The lines in my life are blurred. I live in the same community where I have been a child protection social worker for the past 18 years, which means that I cross paths with my clients nearly every day. I’m grateful that commute is 3 minutes, and if my kids need anything I can be at their schools in ten minutes on most days.
But living where I work means that I see my clients at the grocery store, in the movie theater, and at restaurants. My kids have unknowingly sat next to my client’s children in school and have played against them in their sports.
My clients and I sometimes talk about what we will do if we pass each other at Target. Usually they say hello, but some prefer to look away. I have had some do a double take when we pass in the aisles at Walmart and I’m in a ponytail and sweats, picking up cleaning supplies for a lazy day when I wasn’t supposed to see anyone.
Since my book was published, the boundaries in my life have gotten even fuzzier. Recently I was promoting my book at a Barnes and Noble store in Mankato, two hours from where I live. In addition to family and friends who stopped by, I saw friends I hadn’t seen since high school, and social workers with whom I currently share cases. And my small world got even smaller when a group of people asked about my book, and then hearing where I was from, they asked my advice about a family member who lives in a risky situation in my county. I had to put my social worker hat back on to answer their questions, and when we were done talking they left with a copy of my book. At my next promotional event in Duluth, I will be signing books at the Barnes and Noble during their book drive, which will benefit Northwoods Children’s Center, an agency I have worked with repeatedly.
The lines have even become blurry in my own head. Now that I have started my second book, I am spending a fair amount of time trying to think like my characters so I can get their dialogue right. I have found myself in my staff meetings wondering what my characters would think of what my coworkers are saying, and vice versa. I have considered how Leah, the main character in book 2, would handle the current cases I have. And I picture my characters and my coworkers discussing families, real and fictional, and figuring out what to do next.
Social workers are encouraged to avoid dual roles whenever possible, but life is messy. I can’t help that my kids go to school with my clients, or that somehow in another town I can cross paths with people who are worried about their family members in my county. But it leaves me feeling that I’m never really off duty. There’s little anonymity in small towns to begin with, so I know I need to watch myself and make sure I don’t say or do something that I wouldn’t want to have to explain later.
The blessing of feeling on duty all the time is that I have no choice but to just be myself wherever I am. I can’t be too haughty with my clients about the challenges of raising children when I have had to carry my three year old out of Walmart kicking and screaming. And with all the time that my characters spend in my head, my hope is that they feel as real to my readers as they do to me.
Unprotected can be purchased at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and at various local stores including Loons and Ladyslippers in Red Wing and Cover to Cover in Brookings. Thank you for your support!