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The One Where I Embarrass a Teen at the Library

I have always been of the opinion that libraries are magical places and yesterday I had the incredible pleasure of taking one of my foster kids to the library and getting her happy self a library card.
In my line of work, being a Child Protective Services worker, I work everyday with kids of all ages in foster care and the families who are trying (or not trying) to get them back. My job is stressful and sad and hard. My job makes me sweat and cry and it often makes me want to yell and spit and cuss and I’ve got more than one ‘troubled teen’ on my caseload determined to turn my 24 year old head prematurely grey.

But every once in a while there is a little glimmering moment that makes me glad I haven’t let the horrible days at court drive me to throw in the towel. Yesterday was one of those days.

Back up to last Thursday: one of my more attitude heavy teens got kicked out of her foster home and as her case worker, I was tasked with finding her a new foster home. Unfortunately the only thing we could find after hours was an emergency shelter in a small town an hour away. I hate it, but sometimes our hands are tied and we take what we can find. I was devastated. She had been doing so well in her foster home! I thought she was getting along with everyone, her grades were improving, she was finally stable. Then all of a sudden Thursday night, her attitude became too much and she was nearly at blows with one of the other teens in the home and that was it… She and the foster parent both asked me to go pick her and her things up. She was out, looking in the rear view at yet another foster home she didn’t feel she could stay at full of people who didn’t want to keep her.

Friday: this teen, having just disrupted from her foster home, carried her bad attitude to school with her and got herself suspended for three days. I was so frustrated! I couldn’t understand why she just couldn’t keep her attitude in check! I couldn’t understand how she didn’t realize that if she didn’t lose the attitude, she was on track to getting herself expelled! And the worst part: the shelter wouldn’t keep her during the day when she should’ve been in school so I would have to sit with her at the office. For three whole days! (I know I was being selfish, but I got over it pretty quick I swear.)

This is a 15 year old that I very much care for. Her parents’ rights were terminated and she is up for adoption. She has been in multiple foster homes and desperately wants to be adopted. She and I have bonded during the time I’ve had her case and I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere with her if I was openly upset with her. I told her I was disappointed in her decisions and that I knew she could do better. We talked and she calmed down and then Monday morning when she was brought to the office, she broke my heart.

Somehow we got talking about books and reading (not that it takes much to get me talking about it) and naturally I was getting overexcited to be talking about this and recommending books to her. She was telling me about the types of books she likes to read and I was trying to remember the books on my own shelf that I could let her borrow when she mentioned the library and how she didn’t have a library card. I asked how a book lover like herself didn’t have a library card and she said to me, ‘I don’t have a stable address to give the library to get a card’. I was floored. This library card was something she longed for but didn’t feel like she could get because she didn’t know where she would be or how long she would get to stay there. And I just took it for granted. So I grabbed some mail with her name that had been sent to our county office and I took her butt down to the library because dang it every kid deserves a library card.

We got her a library card under my own account and she was pretty excited… that is until she saw how excited I was and remembered how totally un-cool it is to be in public with an adult and at a library of all places. GASP! She rolled her eyes at me a lot and called me a nerd a lot, but she took me around the YA section and showed me some of her favorite books and even checked out one that I recommended! Let me tell you, I was one proud case worker.

Foster kids go through so much trauma. The trauma of being removed from their parents. The trauma of bouncing from foster home to foster home. Being separated from siblings. Sleeping somewhere they’ve never been in a house full of people they don’t know and don’t trust. Reading is such a big part of my life, being my favorite coping mechanism and the best way to get out of my head after a hard day at work. And somehow, I never stopped to consider that maybe it would help these kids I work with every day. I’m incredibly grateful I was able to help this wonderful, sassy, lovable kiddo get her very first library card at age 15 and I so hope she keeps a hold of this love for reading forever. I’m grateful and humbled by the joy brought to her by something as simple and powerful as a library card. I may or may not have shared my excitement with all my coworkers the next day… fight me.

This was one of my all time favorite library experiences. What are some of the fun memories you’ve made in libraries? Do you have any ideas for how to foster a love of reading in kids/teens? I’d love to hear about it all!

But as always, I hope your reading life is outta this world!

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