Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lost in Translation

I cried at my kids' chorus concert tonight, which embarrassed me.  I loathe crying in public (well, who doesn't).  The only trick I have is to let the tears run all the way down my face without acknowledging them, then wipe them away with the pretence of, like, scratching my jaw.  No way am I going to wipe my eyes!  It was especially embarrassing because I had become friendly with the mom sitting next to me:  we had been making small talk and getting acquainted.  She kept looking at me on and off to say little things about our kids.  Ugh.  What if she noticed? [surreptitious cheek wipe]

She would have thought that I was crying at the schmaltzy songs thanking our troops, extolling the virtues of this fair land or reminiscing about days gone by.  In fact, I was examining this large group of children.  I was thinking about how almost all of them had eaten a good supper and talked to their families; how they were singing for a gym crammed with adoring relatives holding video cameras; how they were soon to go to home to warm showers and clean spacious beds.  I know there is one kid across town whose circumstances are different.  It eats at me.

My job involves a smidgen of pseudo social work, and over the years I have become very used to hearing about bad stuff grownups do to each other:  domestic abuse; human trafficking; chasing each other around the Sudan or Cambodia, committing genocide.  So I am a little sheepish to admit that I can't handle child abuse.  It makes me crazy.  Yesterday, I was writing about needing to decompress after work?  Hilarious, in the context of today.  On the rare occasion that I am involved in child abuse stuff, I get very upset.  Tonight it's like my soul has been sucked by Dementors.  I called Si a little while ago, so the kids could say good night. I thought, if he sounds like he's not mad at me, maybe I can talk to him about it for a couple of minutes?  At different times in the past when work was deeply disturbing to me I would blah, blah, blah to him about it for two hours straight. Lift it off and lay it down.  Tonight, I did not get a welcoming vibe; and anyway, I need to learn to deal with this on my own, now.  If it were earlier, I would call Moira; or my friend Robin in Denver, who would understand.  But it's too late at this point.  How do the childhood staff DEAL with this?  I am a baby.  One child abuse incident, and I need snuggles and alcohol.  You'd think I was the abused child, for Pete's sake.  [eye roll]  My reservoir of peace?  I miss him today, even more than yesterday.  I shall try to vent here, but I need to be very delicate about privacy. 

I only get called to interpret for the childhood programs once in a while.  There are others at work with way better Spanish than mine.  I am untrained at interpreting, so I have a little homegrown protocol.  I try to keep my hands behind my back, so I don't get too animated.  I carefully state that I will be interpreting for X and Y.  Today, it was an uncle who is concerned about the safety of a little girl and wonders why we have had no results from Child Protective Services (CPS), despite the fact they have been called a couple of times.  He is a young guy, maybe in his early 20s.  Low riding jeans and a torn muscle shirt. I tried to just stay focused on him, 'cause that's why I was there.  It was obvious to me from the tension in his body language that he was SO frustrated and worried.  Other staff interviewed the girl about her home life.  What she described was hard for me to listen to.  The child was crying.  My voice cracked - I had to stop and swallow hard.  Pinch the bridge of my nose.  Explanations of what evidence CPS needs in order to remove a child from a parent's home.   The uncle stood, and I interpreted as he said that in Utah, children have no voice. The bureaucracy was impenetrable.  I relayed the assurances from the staff that, in emergency situations, CPS could act quickly. Today, there was finally evidence that could be substantiated.  CPS would surely act on it and the child would be removed from the situation. I understood his anger and tried to relay my sympathy through my tone of voice, but keep just being the interpreter.  I was relieved when the meeting was over and CPS was called.  Everything else could happen in English and they wouldn't need my nose-pinching little self.

Later, at the sports field, I was doing cartwheels with the girls and trying to think about what drives people to treat their children like that.  It's a bit rhetorical, though; we all know:  poverty, frustration, addiction, lack of parenting skills...  It just happened that CPS arrived as practice was ending,  so the agent met us at the sports field.  The others returned to school while I introduced him to the girl. I said that while they talked, I would wait over here, so I could walk her back to school afterwards. He said to the girl, "Unless you'd like someone to sit with you and support you?"  "Y'know, my only involvement  with-"  She had already grabbed my hand and started pulling me toward a bench.  Which is how I found myself holding this kid while she talked into the agent's little recorder.  Holding this kid and feeling so angry.

The rest of this story is kind of like "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie".

We returned to school on foot while the agent followed in his car.  I told her that we had to race him: we would get there first, even though he was driving.  We made a production of our mad sprint to the door and our "neener-neener" at winning.  This meant that I was still in the role of supporting adult  when the agent asked if a private room were available.  Which is how I ended up being the person who helped her undress enough to show her bruise and get it photographed, all the time thinking, "I need a bigger set of cojones."

And because he was used to talking with me at this point, I ended up being the one the CPS agent told that that the bruise wouldn't work for substantiation, and that the girl would have to return to the situation tonight after all.  I went and explained to her that she would be going home with XXX, but that the agent was going to go with her, too.  I did not like the fear that flickered over her face at all.  I needed to get going, but I felt reluctant to leave. I was packing my stuff when the girl appeared at my office door.  "Hey.  Is it time for you to go home?  Where's the agent?"  "I dunno.  He left."  Her chin started to shake.  "He LEFT?"  I hurried up front.  Maybe he just ran out to his car.  Nope.  He had left. He left her his card, though.  WTF!?!?!?!?

A frustrated little voice whispered what I really wanted to say to this scared kid.  "We're having ham and cheese potatoes tonight.  My boy is just your age.  After dinner, they have a concert.  Wanna keep me company?  And we're finishing Harry Potter!  You can sleep with Sara - she has a big bed, and I'll bring you back here in the morning."  My eyes are welling as I write this; because of course, this is impossible and I couldn't say it.  That made me very sad.  You know, in the absence of adult support, my kids sometimes comfort me without realizing they are doing it.  But tonight, their carefree life is reproaching me.

I realize that the girl is not in mortal danger.  But I hated the way she looked at me after the agent left.  And I hated the disappointment and disillusionment in the face of her uncle.  I feel ashamed by our assurances that this time, the problem could be solved.  It doesn't matter that I was just the interpreter.  Stuff like this, I take personally.

1 comment:

  1. I am right there with ya. I see things at work that I used to like to pretend were only in episodes of Special Victims Unit, and sometimes we can't do anything.

    I was once there when DCFS told the social worker, "Sorry, can't help you. This is a foster child and that would be a conflict of interest." WTF?!? Because you people put this child in this bad place in the first place, you refuse to do anything about it? There were a lot of people really angry about that one, and fortunately they were in a position where they could keep her in the hospital overnight "for observation" so she didn't have to go back yet.

    Just reading this story makes my gut hurt, though. I'm so sorry you had to be so involved and haunted by it, but I don't think any mom remotely deserving of the title could help but feel otherwise.