Smack heard round the world – or maybe just the jungle gym

It was an average day on the playground.

Nine tiny humans, lined up and ready to go outside. I spent an ungodly amount of time zipping hot pink jackets, putting on gloves and general child wrangling. Once I let them all loose in the courtyard, the fun began.

There’s a set of twins in my class, and to put it mildly they’ve put me through the wringer. One is sweet and sensitive, while the other is hyper, has a short attention span and some violent tendencies. This combination has the potential to become explosive quickly, and it often leaves me stressed, frustrated and exhausted.

These two were a part of my group, which combines with another

Some of my girls in their best princess attire.

Some of my girls in their best princess attire.

class on the playground in the late afternoon. So I signed my kids in for the other teaching assistants, said goodbye for the day and started to leave on my merry way.

Yes, it was an average day on the playground — that is, until it wasn’t. It all happened so quickly I almost missed it. But for reasons that soon will become clear, I’m glad I didn’t.

One twin hit the other in the face. This isn’t atypical by any means. Usually we attempt to separate them so we can assess the problem and discipline further.  But this time, the hitter just wasn’t having it and darted across the grass like a Jack Russell chasing a shiny red frisbee.

Before I could even get a “come back!” out of my mouth, the errant child had been tackled to the ground by three other 4-year-olds.

“You were NOT listening to Miss Katie!” one shouted sternly.

“We GOT you!” another declared. They high-fived, gave speechless me a hug and went about their business as usual.

Once I got over the shock of it all, My mind was racing. “My kids just stood up for me. My kids are on my side. MY KIDS AREN’T TRYING TO KILL ME.”

Suddenly, it dawned on me. Although at times they exasperate me to no end, my kids have hearts of gold.

Disclaimer: OBVIOUSLY I teach my class that violence is not the answer, and I explained that while I appreciated their help, it’s not OK to tackle people. But on the inside I was screaming with joy.

We as adults are often quick to lose our patience with kids. We think logically (for the most part), and their growing brains don’t have the cognitive functioning to embody our ideology just yet. I’ll admit, there are times when I lose it. But this was one of those rare moments that helped me realize that with kids, some of the biggest annoyances also can manifest as their most powerful strengths.

Really, it’s true. The typical 4-year-old sees black and white, right and wrong, and nothing in between. While concrete thinking is typical of their age (and at times a major pain in the you-know-what), it can bring blind, unwavering loyalty toward the people they care about. While they didn’t display their loyalty in the most respectable  way, today they showed their loyalty to me. And I’m not one to discount such acts.

As silly and neurotic as it might be, my kids inspired me today. They helped me look past all the times I got annoyed when they took too long to get their snow boots on. I saw beyond the nap time debacles and messy snacks and just saw my kids.

My kids – the kids who made Christmas cards for elderly people in nursing homes because they didn’t want them to feel alone during the holidays. The kids who problem solve on their own when they all want to wear the Princess Elsa dress for the day. The kids who are fiercely independent, loyal, and with the right timing, sensitive and caring.

They’re my kids, and I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to help them learn.  


Should I stay or should I go: navigating the part-time job Sahara

This is me on days when I need to channel my inner Christina Yang. You're welcome.

This is me on days when I need to channel my inner Christina Yang. You’re welcome.

There’s this dream I keep having, night after night. I’m working with a research team in a clinic, performing behavioral assessments on patients for a new study. Everyone’s calling me “Doctor” Abdilla, but not the white coat-wearing variety. They’re coming to me with all their questions, and I have all the answers.

In this dream, I’m wearing bookishly high-fashion glasses, and my cable-knit sweater is J. Crew (hey, scientists can adore fashion too!) I’m the Christina Yang of behavioral science, and I couldn’t be happier with my research.

Fast-forward, and our work has made national news, and by some miracle no reporter has messed it up or misquoted me (har-har, journalist friends). We’re nominated for awards, and other behavioral scientists across the globe know all about it.

…Ok, do me a favor and please pretend that’s not as nerdy as it sounds. Do that, and I’ll pretend it’s not a huge change of pace from my daily work: a teaching assistant at a preschool.

That’s right. At night I’m having these dreams, and during the day it is my sole duty to make sure my bustling four-year olds don’t murder or maim each other. At this point in my life, I’m standing at the crossroads between making the best of the situation or moving on to bigger and better things. Or, perhaps there’s a third option: making my current job bigger and better by finding it in myself to make it a positive experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids. Really, I do. When they don’t make me want to stab child-size pencils through my eyeballs, which is often, they’re adorable and sweet and fun.

This undertaking of mine – it’s sort of like that one couple everyone knows. They’ve been together forever, even though everyone except them seems to know it just isn’t working anymore. When it’s good it’s great, but when it’s bad, the whole world knows it. Yet they keep trying, hoping for a different outcome.

So instead of doing the same thing over and over, I’m trying to make some changes. And, like it does for many others, to me the challenge often feels like the riddle of the Sphinx. 

For the past few months I’ve searched for methods to make matters more interesting: reading books about cognitive restructuring, researching new methods of conflict resolution and assessing the progress of children with behavioral problems. None of these things are required for the job, but somehow it makes me feel like I’m contributing more than I was previously.

In other words, I’m looking for new ways to be challenged.

On its face the job should be simple, straightforward. But I am not a simple girl. Nor am I overly attached to the education system unless I’m talking about reforming it.

So reform it I shall. Through the eyes of my kids, I will make changes.

Although this blog might provide evidence to the contrary, I don’t think my needs are all that different from every other student my age. I want the stress and craziness of a full day’s work. I want a challenge. More than anything, I want the chance to put my skills to good use and prove myself as a competent, professional human being.

In other words, I want the life I most likely will have to wait until post-graduation to see and experience. At the moment, what I’m struggling with most is the discrepancy between what I want and what I’ve learned in the social work sector thus far.

But this is the career situation I signed up for. This is the delayed gratification I know will come. I knew this when I got into my first grad school. I’ve made my postgrad bed, but do I have to lie in it for so long?

Well for now, I just have to let it lie. But that doesn’t mean I can’t flip the pillows and see my job from a new perspective.

When working with kids, it’s so easy to let the microscopic transgressions overtake you. But instead of getting fed up and giving up, for the time being I’m taking on the challenge in stride and waiting for the next opportunity to learn.


The good, the bad and the sleepy: 10 of my daily thoughts as a grad student

Like many other disgruntled, misguided twenty-somethings, I have a love-hate relationship with my decision to pursue a Master’s degree right after undergrad. While it might sound vaguely impressive/fancy to others, I’m definitely enduring some serious growing pains in my first semester of grad school.

So instead of attempting to compare my experiences to others, I thought I’d give a glimpse into the daily thoughts that cross my mind in my pursuit of this fancy degree.

  1. Why wasn’t one degree enough?! As the only person in my friend group pursuing grad school, I have a unique perspective on adulthood – y’know, being that I’ve delayed experiencing it for the next two years and all. While most of my close friends are getting “big girl” jobs and moving into their first apartments, writing 20-page papers and preparing for field placements has become my full-time job (plus a part-time job on top of that.) While I’m happy for my friends, I also wonder why I couldn’t join the ranks of the real world like the rest of them rather than torturing myself with two more years of economic insecurity and mental insanity.
  2. Why can’t I leave my bed? Everyone remembers the glorious weekend mornings of undergrad. We were the kings and queens of brunching, laundry and relaxation. Fast-forward four years: in those rare moments when homework is done, all of my waking hours are spent doing these such things. Does this make me lazy? Probably. Can I motivate myself to do something a little more productive? Absolutely not. After a long day of class, work and homework, I want nothing more than to spend the evening crying over Grey’s Anatomy. I’ve earned that right, if I do say so myself.
  3. Am I secretly a grandma? When I was still at Michigan State, I never knew what adventures the day would hold. I was ready to go out and have a good time at the drop of a hat. Nowadays, I’d be hard pressed to put pants on, much less leave the house. I’m over spending nights in crowded bars, being forced to listen to the boring lives of trendy strangers I don’t care about. I’d much rather enjoy dinner and cocktails with my girls, or go to a new art gallery, or do anything that doesn’t involve frat boys. Does this make me a grandma? Potentially. But I have no regrets.
  4. Holy moly, this debt is horrifying. Whenever I’m in a particularly dark place, I start racking up the potential student loan debt I’ll have incurred by graduation. Then I think, “…who needs kids and a house, right?” That’s when the panic sets in, when I picture myself swimming in debt until my mid-50s. What can I say? I’m an emotional cutter and a glutton for financial punishment. But seriously — we as a country have mastered the cure for certain cancers, but we haven’t figured out a more effective way to help students pay for college reasonably? So much for the American dream.
  5. How did I go without this much sleep?! As an undergrad I felt invincible. A normal day meant class in the morning, covering crime at my job at night, then homework and potentially bed, unless one of my my friends dragged me out of bed so I could have some semblance of a social life. I remember having days where I actually forgot to eat — for anyone who really knows me, this is tough to imagine. Every day I got up and did the same routine, and somehow I had energy to go out on the weekends. No 8 a.m. class, murder trial or shot of tequila could vanquish me. Nowadays, every extra 15 minutes of sleep feels like my kryptonite. I see a future filled with flannel sheets and down-filled blankets, and I will not apologize for it.

But as with any situation, I’ve got some positive thoughts squeezed in there somewhere. These are the daily reminders that get me through:

    1. I’ve never felt so blessed. Despite the aforementioned complaints, grad school is also a relief in many ways. While I achieved some success as a journalist, I felt incessantly nagged by the feeling I wasn’t truly supposed to be there. Social work feels like the perfect fit I never had with journalism. I’m surrounded by so many positive, passionate people, and they drive me to expand my mind and life every day.
    2. The passion never ends. My professors always tell me that as a social worker I will most likely never be out of a job. Even one semester in, the true need within the social services sector has become evident to me. There’s a new social or political issue to learn more about and help work through around every corner, and it’s incredibly exciting to think of the many lives I can live as a social worker. There’s this constant opportunity to reinvent myself. But deeper than that, there are thousands of people I can reach and help.
    3. There’s so much excitement for the future. My mind is constantly buzzing with potential research ideas, additions to my future thesis and practice wisdom professors and supervisors have instilled in me. I’m that girl who keeps a notebook with her constantly, just in case I think of something so brilliant I’m bound to forget it unless it’s written down. While I’m partially impatient for graduation because I’m sick of 100-plus pages of reading per night, it’s mostly because I can’t wait to get out there and make the difference I’ve been aiming for.
    4. All the unpleasant parts of undergrad are behind me. This includes working for less than minimum wage. And taking the God-forsaken bus to class. And strange men peeing in my apartment doorway in the wee hours of the morning (yes, this actually happened.) I’m not any wiser, now I’m just old enough to not tolerate this crap. Good riddance.
    5. I’ll be making WAY more money two years from now. Aside from my complete and utter love of everything concerning social work, the fact that I could potentially be making upwards of $10K more per year than I would have as a journalist doesn’t hurt. I’ll definitely need it to pay off those student loans. Although being broke is difficult now, the extra two years of suffering will be better off financially in the long run (hopefully).

Anything you think I missed? Feel free to share!