I remember the day I interviewed. My green earrings were perfectly matched to my green button down. I had nice suit pants on and a copy of my resume ready. When Candace came out to meet me, she was wearing old jeans and a black shirt with some crumbs on it. It turns out she’d forgotten about our meeting, but still decided to do it rather than reschedule. The interview was a personal one. She asked me a lot of questions about my background, my family, my travels. It was more like catching up with an old friend than an interview. I got the job on the spot, but she wanted to let me know that they weren’t sure when they’d have a client for me. It didn’t really matter to me. I was just happy to have the opportunity. After the interview, I asked to use the restroom. When I went in I realized that this job was in no way going to be for the money; there was moss growing in the toilet. Seriously, there was moss growing in the toilet. To me it was a statement. That and Candace’s dress told me: we have more important things to worry about than appearances. I felt like I’d be doing something worthwhile. It made me feel superior to people who worked for money.
And that’s the culture of our conversation at meetings. We brag about who makes less money. Or about who has ever received a negative check because a client was sick and they had benefits to cover. We share those stories and show the scratches, cuts, bite marks, and choking bruises like battle scars. They are our proof that what we do is necessary. More necessary and relevant than chasing money or trading stock options. It’s proof that our degrees are being put to good use even if we can barely pay the bills. And that’s what keeps us sane. We’ve got to have something to hold up to people and say: “see, it’s worth it.”
The truth of it is we all love it. We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t truly love working with these kids. I could’ve gotten a job in a bank somewhere and only been stressed if someone tried to rob it. Instead, I think all day of what to do to help this kid and prepare for our next outing. I agonize over what I can do differently and cry when their schedule changes and I have to say goodbye. The kids are difficult and disrespectful. They swear and yell and cream and cry. I’ve been choked and scratched and hit. But that first time my first child made eye contact with me and I knew he heard me, I was addicted. That hard won respect is worth so much more than if I’d been a teller and someone had thanked me for my service.
That’s what keeps me in this job. The blessing I have everyday of knowing such extraordinary children. Of knowing what they’ve faced so far, and knowing that in spite of all of that; they may be able to trust me. They keep me accountable, and they teach me so much. Even though I play it down, and always say that I am looking for another job, I know that I’m not here because it makes me feel superior or altruistic. I stay at my job because these kids are worth it. I’ll take the crappy pay and long hours. I’ll take the abuse because they are just kids and, most of the time, they have taken so much more than I have.