Last week was tough for me. This ‘new normal’ and I haven’t been getting along super well. I started online school, with a plethora of technical difficulties. On the first day I had three back-to-back Zoom calls, each with their own issues. And technical difficulties in another class meant I had to do double the work.
To be honest, I was quite looking forward to this virtual semester. No bus rides to school. No early morning classes. No partner work. No presentations. I could keep up my hours at the group home. Shy Liza was pumped. I would be okay if I just finished my university career from home, unlike how most students are feeling right now. I’ve always been a super independent worker, so I will not miss in person classes, small group or partner work. In fact, I’m happy they’re gone.
This being said, current Liza, is not loving it as much as she thought she would. Zoom classes are nothing short of weird. And online school has so many links to get lost in. The first week of school is always tough. But I’ve found it even tougher now that I have to navigate through everything myself. This ‘new normal’ has been hard for everyone and I understand this fully. So I will recognize my privilege here. I have a computer and internet. This means I can finish my university degree mid-pandemic. I have a job. I have a supportive family. I have food on the table and a roof over my head. I am healthy. The people around me are healthy. I can navigate the online school world without much support. I am telling you this because I am not writing this blog to start a pity party for myself. I am telling you this, because this week was tough but ultimately it taught me something really important about caregiving.
On my fourth day of classes I had finally sat down to take a break at 11pm, after an over twelve hour day of school work and work meetings. The moment I sat down, I had realized I had forgotten to respond to a few emails and texts that day, so I kept working. I was in the midst of my overwhelmed-ness when I had a co-worker call me out of the blue.
Our conversation was very friendly, until she decided to tell me something she didn’t like about how I did my job. Which was totally unexpected. She was upset with a way I handled a situation a few days earlier at work. And she was looking to talk about it. As you might assume, Shy Liza is a super non-confrontational person, so this is my worst nightmare.
I promise we are getting to the part about almonds, hang tight.
You must know before we begin: I am a softie. Everywhere I have ever worked and everyone who knows me, knows I am soft. I give my dog way too many treats because of her sweet face. I let campers move out of line and make huge messes and mistakes because of their wondrous curiosity. I let residents at the group home skip activities because I can see the tired in their eyes. I know that some of the best learning and love is built outside the rules.
Okay, back to the story.
My coworker was calling to talk about a shift a few days prior.
On that particular day, I started my shift and a resident asked me if she could have chocolate for a snack. As a compromise we decided that almonds would be a healthier option. I gave her about twelve almonds. Not many at all. This is what my co-worker was upset about: almonds. She was upset that I had given almonds as a snack when this was not part of this woman’s routine and that I am too easy on the residents. I should have said no.
After my wicked school day, I hung up the phone and could not stop crying. I called both my sisters, talked with my roommate and called a friend; crying the entire time. I was crying over almonds. My co-worker was not mean or cruel to me in any way. But I was very upset and I couldn’t really figure out why. Looking back now, I know I probably wasn’t really upset about this healthy snack, but rather just overwhelmed to the extreme.
First, online school seems like it will be the absolute worst and now she wants to confront me about twelve almonds?!?
Yet, this sad moment this week got me thinking how complicated the caregiving world is. For me, as a caregiver, I place value on, and foster independence and autonomy. If a grown, sixty year old woman, tells me she is hungry, who am I to say no? Whereas my co-worker supports this woman in a way by really fostering her routine. Another co-worker supports this woman with tough love. These are all different approaches to caring for a woman whom we all love dearly. In this case, is it fair to say one way is right and one way is wrong? I don’t think so. I think that’s the beauty of the field; that we can all bring a different perspective to give people the best care possible. It offers balance. If all my co-workers were like me this group home would be a complete disaster because my strength is not making decisions. If all my co-workers supported with routine we would lose a lot of the fun. And if we were all tough-lovey all the time, we might lose that mushy-lovey feeling we get about this community. Caregiving is so personal. We aren’t a company planning for a hypothetical project. We aren’t a business trying to sell products. Support staff are on the frontlines makes decisions that impact people’s lives immediately.
Do these almonds really change this woman’s life that much? I don’t think so.
But I think this situation offers an important reminder.
This being that my co-worker was reaching out to me because she believed caring for this woman meant saying no to almonds. In deep care for her, she called me because she wants the best for this resident. In what other job, do co-workers call each other about something as small as almonds? I’m thinking not many.
I know care doesn’t always look like counting almonds. I also acknowledge there are many group home settings where the care might not be as intentional. I am just writing about my own personal experience.
This being said, I feel lucky to work in a place where all the people in community care so deeply for each other that every almond counts (even if it makes me cry).
I think we can extend this story to ourselves. In the midst of this new normal we should care for ourselves this deeply. I think we should call ourselves out when we are letting our self care slip under the rug. There aren’t co-workers in this case to hold you accountable. So do it for you. Whether this looks like a Boston cream donut, a good book, a bubble bath or a deep breath. I’ll remind you, as I learned this week, care is personal and diverse. So do what feels best for you, for you. Because after all, every almond and every act of care counts.
I felt pretty overwhelmed this week and I cried over almonds. But I’m happy I did. Because it reminded me that I love my job because I cry about almonds. But my job is really hard, because I cry about almonds.
Caregiving means every almond counts. Caregiving is never easy, but it’s always full of learning and love (and almonds, occasionally).
This post originally appeared on September 22, 2020 under the title “Every Almond Counts”.
As the Willowjak co-editor, I think it is important for you to know who is updating the website, responding to emails and posting on our social media channels. It’s me, and my dear friend Stacey (aka WillowjakMama). Consider this a (very) long extension to my website bio. I’ll be writing here a few times a month so let’s get to know each other.
Growing up I was a very shy kid. I never raised my hand in class. I walked with the teacher at recess. I cried at every moment of confrontation. I whispered my answers when asked a question. My whole body would shake when making a presentation. I would purposely get hit with the ball during gym class so I could sit on the bench during dodge ball. Today, I still describe myself as a shy person. I still try to avoid moments of confrontation and being the center of attention. The difference is, now I understand being shy doesn’t have to be a weakness.
I care deeply about allyship, feminism, and accessibility. This being said, you won’t find me marching on the streets or making speeches. This doesn’t minimize how much I care, I often just don’t display it in a public way. I feel passionate about creating a world where everyone is respected, loved and has a purpose. I am fighting for this through my education and a plethora of first hand experience.
I identify as a non-disabled ally and direct support worker. I have not always been involved in the disabled community but I feel very involved today. I hope you will continue to read my story about an uninvolved teen turned ally.
My first experience working with people who were different than me was during my first co-op placement in high school. I did my placement with Big Brother Big Sisters. I was assigned to eleven students in a small community school who had social, academic, emotional and/or behavioural challenges. My job was, simply, to be a patient friend. I did a lot of listening on this placement. I was always surprised by how excited the students were to meet with me when oftentimes our meetings just consisted of us playing catch and talking. Not super exciting in my eyes. It dawned on me that the kids weren’t just super into playing catch. They were excited to be listened to without fear of getting in trouble or being judged. Still today, I think of these students often. They taught me that I don’t need to be a loud activist to make a change in someone’s life. I sat with these students listening to issues that felt huge to them and small to the teachers. I consider this an important moment on my journey because this is when I realized, shy little Liza really didn’t have to say much while making her impact on the world.
My following co-op placement was in a kindergarten classroom for kids with complex needs. This was a huge learning curve for me. I didn’t know how to put brakes on a wheelchair. I had never seen a feeding tube before. I hadn’t ever seen someone have seizures, let alone multiple in one day. I had never seen a communication board before. And I had never been so nervous in my life. I kind of felt like I was just plopped in the middle of a foreign land. I felt useless and completely overwhelmed as a teenager who knew nothing about disability. I was surrounded by young kids with very diverse and complex needs. I hate to say it, but I did not grow up with disabled people in my classroom as my schools never had sufficient programming, which is why this co-op was so eye opening for me. The kids did not behave, act, communicate, learn, move or think the way I did and that was both amazing and terrifying to me at the same time. I had a short five months to learn a lot. And I did. I left this placement feeling more educated than I ever did after leaving a high school classroom. This placement sparked my interest in becoming more involved in the disability community. At the time, I just wasn’t sure what that would look like for me now that my placement was over.
Luckily and challengingly, my final project in grade twelve was to change the world. This was how I became intertwined with Stacey and her family. Initially, I researched how to start organizations and googled how to create a successful petition; I was putting lots of pressure on myself to change the whole world single-handedly. It wasn’t until after weeks of tears and confusion that I decided to reach out to Stacey. I asked her if a small community group for her twin boys, with autism, would be of interest and/or benefit to them. Obviously, the answer was yes, or I wouldn’t be here today. We used the basement at our local church and met once a week. Our meetings consisted of lots of sensory activities, movies, outings and just being together. We called it Friendship Club. This was a way I could change the world without standing in front of a crowd or marching on the streets. Now at the time, I would not have said Friendship Club changed the world. I didn’t understand how two boys and two volunteers painting with their feet in a church basement really qualified as world changing. I wasn’t organizing climate strikes, saving lives or getting publicity, which all to me at the time, qualified as real world changing, not Friendship Club. Yet, now I whole-heartedly believe it did and continues to. More to come on this later.
Now, I am currently in my fourth year of Disability Studies at Western and I’m obsessed with it. This program studies the complicated intersection of the medical system and disability. We talk about how we can be critical of the world around us and what we create in it. We learn about how complicated care really is. We critique social systems and popular culture through a disability lens. This program is filling up my ally toolbox.
Since being in university, I’ve worked at two camps for children and youth with diverse needs. I am here to tell you that being a camp counsellor is one of the hardest jobs in the world. From what you know about me, you can probably assume I’m not your typical camp counsellor. Leading campfire songs is my worst nightmare and ‘get to know you games’ give me the heebie jeebies. Yet, Shy Liza managed to be a pretty good one (if I do say so myself). This did not come without its challenges though. I spent many nights crying. I almost had to quit. I had to have tough conversations with co-workers. I didn’t shower. I didn’t sleep. I ate somuch processed meat. Through all of this, I’ve got stories to fill my coffers, experience to fill my resume, and connections to fill my heart. My summers at camp were an important step on my journey because they gave me a unique perspective on direct support work. How do you support a camper having an anxiety attack in the middle of a lake on a canoe? How do you support a camper to gain independence whilst not losing them in the woods? I still don’t really know, but I did it and you’ll hear all about it! Stay tuned!
Currently, I work at a L’Arche group home in London as a direct support worker. L’Arche is a unique organization in the group home world and I highly suggest you look into it (you will be hearing lots about it soon). Working in a group home comes with lots of joy, tons of stress, wild hours and a whole lot of love. I feel nothing but blessed to have a job here. Shy Liza thrives here, because L’Arche truly celebrates the unique gifts of every person, including their staff. Again, this direct support work is wildly different than offering support in a classroom and totally different than working with youth in the wilderness.
I feel like I’ve just written out my entire resume for you. But I know that each of these experiences have played a role in shaping who I am today.
Ultimately, Shy Liza still lives inside of me and she will always be there. Becoming and being involved in the disability community has taught me to look for the strength in every person I meet. This includes me. I have found what I am truly passionate and excited about which has helped turn me into the person I am today. As a student in public school I felt like being shy was my ultimate weakness. The docked marks on each of my report cards were my proof. Now, reflecting on my journey, I realize what strength there is in Shy Liza. I am a good listener and patient friend. If you ever need someone to speak at an event, I’m not your girl. But, if you need someone to come to your event and support you, I’ll be front row.
I am so, so happy to be here. I’ll be here on Willowjak as a caregiver, student and ally voice. I hope you’ll follow along and get to know me as I embark on this Willowjak journey with a group of amazing individuals.
This post originally appeared on September 11, 2020 under the title “Introducing Liza”.
In celebration of this blog’s first year anniversary, we are taking a look back in celebration of all that we have learned, shared and accomplished, by revisiting all of our writers’ original posts. I hope that we introduce you to some stories you might have missed. Please show the writers some love by commenting and sharing their posts.
We couldn’t be here without our readers. Thank you so much for all the love and support and I hope that you are taking some of what you learn from our writing into your world, to support the people in your community.
Follow along to hear all about the ups and downs in direct support work, young adult life, and allyship – it sure has given me lots to write about! Enjoy some casual, light-hearted tales about all my adventures along the way.