Monday, May 9, 2016

Bill Z 6/2003 - 5/2016

On 5/7/16, I made the very difficult decision to put my cat, Bill, to sleep.


I adopted Bill in August of 2003 from a coworker. I later learned that he was likely taken from his mother much too soon. I actually thought he was a girl and named him Lilly! It didn’t take long to realize my mistake.

The movie Kill Bill came out not long after the adoption, and it became the joke because he was such an asshole. Seriously. I thought maybe it was just that he was being compared to the best cat on the face of the earth (Cat V, RIP), but as time went on and I got to know him more, I think he was just a jerk.

He had what we have now labeled as Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). So perhaps he was just sick and not an asshole. It is still unknown for sure. He often had bowels outside of the litter box. I usually could figure out what was wrong and fix it – new litter, a new box with a clean scent, etc. I took him to the vet every few years starting in 2006 trying to figure out what was going on. They typically treated it as behavioral and made me feel as though I wasn’t doing enough for him. I had one vet tell me to put the litter box(es) in the main area of the living space. When I explained I had a toddler and that wouldn’t work, she acted as though I wasn’t doing enough to arrange my life around the cat. She kind of sucked a little bit.

Around 2014 when I finally realized this could be health related, I searched online and found some information about food and food allergies in cats. I tried a different food and for the first time in as long as I could remember, he had solid BMs. It was like a miracle.

It didn’t last long though. Sometime in 2015 I went back to the vet and saw the male doctor who treats my dog. He looked at the long history of bowel trouble and said some of the most validating words I have ever heard “wow, you have been dealing with this longer than most people would have”. This was when I began to see him as needing more medical care, and less like I was doing something wrong or not enough to discourage the behavior.

That doctor put him on some special low allergen (i.e. expensive!) food, and a steroid, which helped at first. When things were good, they were good. When they weren’t, Bill had to stay in the basement where his 2 litter boxes and food were. I would periodically let him spend time upstairs, and eventually he would pee or poop somewhere and would have to go back downstairs.

In December of this past year, when that last doctor retired, I worked with another doctor in the same office and we decided to go a route we hadn’t gone before – treating this as anxiety. He gave me 2 medicines to try. When we got home from the appointment, Bill was like a new cat. He had solid(ish) BMs, he was friendly, and he stayed upstairs with us and was like having our healthier Bill back. I didn’t try the medication.

That lasted about 3-4 weeks, then things turned south again. This was sometime in January. I tried the meds but he wouldn’t take one at all, and the other I had to hold him down to give, and he threw it up anyway. Over the new few months I would try less and less to reintroduce him to our living space.

About 2 weeks ago, I brought him upstairs and blocked off the majority of the house so he couldn’t access it. It was a great day full of snuggles and hanging out with Bill. I tried to let him stay upstairs overnight, but as I started to fall asleep I heard a loud and explosive poo at the end of our bed. That’s when I realized this was not at all behavioral. This was complete incontinence of bowel, and out of his control.

So I called and made the appointment with the vet for 5/7, prepared to have the conversation about the next steps for being unable to continue to care for him.

When I went into the appointment and described the symptoms, as well as what I had tried, I said that words I was so afraid to say when it came to Bill “I don’t think I can take care of him anymore.”

The vet was so supportive. He validated everything I have done and said no one could have taken care of him as long as I did. I’m not really sure what I expected when I left the house on Saturday. Maybe that they would suggest a shelter for cats like him, or maybe want to observe him for a few days. But none of that happened. They just brought the form for me to sign and started the process. They asked if I intended to stay and where I wanted to do it. I did want to stay, and I chose the “quiet room” which is where I held Cat when it was his time. I wanted him to be in the same place Cat was, for some reason.

I had some time with him before they did anything, so I just snuggled him. I noticed that his ears weren't red. Whenever he was stressed, his typically pinkish white ears and nose would become bright red. They were red when we got to the office, but when we were in the quiet room they were not.

I cried a lot. I held his little body as they injected a muscle relaxer and he became limp, but I could see his little chest rising and falling. I told him I loved him, and that I hoped he felt loved and that I was sorry. The doc came back in and gave him the medicine that made his heart stop. I found myself smiling when he was taking his last breath. I was so happy to be with him during this time in his life, which I felt was as beautiful as any other part of life. The doc said he was gone and left me to stay as long as I liked.

Once he was gone I didn’t feel a need to stay. I knew it wasn’t him anymore. So I covered him up with the towel he was laying on, kissed him and walked out.

I told a friend today that I didn’t know why I was taking it so hard. He was an asshole after all, and at times I didn’t even really like him that much. Her response was that sometimes assholes need the most love. I definitely think that’s true.

This is also the first time in at least 16 years that I have not had a cat. Before then my parents always had cats. I didn’t buy cat litter at the store yesterday. I didn’t have to feed him this morning or make sure he was ok in the basement. It’s a huge difference to suddenly not have to do something I’ve done daily for most of my life.

BBZ wants another cat. I think I need a break for a while. I made N promise to stop me if I ever suggested getting another cat. It’s hard to risk it without knowing what kind of cat we’d get. Although the boys have a pretty limited view of what it’s like to have a cat since Bill is all they knew. Either way, it will be a while.

I'm slowly getting adjusted to a cat free house. I wonder if Delilah even notices he is gone. She has her own health issues going on, but I wonder if she realizes. Animals do seem to have a sense about such things.

RIP Bill, I will miss you and your sweet little face.

I hope these two are chilling together once again.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"The results of your screening are benign."

The topic of cancer is not unfamiliar in my family. 10 years ago, less than 1 month before my wedding, my mom’s biopsy results showed positive for breast cancer. She had surgery following the wedding and the full course of chemo that is the recommended treatment. Then on 2/29/16, my very first day at my new job, she again received news that the results of her biopsy, this time taken from the inside of her uterus, was indeed cancer.

So when my doctor followed up with me in mid-March because of “abnormal glandular cells” found on my pap, with a recommendation of a colposcopy (where the doctor takes a super close look at the cervix) and a possible endometrial biopsy, the reality that this could be cancer was as real as my mother’s positive diagnosis.

The follow-up appointment was one day before my mother’s full hysterectomy.  Feeling the need to allow her to focus on staying positive through her surgery, as well as the healing that followed, I did not tell her about the abnormal results of my pap. It wasn’t until after she returned home and received her own best case scenario news that I felt okay about sharing my situation.

It was a Monday, and I scheduled the appointment as early as I could to avoid using any sick time at my still brand new job. I had to meet a coworker at a work site at 10am, so I hoped this would be enough time. I failed to review the process for this procedure, and ended up experiencing tremendous pain and a lot of bleeding. I left the office feeling defeated, and terrified.

I’m not sure how we do it. How we put on a face for the world while carrying around so much inner anguish. I found myself wondering who else was going through the motions of the day, yet struggling inside to do so. I felt strangely connected to others, even though I hid what I was experiencing both physically and emotionally from all of those around me. “We’ll get the results in about a week” is all he said as he rushed out the door. My OBGYN is very popular in the birthing world in my town as a sought-after OB with a natural mind and a support for minimal interventions during the birthing process. Even though he didn’t make it to LBZ’s birth since he was born so fast, my doc would have allowed me to go 42 weeks and 5 days before insisting on induction, so for that, he was a great doctor. As a GYN, he is smart and dedicated, yet lacks in the compassion department. This is why I always go to the nurse practitioners. Which is fine as long as things are “normal”.

The next week moved by slower than I could have imagined. Each day was different. I have very real times in my life when I was aware of how long I was waiting for news. Going past my due dates with my boys, waiting for job offers, and now, waiting to find out whether or not I had cancer.

As with the way all time passes, thinking about this past week feels like it flew by, but this upcoming week seems like it will last forever. This was also the case for the long week I waited for the results.

As many in our world do, I know a few people who have been through cancer. I frequently thought of them as I waited for my results. I didn’t have a sense of what the results would be. I would play out each scenario and wonder what would happen in each. I wrote the story of lots of scenarios. My job is brand new, they don’t owe me anything. I could lose my job, my health insurance, and could N’s pick me up or would I be denied for a pre-existing condition? What if I had mountains of medical bills. I have seen firsthand what happens to families when their insurance or other circumstances fail them. It happens. To real people just like me. I am not special or unique. I'm just another person in the world who could easily be touched by cancer.

I imagined going through treatment. Having to have surgery and being unable to pick up my children. What if I had to go through chemo? My body would be wrecked. It was in this daydream that I discovered that I am not afraid of death. Truly, I am not. I had a dream once where I died. I was shot in the head, which one would think would be brutal and tragic, and perhaps the story surrounding the gunshot was, but that is not what I remember. I remember hearing the shot, falling backwards, feeling the blood dripping down my face and seeing the person who shot me looking over me. I did not feel afraid. If anything, I felt as at peace as I am when in nature or staring into the sky.

As I awaited my results of the biopsy I realized I was not afraid of death, I was afraid of what I would have to do to my body to avoid dying.

I know people do it, and they survive and fight the cancer and go on to lead long and beautiful lives. I saw my mom do it. I didn’t want that for me, just like I don’t want it for anyone in this world. I am not special. It could as easily happen to me as to anyone else. And I was afraid of that story for myself.

I spend many of my lunch breaks walking in a nearby park in order to get fresh air and some steps in for the day. My job is quite more sedentary than my old job. I used that time during the week of waiting to relax and trust in the breeze that blew my hair, or the smile someone gave me as I passed, as a clue that I would be able to handle whatever came my way. There is something beautiful and terrifying that happens when one is faced with the possibility of a cancer diagnosis. While the waiting is long, when the news is positive, I am left with a distinct remembrance of the direction my path could have gone.

For a few months now I have been planning a huge race. It was to be my first step into the world of ultra-running, which is just long distance adventure running on trails. I told myself that no matter what the results were, I was healthy and strong and could complete the race. Well I did run it this past weekend, and it was incredible. I ran better that I ever have. I felt strong and healthy and like I had nothing to lose. I had full faith in the health of my body to run this really hard course.

I can’t help but wonder how I would have ran it if the results of the biopsy had been positive for cancer. Nothing would have been different inside me besides the knowledge, as there are often no symptoms of reproductive cancer. I wonder…

So while I still have some follow-up doctor visits to do since these abnormal cells came from somewhere, the world seems a little brighter this week. The air is a little sweeter. I have a little more patience with my boys, and I feel stronger and like I can take on anything. At the very least, I have a very heightened awareness of how sweet it is to be healthy and alive in this beautiful world.

“Life is a drama full of tragedy and comedy. You should learn to enjoy the comic episodes a little more.” ~ Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle

Friday, February 26, 2016

Time to breathe.

My last day at my job was Tuesday.  My team put together an amazing going away celebration for me complete with flowers, balloons, cards and kind words.  I stood at the door to my office and looked in, remembering the way it felt when that door opened for me.  I was excited, and it is what I thought success looked like.  It was what I thought would be perfect for my family, as my boys played next door in their preschool.  When I pulled the door closed behind me on Tuesday, I took a breath, and exhaled, and felt the next door opening just as this one closed.

Today is the third of 3 days off I planned to take between jobs.  So for the last 3 days, I have had no work obligations, and besides my own projects I hoped to get done, no expectations.  The days weren't as uneventful as I hoped they would be, but some very big things came back to my mind.  Things I hadn't thought about for a long, long time.

When the boys were small, particularly right after LBZ was born, I often felt this unbelievable separation from my life, because of the level of happiness I experienced.  I would sometimes feel like there is no way my life could really be mine.  There's no way these 2 boys are mine, and that N and I really created this amazing little life we have.  It was a feeling of surreal, and unfathomable happiness in this life we are leading.

Lately I've been moving too fast.  I was constantly checking my emails, was filled with thoughts about work and the job, was feeling pulled to stay connected via electronics, and lost sight of what it's like to just simply be with my family.  They were there the whole time, but the surreal experience of really breathing them in and appreciating how wonderful this life is had fallen away for a while, and it came surging back in the last 3 days.

I read a book a couple of weeks ago, and was able to go see the movie yesterday.  I saw it alone!  It was awesome.  I can't remember the last time I saw a movie by myself.  I cried through nearly the entire thing, without a consideration for what others thought.  They were all crying too, anyway.

The book and movie had a story line that included an interesting and unconventional relationship between a mother and her son.  In it, they speak about how the son came to be, that he was waiting in heaven to be born, ,then he came down from heaven and was born and they have been together since.  This reminded me of something else I hadn't thought about in a long while.

In the past I have felt like my boys have always been with me.  As though they were always a part of my soul, long before they were ever born.  It's as though they were waiting somewhere for me to be ready for them, and once they entered my life, we were all complete long with their daddy, who had also been waiting for their existence.  It is something I hadn't thought about in a while, but came crashing in on me as I watched this movie play out on the screen.

I have had time to breathe over the last 3 days.  I have had time to know and accept that no job is worth the energy I was expending, especially while trying to be present for my husband and our sons.  I feel connected with them on a level I haven't felt in a long time, and I am so happy to be in this place.

I know my new job will come with demands, and I also know that they will pale in comparison to the ones I just experienced.  I will miss some of the tasks I was doing, especially the leadership and team supervision and management, but I think I will find opportunities to use the skills related to those tasks without the responsibility that accompanies a job that requires them.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Movin' to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches.

I noticed something after I wrote my last post.  As I skimmed my labels to decide what category my story about running would fall, I realized that almost every single label had to do with my sons.  I wasn't really surprised by this as I began blogging in order to document my new life as a mother, but I realized that I really enjoyed, and hoped to continue, to write about me.  In a way, as my boys are getting older and more independent, my life as myself is beginning to return.

So I also noticed that I hadn't written much about my job(s) in the last few years.  In the beginning of 2014, I left the agency where I spent nearly 8 years developing as a person, a professional, and as a mother.  LBZ was 2 at the time, and the new job had promise as a perfect fit with my family because of where it was located...in the same building as their preschool.

When I began to seek employment outside of that job, I always looked at the website of the Community Center where the boys' preschool was.  Certainly I could do just about any job as long as I was that close to them. Throw in a 50% discount off of their daycare cost (what what??), a free family membership to the center and you have what appeared to be the perfect fit for my family.

Except for one thing...it wasn't.

The first 6 months were tough.  I wavered between hating it and needing to give it at least a year for a full chance.  Then one of the main staff left.  I knew I couldn't leave then.  I needed to see the program through this huge transition.  So I stayed.  As the first year went on I still felt unhappy and started to think about looking around.  Then, another major staff person left.  Surely I couldn't leave then.  So I stuck it out and actually figured out how to be really good at this job.

That was a little over a year ago.  I do not hate my job.  In fact, I actually really like it now that I have a full staff of really good quality people on my team.  The problem is, it is a very high demand job.  My staff call me as early as 5am and as late as 11pm and I am charged with finding staff coverage, cancelling program details in bad weather, having my phone with me at all times to manage any program issues, and of course, making all of the really hard decisions and communicating them with families.

It's a high energy, fast paced, high demand job.  And I am really good at it.  I can manage people, and participants, and staff, and drivers and temp agencies beginning at 5am and still work until 7pm rocking it out.  I'm like a non-profit business-running rock star.  I think the discomfort I felt during the first year was because I was growing and learning so much.  It's hard for me to not feel like a master at everything.  I learned all aspects of this job and rocked it.

But it's just not working for me anymore.

I expend so much emotional energy on this job, that I am left with less than I need to provide for my family.  The demands are just too high for me during this season of my life, and it is time for a change.  My boys need me more now than they ever have.  I thought the baby stage was going to be the most emotionally demanding part of raising children, but for me it's not.  BBZ is in grade school now, and he is developing into the person he is going to become.  I need to be present with him all the time.  I need to know that at dinner when he is telling me about a conflict at school, I will not be interrupted by a work related phone call.

I have accepted a new job at an agency that I think will be a great fit.  The hours are set, I will not supervise anyone, and there is still a level of professional challenge that I really look forward to.  It's hard to admit when something has to give, and I think I will miss the fast pace business-like world, but I know this is the right choice for me.

I was telling a friend that it feels very much like moving from the city to the country.  The city is a fast paced active part of town where some people thrive.  Others prefer the quiet solitude of the country life.

So that's me.  I'm moving to the country.  I can't wait to smell the fresh air and breath the sigh of relief.  I know I will miss the city life, and maybe one day, when my boys are older and off on their own, I'll move back.

Until then, I am looking forward to the new pace.  Maybe I'll even buy a hammock.


Friday, January 1, 2016

Adventure.

While I am not one for resolutions, I did actually set some goals for 2015.  It was a great thing for me, and I am so glad I did it.  I didn't meet all of them, and I surpassed others.  It was a great tool for me to keep myself on track, not because I wanted to change this big thing about myself, but rather because I wanted to see what I could accomplish when I set my mind to it.

Much of this mindset comes from my love of running.  Way back in January of 2014, 2 years ago today, actually, I decided to walk a certain number of miles each month.  I wasn't looking to lose weight, but I wanted to be in better shape and health and I was in the midst of a huge career change, and I think I was looking for something steady and predicable.

I walked almost every single day and hoped to complete anywhere between 40-55 miles in the month. About 3 weeks in, I began to feel the desire to run some of my miles.  I would run for about 45 seconds and have to stop to catch my breath.  It was ridiculous!  But it felt amazing.  I set my app on my phone to tell me every single minute, so I would run for one, and walk for 2-3.  Before long I was running 2-3 minutes and only walking one.

Sometime in February or March of 2014 I decided to sign up for a 5k race.  I went for a non-competitive one at the Botanical Garden because I wanted to non-competition part and also the opportunity to run in the beautiful garden.  I did a run-walk approach to most of the race and ended up timing at about 30:06.  I was so proud of myself!


At that point I decided that I really wanted to be able to run for at least 30 minutes without stopping.  I also wanted to do one 5k race each month.  Each month I completed one, and each month I improved.  In September 2014 I got first place in my age group with a time of 26:51, and I ran the whole time.



It was about this time that my running friends began to ask me when I would step it up to a 10k race.  I liked the idea of that, but I also wanted to take my time and not rush my body.  I was running 3-4 miles 4-5 times/week and I didn't want to increase that much to train for a longer road race.  I was having so much fun, I didn't want to change too much too fast.

In January 2015, my friend wanted to run a race, and asked me to run one with her.  We found one to run together, and I got a PR time of 25:34!


I was so happy!  I shaved over 4 minutes off of my 5k race time in less than 1 year.  My friend was super fast!  I could barely keep up with  her pace, and I was so grateful for her.  There's no way I would have finished with this time if I hadn't been trying to keep up with her.  It was such a fun race.

What happened afterwards I didn't anticipate.  I lost some motivation for 5k races now that I felt pretty certain that I couldn't top my new PR, and I didn't want to try and improve my time with speed training.  I was still running 3-4 miles 4-5 days/week, which I loved.

It was around February of 2015 that my brother-in-law asked me if I was interested in doing some trail running.  He has been a runner in the past, but because of health issues he had been sidelined for the past few years.  He was ready to get back into it, and I was ready to try running not only with a partner, but also off-road.

He and I started running on trails on the weekends.  We stuck to pretty easy trails that were either paved or gravel since the cold weather and melting ice kept the trails around town pretty wet.  We decided to sign up to run a 10k trail race in March.  It would not only be my first 10k race, but also on a trail!  I was nervous, and it was awesome.

Shaw Nature Reserve 10k Race

I was hooked.  Trail running was something I didn't' even know I was missing.  Running outside on a trail is like nothing I have ever done before.  My BIL and I went on to run multiple trail races ranging from 3.5 miles to 10 miles.

Alpine Shop Spring Trail Series Castlewood State Park

Alpine Shop Spring Trail Series Castlewood State Park

Flint Ridge 10 Mile Trail Race

I stretched myself farther than I ever have before, and learned things about myself I never knew were there.  I found a sense of adventure and exploration I never knew existed inside of me.  Running not only became the way I dealt with my heath and wellness, but is becoming synonymous with the way I live my life.

It has sparked a light it me that is hard to explain.  Most recently, on 12/12/15, I completed what is considered to be the most challenging trail run in the area.

Pere Marquette 7.8 mile Trail Race

In addition to the many races I completed this year, I also set a goal for mileage for the year at 936 miles, which I completed with a few days to spare.


Before I put on those walking shoes in January of 2014, I hadn't ran at all since I played soccer in high school.  I feel amazing, have a new rush for being outdoors, and am already signed up for a 15k trail race in February, a 20k trail race in March, the spring trail series of 4 races in the month of May and a HALF MARATHON TRAIL RACE in September!!  (Yikes!)  And last, a goal to run 1008 in 2016.

One of the most important things I learned this year is this:



It really did take nearly 2 years for me to learn this very important point.  The races I do are not about winning my age group, or setting a time record.  The races I do are about looking at a challenge, staring it in the face, and killing it.  The other runners truly do not matter.  Besides the kind and encouraging words we throw around at each other particularly after a ridiculous climb up what feels like the side of a mountain when we can finally exhale and realize what we all just accomplished!

This brings me to my word for 2016...ADVENTURE!


I want to stretch myself farther than I ever have before.  I want to set goals and watch myself crush them.  I want to try something new that I have never done.  I want to explore nature and bring myself and my family closer to each other and to the earth.

Bring on 2016.  Let's do this!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Anna's World

I was sitting with BBZ at the kitchen table recently while he was doing his homework.  I picked up a grown up coloring book hoping to find some peace and meditation in coloring.  After he finished his homework, he began coloring with me.  He noticed that I was coloring all of the leaves on the flowers on the paper green, and encouraged me to think creatively and not feel the pressure to make the picture the way it looks in the real world.

I dismissed this initially, then I decided to challenge myself and do just what he suggested.  It's amazing what can be accomplished internally by simply looking at something with a creative eye vs. what one would expect to see.

Going a step further, BBZ continued to encourage me to access my creativity and gave me a blank piece of paper.  He instructed me to write "Anna's World" on the top, and to draw pictures on the paper of things that I find in my world.

Deep.  Seriously deep.  This exercise proved to be much harder than it should have been.

How does one first define their world, and then draw it on a 8"x 11" sheet of paper?  As I struggled to begin with an obvious awkwardness, BBZ continued to encourage me to simply draw my world.

"Seriously mom", he said, "just draw."

So I did.  And this is the result:


I think what I love most about this exercise, is that BBZ knew what each of these things was.  I don't mean that as a testament to my drawing, but rather that he really knows me well enough to know the things that would be in my world.  So from left to right you'll see: N and the 2 boys, sleeping/snuggling in bed, running in the woods, donuts, yoga, dancing on a blanket outside, working and the sunrise/sunset.

I was pretty proud of my little world!  Feeling proud, I figured my work was done, but oh no.  Not even close!

BBZ has been very into writing comics lately.  He loves to read them, and lately he has been writing comic strips, which typically involve superheros and supercows (he's really into cows right now.  It's a little odd and totally adorable!)

So he tells me my next task is to draw a comic strip based on my world.  Geez,  This was really going to be hard!  I was so incredibly impressed by BBZ's ability to create a complete story on a blank sheet of paper.  I don't know that I am necessarily NOT creative, but this exercise definitely helped me see how VERY creative BBZ is.  And it inspired me to tap into this piece of myself now and then.

So this is what transpired from my "Anna's World" drawing into my comic strip story line:


From left to right: Wake up early, while the moon and stars are still out.  Run and watch the sunrise (BBZ asked where I run around here in the mountains and I reminded him that this is a pretend story).  Feed my smiling boys donuts.  Drive them in the car and listen to music.  Drop them off at school.  Put on my super woman cape and "Save the Day"!  (BBZ also reminded me that I don't have a cape.  I asked him how he can be so sure :) )  Get back in my car, pick up the boys from school, listen to music, feed my family a delicious dinner, watch the sunset and go to sleep next to my husband.

The End.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Reminiscing - My Early Career Days

I spent most of my run this morning reminiscing about my college years, and my very first years in a real job (as in something besides fast food and retail).

I had just turned 20, and was in my junior year of college.  My friend and I wanted to get part-time jobs, and he found an ad in the paper for a part-time, $10/hour job with no benefits helping people with developmental disabilities at the 150-year-old state institution that stood on the outskirts of our small Missouri college town.

They provided 3-4 weeks of training before we ever spend time with the people we were hired to support.  They taught us non-violent crisis intervention, how to restrain people, how to communicate with people who don't use speech, and how to clock in/out and request time off.  Even with this long training, nothing could have prepared me for the work I would be expected to do.

Many of the people who lived in this institution had been there for most of their lives.  Many of the people who worked there did so after following the footsteps of their family members before them.  Here I was, a young college student tasked with the job of keeping myself and the people living there, safe from themselves and from others.

I was terrified.  I imagine they were required to prepare us for the times when the people living there would have behavior problems, and from the intense training we had to prepare us for that, I figured we would be in an unsafe situation the whole shift, every shift.

That, of course, wasn't true.  While we did need to address some behavioral issues at times, most shifts were geared toward supporting the people who lived there with all aspects of daily living.  I worked in the evenings, so we would prepare dinner, serve the meal, do showers, help with the bedtime routine and do data collection for programs.  My title was a DCA, or Direct Care Assistant.  There were often 2 full-time staff in each group home who were assigned 4 people each, then when I was assigned to a home, I would be responsible for 2-3 of the people on their lists, and would complete all of the tasks related to those people each shift.

There are so many stories I could tell about working in this environment.  Some great, some not so great.  I saw a lot there, and either in spite of or because of this job, I have dedicated my career to working with people with disabilities in a variety of settings.

The memory that came to mind today is a funny one.  Typically there would be 1 DCA in a group home with 2 full-time, and very experienced, direct care staff.  One day, I was assigned to group home 38 on unit 2.  I walked into the home, and found 2 other staff, but they were both DCAs like me.  We muddled through figuring out who would do what and thought we had it all covered.  Then we realized that we needed to cook dinner.  Here we were, 3 young and very inexperienced staff tasked with the chore of cooking a 2-course meal for 8 hungry men.  We froze up.

Not one of us knew how to cook for ourselves, let alone for a group of 8!  The kitchen sent up a box full of all of the ingredients we needed to cook the meal.  I cannot seem to remember what the meal was, but it included ground beef.  Somehow I ended up having to figure out this meal, so I did the best I could and remember serving a plate of bread with this ground beef concoction poured over the top of it.  I think the best part of this story is that one of the men who lived in this house rarely ate anything the staff cooked.  It was something the team had to address at each mealtime.  Not that night though.  He ate every bite!  I remember recounting this story the next time I worked with the full-time staff of group home 38 on unit 2, and they were not so happy to hear that he actually ate our ground beef whatever-it-was.

Reminiscence therapy is a tactic we use in my current work with people who experience memory loss.  It may seem odd to use reminiscence, or memories, as therapy for people with memory loss, but often a person experiencing memory loss cannot remember what happened yesterday, but can access memories in their long-term memory bank.  We use various items or materials to trigger memories, and it is very therapeutic not only for our participants, but also for those of us leading the activity.

I think that is why I wanted to write this out.  This was just one day, over 16 years ago, that has made a lasting impression on me.  I enjoyed thinking back to this day, which then led my memory to recall other memories from this time in my life.  It was like a small time travel machine took me back to those early days in my career.  I still have so much to learn, and have also come pretty far.