admitted and find out what kinds of supports they have in place, if they have job situations to put on hold, if they have family nearby, if they live close enough to visit, that sort of thing.  I then take this information and figure out how I can best be a support.

Sometimes being the extra support means getting Mom a cup of water. Sometimes it means being the one to give mom a bereavement packet with information on things like "Twinless Twins" and support groups for losing a child after she's had to withdraw care on one of her triplets.

Sometimes my families are really really strong, and have amazing coping skills.  Sometimes they need someone to talk to more than anything and don't have anybody, so I step it.

Did you read that?! I get to TALK to people, as a job. I get to LISTEN TO THEIR STORIES all day long. It's BEAUTIFUL. And tough. Some of these stories are hard. Okay, MOST of them are hard, but going home knowing that I eased someone's stress by simply being a listener and using my "clinical skills" (whatever that means), to help them to feel at ease, that makes me excited to get up and go the next day.

Of the three internships I've had so far, this is the one where I feel I'm getting the most practice at using my actual counseling skills, and having the ability to do that in a place where I get to interact with SO MANY DIFFERENT TYPES OF FAMILIES with so many unique stories, well that's just more than I could have ever asked for.

I admit that some of my days are really really hard. When you walk this journey with these families, you experience it with them, first hand. I was in the room the day one of my babies was about to go into surgery and had just taken a really bad turn and mom called for a priest to come up and do a baptism stat and was waiting on dad to get there to say his goodbyes while we all stood around and watched the nurses do everything they could to keep her stable until time to go into her emergency surgery (and for the record, she's okay :) ). I waited outside the door for the news that one of our babies no longer had a heartbeat after we had to withdraw after months of fighting for his life unsuccessfully. I experience these things with them. I maintain my professional demeanor in the room then go home and cry some nights. But the experience is beautiful, even if sometimes it's that ugly kind of beautiful.

To see these families come through it. To see how they handle being told "he's going home tomorrow," after months of waiting, only for him to have another episode and have to put off that homecoming even longer. To see these moms who have wanted a child their whole lives and finally get to have one at 41, 42, 47.... It's incredible.

Mostly, I like to see them go HOME. I miss these families, and it's always bittersweet when they walk out the door, but there is not much more beautiful than seeing a car seat with a 6 pound child in it and remembering the time when he was 1 pound and thinking "wow, this kid is going home."

As I head into my semester break, I'll miss those babies. I hope that a bunch of them won't be there when I get back. I am in a setting where I never pictured myself working, and I love every second.