Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Quake of 2011

True Story: I started my morning off at a client's house screening for a PTSD diagnosis. The first question on the questionairre was "Has your child ever been in an earthquake?" The mother hesitated. I responded "I'm guessing the answer is no." Her reply, "I have to think about it. I don't think so, but I've been in an earthquake." Now, I need to go back and reassess....

I've had a shitty week. I haven't been sleeping, have had some ongoing health issues and generally feel like shit. I've been in a bad mood. So I stomped around the office this morning, trying to get all the things I had to get done before my doctor's appointment. I had about 15 minutes to kill before I had to leave, so I plopped down in my friend Mallory's 5 X 8 foot office, intruding up a conversation she was having with Cory, just as our boss walks in to ask a question. Cory stops us all and wants us to listen to a phone message that was supposed to provide some comic relief. I asked her, "Will I think this is funny or will it just piss me off?" She answered, "It could piss you off but let's listen anyway." So as the message starts and Mallory's desk starts to shake.

The following is a rough approximation of the events as they transpired over the next 30 seconds. Words in italics are the thoughts racing through my mind.

Voice on Answering Machine: "Cory - its Bob (an alias). I just wanted to let you know that I am awesome at my job. And I need you to pat me on the back (an approximation)."

Cory: What is that shaking?

Me: Shut up if you want me to hear what this bonehead has to say.

Cory: Seriously, guys what is that shaking? Mallory are you shaking the desk?

Mallory: (laughing) No, I'm not shaking the desk. Why would I shake the desk?

Me: The desk is shaking. Maybe its the train.

Cory: This is freaking me out. The room is shaking. Could we be having an earthquake?

Me: Earthquake. No. Mallory is starting to kick under her desk just to piss us off.

Mallory stands up and looks out the window yelling: Oh My God. The truck in the parking lot is moving!! The truck is moving!!

Me: What the fuck?

At this point, I walk out of her office, which is caddy corner to mine and watch my computer monitor rock back and forth across my desk. I yell: Oh My God! Look at my computer! I really think this is an earthquake.

Me: What the fuck! Are you kidding me God??? Like I haven't been through enough already, now I'm gonna die in an earthquake?

All those years of watching Dateline, 20/20 and disaster movies finally paid off when I came up with the brilliant idea and yelled "Get in a doorway!"

This is my favorite part (in retrospect, of course) because I grabbed Mallory and we crowded under a hollow door frame in a panic (the building was still shaking, evidenced by watching the drop ceiling tiles move to and fro.) I looked down the hall and everyone is standing there with a look of horror, dropping into position in the hollow door frames. I swore one new employee was going to pass out. And our boss (the only male) in an attempt to remain masculine and therapeutic at the same time kind of just looks around and says, "Ok - I think we need to get in a door frame". But he never did.

Then it stopped. And no one knew what to do. Cuz, those shows don't really tell you what to do once the building stops shaking. I mean we could get caught in a building collapse on our way out the door. 

Apparently, everyone made a mad dash for the door, and down the steps. Of course, I was the last one out because I had to go back in for my phone (I needed to update my FB status). By the time I got out to the parking lot, some man was reporting it was centered in Virginia and measured 5.9. I called Stephen and he confirmed he felt it here in Kennett Square. I went into mom mode and told him he had to go to the camp and check on Max. Which he claims he did. But I'm not buying it.

So I survived my first earthquake. God decided I have enough on my plate right now. And I learned some important lessons:

-The train isn't close enough to cause my building to shake. Never was.
-Mallory kicking her desk would not make an entire building shake.
-Bob (an alias) really does get on my nerves.
-Denial has its advantages and disadvantages.

-Door frames are only useful if they are attached to solid load bearing walls.
-I have a ridiculously old computer monitor (the big boxy kind) and it takes up way too much space on my desk.
-In a natural disaster, I will try to save my friends. (Or at least Mallory). The rest, I'll just yell instructions to.
-There is always time to update your facebook status.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

We aren't products of our environment. We are products of our expectations.

My plan was to do a light and jovial blog this time around because I am convinced that my writing can be entirely too morose. But the other day, while I lie in bed, exhausted and flipping through the channels, I happened upon a special on MSNBC focusing on the state of education in this country today. As a behavioral health professional who supervises a large caseload in Chester, PA and a recent adjunct college instructor, I was interested in what the "experts" had to say.

Let's face it. If you are my age or older and have had a recent conversation with a 15-25 year old in the last few years, you have very likely walked away shaking your head, thinking "WTF?". While I'm sure that our parents generation thought similar things about us (minus the texting slang), it has become abundantly clear that our youth are missing some fundamental skills that we took for granted. I was blind sided by this concept when I took on teaching a developmental psychology class this past winter. I learned the hard way that our K-12 educational system is absolutely failing our youth by teaching to benchmarks and standardized tests. Never in a million years would I have asked a professor if he/she would be providing the questions to the test prior to the date of the exam or email my professor to inform them that the grade I received was "unacceptable". But it happened to me multiple times over the course of 15 weeks.

Kids and young adults today are robbed of the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills that are so vital for our collective long term success. For whatever reason, our educational and political system are so panicked by the idea that we are falling behind that they are forgetting that in order to move forward, there comes a time when it is necessary to stand still. And teach and learn skills that we for so long took for granted because they were imbedded in the individual creativity of the teacher.

Which brings me to the title of my blog which was hijacked from one of the panelists on MSNBC. His name was Wes Moore and he is the author of a book titled "The Other Wes Moore". Two African American men, born two years apart (ages 35 and 33), both grew up in poverty in Baltimore. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar; the other was convicted of the murder of a police officer. When Wes, the scholar asked Wes, the felon what made his outcome in life so different he answered "We aren't products of our environments. We are products of our expectations."

And while I have seen first hand the despair and poverty of a place like Chester, I know that a few do "get out". I work with alot of those who have decided to be a product of expectation and subsequently go back and work in that community to offer hope to people that at times, very often, do not know hope exists. And while I know we can't or won't save all of those who live in abject poverty, I refuse to give up on them. My parents grew up in Chester back when Chester was a thriving town. Both my parents grew up poor but my father had high expectations. He and my mother had 6 children, which required my father to often work multiple jobs so my older siblings never wanted for anything back when they lived in small apartments in Chester before moving out to Chadds Ford in the late 60's.

I had my own expectations to live up to. Remember, I come from a working class family that valued a strong work ethic above any textbook education. My father built a very successful auto body business from the ground up, that later expanded into insurance claims and auto glass sales. He was suspended from school on the first or second day of his senior year for spraying the fire extinguisher. When they told him he could return a few days later, he refused on principal (not sure what his train of thought was) and waited an entire year to go back and graduate. He could have easily not gone back and gone on to do all of the things he succeeded in in life (his occupation didn't require a high school education) but his expectations told him differently.

For me to choose to pursue a college degree, and subsequently a Masters, had nothing to do with environment and everything to do with the expectations I have placed on my self. I will say it is much harder to be a product of your expectations than it is your environment. Your environment allows you to fit nicely in the box you came into this world in. None of my siblings went to college. Personally, I see nothing wrong with that. We were raised to know we could be successful at whatever we chose to do. AND we had a choice.All of my brothers and sisters did well for themselves in their chosen careers. And a few make quite a bit more money than I do. But I wanted to go to college. My master plan was to have my PhD in Psychology by 25.  I mean, how hard could that be???

What I can tell you is for someone who's environment did not include the modelling of higher education, that was a better idea than a reality for me. I honestly think I was a college junior for, like, 3 years. I could not mentally make the jump to senior status in college because in that mind, it implied I knew what to do next. And I definitely did not. What I did know how to do was work. And work hard. So I waited tables, And I bartended. (And I drank...alot....but that's another story). When I finally graduated from my undergraduate program, my master plan had changed to a Masters in Counseling Psychology so I could just get the hell out of school. Both the head of the psychology department and honors program (which I wasn't even a part of) advised against it, telling me I was selling myself short. I told them I was tired.

So I entered Villanova's Masters in Counseling Psychology program with a concentration in...get this...Addictions Counseling. I then proceeded to be bored to tears and partied my face off while bartending on the side. The week before finals I was talking to someone about my program and blurted out without thought "I hate it. I'm dropping out." I called my mother the next day and she said, "I figured you would, You just don't seem happy." Years later, I tracked down my psychology department head from Neumann to tell him that he was right. And he said he knew that too.

So from that point forward, I worked. I bartended, I managed restaurants, I was a bookkeeper. I owned my own business. I bartended. Then I had Max. And it all changed.

Suddenly, I was forced to consider what my own true expectations were. Who did I really want to be? And how was I going to be that person? Not only for me but for my son too. It was at that point that I went back to school and finished my Masters (this time in Clinical Psychology, as opposed to Counseling). I stepped out of my comfort zone and took a job that not only did I work hard at but one that I felt matched up with my true expectations in life.

We are only as successful as we decide to be. And we all define success in different ways. I have always aspired to be the best at whatever I did; mixing drinks, managing someone else's money or helping a family. What changed over the years is how much confidence I had in my overall ability; in my true expectations. And I have pretty high expectations.