I recently met with a mom who was so frantic in her need and so determined in her pursuit of resources for her two young daughters that she lost her temper when attempting to contact us. She berated our reception staff in a most unkind manner and became even more frustrated when transferred to folks (me included) who were at meetings or out of the office and therefore unavailable for immediate assistance. While we are not, strictly speaking, an emergency referral source or ‘first responder,” this mom was not taking no for an answer.
When she finally got in touch with me, I, too, got the full treatment: anger, frustration, and insistence that something be done. I suggested that she come in and meet with me in person. When that same gracious front desk staff member informed me that she was here, I took a few deep breaths and lectured myself on the virtues of remaining composed when speaking with individuals who are not. She and her two children, ages 5 and 3, came to my office, and was I in for a surprise.
The woman who entered my office was a gentle mother whose interactions with her children were a model of parenting best practices. Her requests of them were made in a kind and soft-spoken manner, and the children responded accordingly. Their easy give and take clearly demonstrated that this was no “put on a good show for the social worker” anomaly but rather their accustomed manner of interacting.
After we settled the girls with an activity in the play area adjacent to my office, the mom and I began to discuss her situation and ways that Vogel could help. She filled out an application on the spot and had brought with her the majority of the required documents I had yet to request of her. She efficiently telephoned the children’s medical and dental providers, and we received faxed copes of records almost immediately. We discussed a tentative enrollment date for her three-year old and then moved on to the kindergarten-aged child. After contacting DISD Homeless Services staff, a plan was devised for this child’s enrollment.
Finally, we turned our attention to the matter of housing. She had a bit of money left, and we planned how many days she could spend in a motel. I provided a list of shelters and other resources for emergency assistance. As it was now late in the afternoon, I provided mom and children with our “bye-bye bags” of packaged food items that can serve as a meal substitute. I also gave her another three bags to serve as an evening meal.
As she told me her story, she apologized for her previous outbursts by describing the following scene: “We have just become homeless. We have never been in this situation before. Last night, my five-year old looked up at me with those big eyes and said, ‘Mama, what are we gonna do? I’m so scared!’ I will do whatever it takes to be sure that child never has to ask that question again. I’ve got to fix this.”
Today as I write this, she is right down the hall, enrolling her three-year old and starting her Vogel journey. As I consider the path that brought this little family to us, I can’t help but think about the extreme measures most mothers would be willing to undertake in order to erase the fear from their children’s faces. It has been a powerful lesson: the anger she unleashed on us grew out of a loving mother’s tender heart, an urgent need to calm a child’s fears, and a sense that somehow this place, Vogel Alcove, had at least some of the answers she was seeking.
Lynn Cearley, LCSW
Director, Family Services