Jump In

I have to admit that I forgot.

I started this job so long ago, I don’t remember what it is like to not know.

I am starting to hear back from people who have read Unattached.   Some have said that they enjoy the mystery and quick pace, or they love the romantic tension between the two leads, and they are excited to continue with characters they enjoyed from Unprotected.

But I have also heard this:

“The abuse cases were awful.   Does that stuff really happen?”

“The child abuse parts were hard to read.”

I could never do your job.”

The comments caught me off-guard; I genuinely forgot that child abuse is hard to read about.  And then that realization surprised me even more.   When did child abuse become routine for me?  Is this what happens to people who do this job for 20 years?

One of the major storylines of Unattached involves a case of a 2 year old who is severely beaten and suffers a brain injury and multiple broken bones.  It is not a “typical” case–it is child abuse at its worst.   I have only experienced a handful of such cases in my career, and they were anything but routine.   There have been times when I fall asleep thinking about a kid on my caseload and wake up with that kiddo’s face still in my mind.    Sometimes I meet with a kid and hear such awful things that all I can do is go back to my desk and stare at the wall.  Terrible cases make it clear that child abuse still gets to me.

It reminds me of the story about frogs and their tolerance for heat.   It has been said that if a frog that is dropped in boiling water, it will recognize the danger and jump out.   But if a frog is placed in cool water and then the heat is slowly increased, it will never realize it’s getting hot and will die.   .

frog in water

I want to believe that those of us who last in child protection find a way to take a break from that boiling pot long enough to rest and restore, and hopefully to allow the water to cool down.   Unfortunately, even when we get away from the cauldron of work, we can’t get away from the worries of whether we asked right questions or made the safest decisions.      The hard part is that if we are going to stay in this job, we have to jump back in.

I wrote Unprotected and Unattached because I wanted to try to explain that heat–the worry about decisions made, the frustration about being misunderstood, the fear a child may get hurt again.   I hope to give a glimpse of what is happening to kids and families in every community, every day.    Writing these books was also therapeutic for me because I got to choose the ending, and I chose to find the resilience and the hope in the characters, just like I do in my clients.

Unprotected and Unattached can be found at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and some local bookstores.   I hope readers will decide to jump in.

Top 10 lessons learned from a career in child protection

top 10 keyboar

  1. Most kids fare better with their own parents than they do in great foster homes.  For some kids this isn’t possible, and then we do the very best we can to find fabulous adoptive homes where many kids live wonderful lives.   But the statistics don’t lie–overall kids have better outcomes if they can safely remain with the parents who raised them.
  2. So anything we can do to strengthen families is time and money well spent.
  3. Many addicts never quit.   Most repeatedly cycle through relapse and recovery, with some mired in relapse, some firmer in their recovery.
  4. So anything we can do to prevent addiction is also time and money well spent.
  5. A few people are truly terrible.    Unfixable, to the core terrible.    But in the thousands of people I have seen, I have witnessed the reprehensible only a handful of times.
  6. Parents love their kids and are usually doing the best they can.    Child protection workers who can’t find empathy for parents shouldn’t be child protection workers.    We can hold them accountable, and we can expect and support them to do better, but we can do so with compassion and humanity.
  7.  It’s not about me.  When I get yelled at, they aren’t really yelling at me.   When they don’t change, or stay sober, or ever get their kids back, it’s not my fault.   If I make it about me, then I get in the way of the work the families have to do.
  8. So I better take care of me.    I have a lot of feelings about the things I witness every day, and I need to know how to decompress and let go.
  9. Bad Things happen.    The only way to survive in child protection is to understand and accept this fact, and then to find motivation and strength in being the person to help put things back together, because..resilience graphic
  10. People can recover when those Bad Things happen.   I have worked with so many parents who admit that they were resentful at first, but now are grateful that their family is together and healthy and whole.     I have seen kids suffer horrific trauma, and over and over again they find a way to recover and move on.       Witnessing resilience is a great privilege, and the reason I go back, day after day.

I wrote my novels Unprotected and Unattached because I wanted to share those lessons.   My novels are available in select local book stores and at amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

Grateful

Words fail me sometimes, usually when there’s something important to say.    Tonight, on the eve of my book launch, I will try.

I am deeply grateful that a story that I wrote has been published.    Again.   Thanks to North Star press for investing in me a second time.

my book is here!

I am thrilled that my husband’s photo is the cover, and that the young woman on the cover is my daughter, Gracie.  I love to write about family–both biological and chosen–so it is only right that the cover comes from my family.

And speaking of family, I couldn’t have done this without everyone who read, critiqued and proofed multiple drafts of this book.     “Unattached” is so much better because of all the editors and cheerleaders I had along the way.

I also want to thank all the social workers out there who inspired this story.     County social work can be thankless, exhausting, and often invisible.   I write about our work because I want people to understand it.   So today, I also want to thank all my fellow county social workers for the heart and soul they put into their jobs every day.

And finally, thank you to everyone who has read “Unprotected” and will soon read “Unattached.”       Tomorrow, I will begin putting my new novel in your hands, and I will never forget what a privilege that is.

Unattached: A preview

He loved to bounce that baby boy on his knee. Never much interested in girls, he ignored their first child, a daughter with a cap of blonde fuzz and a dimple in her left cheek. His friends, annoyingly married for the past year, had finally had their boy. His boy. He caressed the baby’s head and wondered how old the little man would be before he would start spending the night with his favorite uncle.

 

           Leah Danco didn’t sleep anymore.  Not the full, doctor-recommended eight hours, anyway. Leah’s nights involved hours of fitful rolling on her aged queen-sized bed with a deep divot in the middle from years of sleeping alone.   This spring morning her insomnia had been interrupted with an ominous phone call from sheriff’s dispatch at 3:00 a.m.

          When the sun finally emerged that first Friday morning in May, Leah had already showered and was wrestling with her home-highlighted blonde frizz. If left alone, her hair would add at least two inches of fuzzy height to her barely five foot frame, so her mornings always began with the aggravation of coaxing her hair into compliance. Annoyed with the stringy, crunchy results, she switched around a few of the studs in the upper cartilage of her left ear. The studs always cooperated, so at least she could control that much of her appearance. Leah had just turned thirty-five and worried that years of hard living had taken their toll, so she took the bright spots in her appearance where she could find them.

          The best part of the day was that it was Friday. She could wear jeans. As a social worker who investigated allegations of child abuse, sometimes perks of the job were hard to find. The 3:00 a.m. phone call was from a dispatcher asking if a social worker wanted to ride along with a uniformed officer to Children’s Hospital, where a toddler was being airlifted with life-threatening abuse injuries. The interviews could wait until morning, Leah told her. It was going to be an ugly day.

          Twenty minutes later, breakfast bar and Diet Coke tucked in her giant purse, Leah stood on the steps outside of Terrance County Human Services like the soles of her hiking sandals were glued to the sidewalk.

          Going inside meant facing the day—kids who were angry, anxious or traumatized. Defensive, sobbing, or absent parents. Today, it meant finding answers and justice for a broken baby who just a few hours ago was safe and healthy and whole.

IMG_1374-0

Unattached will be available for purchase from local bookstores and kindle download September 12, 2015.

Calling all Book Clubs!

As I prepare to market my soon-to-be released second novel, I’m stretching back out of my comfort zone to that vulnerable place where I try to convince people to buy my creation.   Book store signings, a necessity to get the book out there, require me to stand behind a table, plastic smile plastered hard on my face, and talk up my book to people who mostly shuffle by and pretend I’m not there.

On the other end of the marketing spectrum is the Book Club Appearance.

The first Book Club?
The first Book Club?

Attending book clubs is a joy. When I was promoting my first novel, Unprotected, I was invited to over a dozen different book clubs where all I had to do was drink a glass of wine and chat.

After seeing so many clubs in action, I also discovered a few truths about our monthly pastime:

  1. Many Book Clubs are small–often 5 or 6 regular members. They would apologize for their size, like their group didn’t count because they comfortably fit in a living room.   My own book club (approaching our 10 year anniversary!) currently sits at seven members, though many months only 3 or 4 may attend.
  2. Knowing how my own book club struggles to figure out what to read, I would ask the clubs I attended what they had read over the years.     The lists were remarkably similar:   Water for Elephants, Unforgiven, The Secret Life of Bees, Gone Girl.   A fair number sheepishly acknowledged 50 Shades of Gray.   A few mix it up with non-fiction or politics, but most stick to the genre broadly known as “Women’s Lit” that can usually be found on the shelves at Target.
  3. While there is a book of the month (that about half of the members actually read), Book Club is rarely about the books.   Sure we all like to read, and most clubs usually spend a few minutes discussing the book, or as much of that dang thing as anyone can remember.   Someone always remarks about how the details fade so fast, but the feelings about the book remain.   And then the book falls into the background and as club moves on to discussions about kids’ sports, ailing parents, workplace drama, health scares, and everything else that most of us are dealing with every day.
  4. Book Club is about the beautiful desserts.   So many decadent pinterest recipes served on the good dishes.   Always apple crisp in the fall, strawberries in the spring, and chocolate most other months.
  5. And then there’s the wine.   Obviously.
  6. A few of the clubs had historians who could pull out a notebook and list every book they had read.   Impressive, and more organized than my group, who can barely remember what we’re reading from one month to the next!
  7. More than the books, the desserts, and the wine, it’s really about the commitment–every month– take a break and be with friends.

So, book clubs, if you choose Unattached for a monthly selection, thank you!   And if you’re local, I would love to be invited back to your book club to chat about my book, for the allotted 8 minutes or so.   Then I will happily settle into my chair with a glass of wine and delicious dessert on my lap, and listen to you chat about kids and parents, work and life.