Rosie and I had our first official training day visit to my office up north today.  I should have gotten a picture, but too many confidentiality concerns in the room.

Well.  We kind of had an official visit.  It was to group supervision and it was great exposure to a group of people.  No clients.

I really don't think we're ready for clients quite yet...

You guys, she was amazing.  Relatively calm, good manners, charming as could be.  It is about an hour and a half drive to the city office, and the entire way there, all (literally.  All.) of the things that could go wrong ran through my mind.  

Extreme hyperactivity / excessive whining / barking / she could have an accident on the carpet / she would be too disruptive ...

And what did she do?
She received pets, smiled, wagged her tail, did not have an accident and fell asleep.

Remember, this is the same dog who was banned from the groomer for several months because she had "too much energy."

But she was a love.  
And I was relieved.
And now that I know she is capable, we have more things to try.

She's been asleep since we got home at 3:00.  I have no doubt it was exhausting for her to be so well mannered.

And now, a picture from yesterday, when we had a play date with her dog best friend, Mason.

Retriever Power.

I feel like this is going to be a strange post.  There's these ... things ... I want to share ... but I'm fully cognizant of the fact that I have to be wise in how I share them.

So I work with families, right?  Big families.  Little families.  Single parents.  Partnered parents.  Parents with infants.  Parents with teens.  Families.

For many complex, varied, and multifaceted reasons, the families I work with are having difficult times.  Every family I've ever worked with has wanted to see behavioral change in their children.  This is completely logical ... as I'm a child and family therapist; I don't get called when the forecast is sunny and a high of 72.

Child behavior doesn't exist in a vacuum.  Families are dynamic, restless creatures with complicated interactions.  For me, working with children automatically brings a family component.  So, as a professional kid worker, here's some of what I know:

We have to model the behavior we want to see in our kids.

If we want our kids to model gentleness and problem solving, we have to model that.
If we want our kids to get along well with peers, we have to model that.
If we want our kids to display honesty, we have to model honesty.
If we want our kids to be more compassionate, we have to model that.
If we want our kids to stop yelling at us, their peers, the dog, we have to model respectful communication.

Is it always that simple?  Of course not.  At any given time, there are always a myriad of factors that are taken into account and other points of clinical focus. Am I implying that all families who have children with explosive anger have parents who have explosive anger?  A resounding no. However, this is something I find coming up again and again in my work with families.  Am I trying to shame families?  Oh, please, dear hearts, no.  Not at all.  There are varied and complex reasons why these behaviors aren't being modeled.

I get that.

But it's a place for growth to begin for the entire family.

Often to introduce whatever change is needed, I work with the family to facilitate a "Full Values Family Contract."  Family members (sometimes this has included dogs and cats, too.  I'm not picky!) trace their hands on posterboard in a circle.  On the inside of the circle we write down what values we want to keep or increase; values such as honesty, respect, fun, laughter, etc. often show up here.  On the outside of the circle, we write down what we'd like to leave behind or chance; often, this includes dynamics such as yelling, fighting, and lying.  I've found that it is incredibly validating for children to see their guardians participate in this and take ownership for behaviors they would also like to change.  It is often a point in which families, even if just for a moment, experience a shared moment of being:  This is who we are.  This is how we are strong.

We, as adults, have to be examples of what we want to see in our children.  I would even go so far as to say it is not fair or reasonable to ask our children to exhibit behavior we ourselves have not mastered.  Am I saying parents  need to be perfect?  Dear heart, please.  What kind of a family therapist would I be if I thought parents could be perfect?

What an amazing opportunity for growth.  What would happen if we modeled taking a risk to change for the better?  What would happen if we modeled grace and compassion for ourselves as we tried new things?  What exactly would our kids be seeing?  (Our kids, by the way, are geniuses - smart and savvy in surprising ways.)

This, for me, is an exciting part of family therapy.  The implications are tremendous.
Effective change.  We all jump on board.
Rosie is having a bad training day.  As in, I took her to the park to practice skills (we do this in public a lot - she is one highly distractable pup and needs to work on focusing on me) and she was just not into it.

Like, not look at me, didn't care about freeze dried liver treats, bad.

Oh that dog.

I found myself beginning to get frustrated, and the more frustrated I became, the less praise I gave her, even when she complied.  I was mad, right?  And these were super basic things we were working on.

Then I remembered something I told a mom yesterday:  when we practice new things, we have to find a place of compassion and grace - for others, and for ourselves.  

It's called practice for a reason.

So I brought pup home, and when I laid down on the couch for a few minutes before returning to paperwork (ugh), she jumped up, snuggled in and immediately went to sleep.  

She's not doing these things to me.  She's a dog.  So we'll try again tomorrow. 

This is a lot of work, training this dog.  She is one stubborn girl.  I just keep looking to that point in the future where she will be able to be present I session with me.  

(Fingers crossed.)

Here she is on a previous good training day, the little love.  We're getting more and more used to the training vest.  That's a process, too.

Oh, friends.

It's been a long time since I've been here, catching up with your lives and my favorite stories.  I've missed you.

I had originally written out a light, breezy bulleted update on what's been going on here lately, but then deleted that sucker.  I don't feel light.  Or breezy.  I feel tired.

As in, tired in my bones.
Nothing new in the helping profession, I know.
I've been running at top speed for several weeks, working 50 hour weeks.

(And before I get the well meaning advice of "Don't do that" and "You have to take of yourself," please, loves, let me just say I know.  And let me just say that there are certain peculiarities to this job, including draconian fidelity measures, that make that impossible to do for several weeks at a stretch.  What would be more helpful are things like, "Hang in there" and "You're doing a good job."  Also relatively not so helpful and even more tiring are things like, "That's why I left social work."  That's a good choice for you, and I'm glad you made a choice that was good for you.)

So.  I'm working all these hours.  And my families are in remote, remote locations where there is, at times, a lack of:  cell service, law enforcement, running water, electricity, flush toilets (oh, yes, this still happens in rural America).   I now know all the park port a potties and park flush toilets in the county.  That is a very helpful think when you spend three hours providing in home services for one family and then drive an hour and a half to do the same thing with another family.

(Side note?  Drive me crazy when I attend urban trainings that address "safety."  Sometimes urban discourse is quite unhelpful for rural practice.  There is no McDonald's for me to duck into to use the bathroom.  My cell phone doesn't work at 85% of the homes I'm in.  Several of my families have lived at least 60 minutes from law enforcement, whom I would be hard pressed to call without cell service.)

Also I would LOVE to share some of even the most light hearted, non clinical anecdotes about my day, but because this town is 10,000 people without the students, I feel limited in that.  Even if I were to change identifying details, I still feel like my clients could be identified.

And then there's the not fun things that come with a job of providing in home family therapy to high risk families.  In the past 6 months, I've seen some stuff, y'all.  Stuff I haven't seen in the last 12 years of providing bachelor's level social work, which says something.  I've been around.

I've also seen a lot of healing, growth and change, to be fair.

So there's that.

Then.  I had this AMAZING idea that it was time for Rosie to start the AKC Therapy Dog process.  Because what BETTER time would there be?  (Sarcasm font.)  Only, Rosie and I needed to back up to re do basic obedience (where we are now).  Then Good Canine Citizen Class.  Then the visits to school/hospital/nursing home, etc. for more training.  I wanted to start her now, while she's still relatively young (the only time I've been grateful that Goldens stay young at heart for 2 years).  And I thought, it's only an hour of class a week.

And 15 minutes of practice twice a day.  Minimally.
And trips to the community to practice recall in distracting situations.

If Rosie weren't doing as well as she is, friends, I might throw in the towel, because I am just that busy. But Rosie, my darling demon possessed pup, is becoming a shining star.  And her becoming a shining star is validating and rewarding in ways I didn't know were possible.  When we practice body touching during training times, the way she rests into me and allows me to touch her ears, feet, tail and mouth just pulls at my heartstrings.  This little "girl" trusts me.  It is tender and a lovely moment of bonding.

And the fact that she loves and trusts people so much is just one reason why I think she's going to make a fabulous therapy dog.

Now if she would only calm down a little ....

But that's not enough to have on a plate, right?  Because life is simple for no person.

We had to replace our sewer line.  That doesn't sound like a big deal, right?  It was.  It was and it was terribly expensive.
Good.  Gravy.
Of all the places I wanted to put our home remodel dollars, replacing the sewer line was not one of them.  Maybe updating one of the upstairs bathrooms?  Replacing carpet?  Knocking out a wall in a bedroom?
But no.  When the sewer line calls, it calls immediately.
And thus commenced the ground shaking process.

So that's where I am.  I am exhausted.  Like, gained weight, bags under my eyes, feel like I need a nap all the time but my brain is too buzzy and full to pass out for a few minutes.

I open this up now to the helpers out there.  When it gets like this, how do you, in the moment, address your own needs.  Vacations are not going to be a possibility for awhile.  Days off are not a possibility right now.  In the moment, what do you say to keep yourself going?  What do you remember?  I'm not leaving social work.  I love it.  But it's kind of taking over my world right now and I need to find daily moments of balance.