Red Wing Public Library Event!

Please join me on Saturday, June 29 at 10am at the Red Wing Public Library where I will discuss my novel “unprotected”, social work, publishing, and we’ll see where the conversation goes from there!

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Don’t Blink

Don't Blink.

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Don’t Blink

As a writer, I try to avoid clichés. But in parenting, and especially during graduation, clichés are everywhere:

“As one door closes, another opens…”

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life…”

“The future is in your hands…”

I feel like my own graduation, when I squirmed and sighed through clichéd speeches in that temperamental mortarboard and papery red gown, could have happened just a few years ago. Certainly not 24 years ago. I now understand why people embarrass themselves by trying to look and act young–we still feel that way. Those days of struggling through chemistry and Friday night football games feel like they just happened.

Friday night, I squirmed and sighed through another graduation ceremony, but this time as the tearful mom in the bleachers, and my oldest daughter was in the papery gown–in Winger purple. And while I tried to wrap my brain around what was happening, my head was full of clichés.

“They grow up so fast…”

“Before you know it she will be ready to leave the nest…”

“Don’t blink!”

Apparently I blinked, because I just brought home this wide eyed baby girl (7 pounds 10 ounces, 20 inches long), and now in what feels like the blink of an eye, I am watching this beautiful young woman collect her diploma, move her tassel, and toss her cap in the air.

Now I am left with another cliché: If only I could turn back the clock….

Of course I can’t, and even if I could I would never put her through some of those painful years again. But if there was a way to relive it all, I would do it in a heartbeat. Sometimes I would just take it all in, other times I would whisper in my ear (or hers) to calm the heck down because it’s all going to be OK.

If I could turn back the clock…

…I would relive those first days, when her daddy instinctively new that pressing her tiny head against his chest and gently bouncing up and down would soothe her to sleep anywhere.

…I would slow down time so I could watch her stretch her tiny arm up to that cornsilk tuft on top of her head and run her little fingers through her hair until she lulled herself to sleep.

…I would exhale through that moment when she woke up after the dreaded tonsillectomy, with her swollen tongue and blood crusted on the edges of her mouth, and I would laugh again as she exclaimed at the TV, “Little bear!” and gingerly sucked on popsicles in her hospital bed all afternoon.

…I would convince both of us that she was just fine at kindergarten, even though she clung to my hand every Tuesday, Thursday, and alternating Fridays until Mrs. Jackson looked down at her and said, “Good morning Abby” and she reluctantly let go of me and entered her classroom.

…I would have reassured her that she doesn’t have to answer all the questions that her second grade teacher can ask, and it’s OK to let someone else raise their hand.

…I would find a way to show that increasingly insecure adolescent not to lose her confidence, because all those fabulous things about her are the things that matter anyway.

…I would tell myself never to second guess the money we spent on vacations, because I will forever remember freezing at the Wisconsin Dells, marveling at the rocky mountains, gazing over Chicago at the top of the Navy Pier ferris wheel, and basking in the sun and the sunset over the gulf of Mexico.

…I would cheer even louder at those jump serves in her last competitive volleyball game, not only because she landed every one, but because they show that she ended her volleyball career with sportmanship, poise, and class.

…I would insist on even more nights that all six of us at eat together at the dinner table, loving how ridiculous and obnoxious we get in the way that only our family can.

…I would remind myself more often that our lives are so short, and the struggles that seemed huge at the time were fleeting and helped her become the pillar of strength that she is.

Time marches on, the cliché goes, and all we can do is look forward. And so I will try to worry less, trust more, and absorb every moment…without blinking ever again. Happy Graduation my baby girl. We are so proud.

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How Rewarding to be Rewarded

How Rewarding to be Rewarded.

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How Rewarding to be Rewarded

I received my very first writing award at the tender age of 10 when I won a second place ribbon for my essay, “What is beer and how can it hurt me?” I believe I received a $10 check from the American Legion or some such organization, but I’ll admit the details are fuzzy.

The writing accolades continued when a poem I wrote in 8th grade English was published in a South Dakota journal for elementary and middle school aged students. The poem was about a chair and it didn’t rhyme, so my very literal husband would call it a “descriptive paragraph” instead of an actual poem. But since only one of us has published poetry, he can keep his opinions to himself.

I was skipped over for the award of “All State Journalist” in high school, which was rather painful since I was the editor of the high school newspaper, and several of my fellow journalists and best friends were called to accept their awards one by one while I stayed at the banquet table and pretended not to care.

And now, 25 years later, my first novel, unprotected, has been chosen as a finalist in the Midwest Independent Publishers Association’s Midwest Book Awards in the category of Contemporary Fiction. I’m honored, to be sure, and excited for the opportunity to get buy a new pair of shoes and eat a fancy dinner. I’m also surprised since it’s the first nomination for anything that I have received since my high school journalism days.

As I was contemplating college majors, I vacillated between psychology and journalism. I had been writing stories in spiral notebooks in my bedroom as long as I could remember, so writing was familiar while psychology just seemed cool. I settled on psychology, which was the career that brought me to social work, and I left writing behind until much later.

Social work was the right choice for me, but while journalism and writing are full of opportunities for awards, social work goes largely unrecognized. Other than one organization that presents a Social Worker of the Year award, what could the accolades be? Best Court Testimony? Outstanding Ability to Remain Calm When Barraged with Verbal Insults? First Place in Safe and Successful Reunifications?

Most people never get any visible recognition in their careers, but some professions are more revered than others. Surgeons and fire fighters are respected, teachers and nurses are applauded, and lawyers are the butt of endless (and often hilarious) jokes. But how about factory workers and dishwashers? How about the dads who work for decades in miserable jobs because that’s what it takes to support a family? I would love to give some recognition to the people who stand for 10 hour shifts in checkout lines dealing with inpatient jerks. I wish I could give a medal to every phlebotomist who can do a painless blood draw, and to all the aides who never lose the energy to nod and smile at their nursing home residents.

But if there were rewards for everything, then there may as well be rewards for nothing. Appreciation is great, but most of us don’t do our jobs for the praise. If we did, most of us would have quit a long time ago.

I wrote unprotected because I love to write, and over the course of 12 years a novel spilled out. The affirmation for that story and for my writing is such an honor, but I holding my published book in my hand would has been reward enough. Win or lose, I will continue to enjoy the ride my book has provided, and I will remember all people, much more deserving than I, who never get the chance to be nominated for anything.

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A revelation. Not the good kind

A revelation. Not the good kind.

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A revelation. Not the good kind

Buckle up. I’ve got some earth shattering revelations to share, so the faint of heart better head over to pinterest and divert with some inspirational quotes or fancy cupcakes.

The rest of you, are you ready? I’m going to reveal what I think is the biggest problem we seem to be facing in child protection. It’s a major part of many cases, and blows more lives apart than I care to count.

It’s Addiction.

I know: Duh. Heroin kills. Crack destroys lives. Meth eats away at your face, your teeth, your brain. We’ve seen the billboards.

But I would like to talk about what we in Minnesota (Land of 10,000 Treatment Centers) do not want to talk about: Many (because I can’t bring myself to say most) of the deep end addicts do not get better. Ever.

I am a child protection social worker, so the law actually mandates that I focus on my clients’ strengths. I am also an optimist, despite 19 years at the job, so it is my natural tendency to believe that people can recover and change. Even my internal dialogue when I am with my clients is positive and hopeful.

So I am having a hard time writing this post because it feels wrong to admit it. Maybe this is burnout talking, but I don’t think so. I think I’m really trying to figure out what to do with all of this truth smacking me in the face. How do I reconcile optimism with the reality that there are many clients that I will never be able to fix, but I still have to pour all of my energy into trying. Isn’t the definition of crazy supposed to be doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result?

If I accept that some percentage of addicts are unfixable (*shudder* ….I am not supposed to use that word…) how far do we have to back up this train to finally get on a new track? When was their addiction fixable? And how will I ever know who is really getting better, and who will be back in a year or two?

I know enough to know that I don’t know. But I do have some thoughts that might help a little.

First, a lot of lives could be saved if heroin, crack, and meth became obsolete. (Hey, I said I’m an optimist.) These drugs are wildly addictive and can function like an eggbeater on the pleasure centers of the brain, so much so that these addicts can’t do anything but chase the high. While there is such a thing as episodic use of these “street” drugs, the path toward addiction and fast and straight, so I think every dollar spent to get rid of these drugs probably saves ten, not to mention saving lives.

Second, Vicodin, Percoset, Xanax, and Valium (and all of their drug cousins) are highly effective, the first two for managing pain and the second for managing anxiety. I am the last person to say that I think people should have to grit their teeth through either. But it is staggering how many doctors readily and frequently prescribe these addicting meds to addicts. Any doctors out there? Please add hypnosis, therapy, meditation, non-narcotics, acupuncture, acupressure, healing touch, or anything else to your prescription pad that might save your patient the hassle of 28 days later on.

And finally, I wish somebody could figure out which people can manage a few glasses of wine, and who will go on the roller coaster ride of pancreatitis/inpatient treatment/moderate stint of sobriety/ downward spiral/alcoholic cirrhosis/back to treatment…and so on. For some, alcohol is every bit as dangerous, toxic, and life threatening as heroin.

Addiction sucks, friends. I wish I could put a bow on it and offer a tidy solution, but it hasn’t been that kind of week. All I can say is that I’m grateful to all those who keep fighting the good fight on behalf of the ones who make it, and the ones who don’t.

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