When J.J. was 8 months old, I interviewed for a job at a Children’s Home just a few blocks from my house. I had never worked in such an environment before, but I went into the interview feeling optimistic and idealistic…I went in there feeling like I could change not only children’s lives who lived in the home, but the whole world. Despite my young age and small size — and the troubles those two things can be subject to — I was hired. I was to be a Child Care Worker in the younger girls’ cottage — an authority figure in a place of residence for about 15 girls between the ages of 9 and 15. I was simultaneously exhilarated and terrified. I had no idea what these girls would think of me, and I didn’t even have a year’s worth of experience being a parent at home…how would I carry any authority with these young girls I have yet to meet and who had already met so many hard times in their short lives?
I wanted to do it, I felt I was called to do it, I felt I needed to do it. I remember walking into that cottage on my first day of work to fill out paperwork. There was a young girl, aged 10, we’ll call her Hallie, that was arriving to live in the cottage that same day. She looked so scared and so sad…I was ripped apart by her situation. Problems at home, negligence and mistreatment on the part of her parents landed her in this place that was far from home and, let’s be honest, far from home-like. Every piece of her belongings had to be searched and scrutinized, admitted or discarded. I couldn’t imagine having my life being put in the hands of strangers like that, no matter how well-meaning they might be.
Anyhow, the girls in the cottage quickly took a liking to me because I was closer to their age than any other lady that worked in their cottage, and, as it turned out, they liked me because I was new and they had the chance of taking advantage of what I didn’t know quite yet about how things worked. I was somewhat surprised by all that I was involved in and responsible for — I even had to distribute medications, while thoroughly documenting everything given, to the girls. I was astounded by the long list of medications given to these poor girls who likely wouldn’t need them if they had been born into a more supportive, loving, and healthy home life — sleep aids and behavioral medications were given out to almost every single girl.
As my last name is Monk, the girls assigned to me (with my disliking) a nickname — Mrs. Monkey. It annoyed the hell out of me, but I let it go since it was the least of my problems to handle while at work. There were many problems on a daily basis, which you can only imagine when you are handling children with such deep-rooted issues of one kind or another. Once during my short employment there a girl ran away, luckily she didn’t get far before the alerted police picked her up at a nearby Walgreens. On another occasion, a girl threatened to kill herself. And on still another occasion, one of the girls smeared feces on the mirror in one of their shared bathrooms.
I didn’t have grand notions of long-term employment when I got the job at the Children’s Home, but once I started working there I was strangely hooked. Even though I went to work scared about the evening that lay ahead almost all of the time…afraid of how the girls would act…of what they would do… Despite all this, I took on extra shifts whenever I was able. I got paid decent money for what I did, but that wasn’t entirely my driving force. I wanted to be there for the girls.
My employers informed me that they would pay a portion of my college tuition if I went back to school for social work, and seeing as my original major was psychology, I was completely fine with the switch. I began to see myself working there, going back to school, and eventually being a social worker for the Home in the future. I imagined myself making positive changes and having a great impact in these children’s lives and giving them a chance at an entirely new and better life.
It was not to be.
After being employed for only three months, to the day, everything changed. It was a normal Sunday at work, but it was my very first Mother’s Day. I think it was about half-way through my shift when one of the girls, we’ll call her Cassie, got upset. And I mean no disrespect when I say that when one of these girls gets upset, you watch out. Recalling the events now, I can’t remember what exactly caused things to go so badly…I think it was a simple fight between her and one of the older girls. Cassie was only 12 when this happened, but she was taller, bigger, and probably stronger than I am. One of my co-workers addressed Cassie in an effort to diffuse the situation, and instead of listening and attempting to calm down, Cassie grabbed ahold of my co-worker’s hair and began to launch a full-out attack.
I had literally just finished my training a few days prior on how to handle such situations, such as how to properly physically restrain the children in case of a physical assault on another person. I hadn’t imagined that I would have to use my training so soon…
Without leaving time to even think, I approached Cassie and my poor co-worker, trying my best to release Cassie’s hands from my co-worker’s hair, as I was trained to do so. In probably less than 30 seconds I succeeded…only to have Cassie grab ahold of my own hair.
Cassie pulled and dragged me by my hair into an adjacent room, ironically one with mats on the floor where we had the girls go when they were in need of time alone to diffuse possibly violent behavior. I grabbed at her hands, unsuccessfully trying to pry them free from my hair as she also bent down in a craze, trying to bite my scalp. I have no recollection of how long it took before two other co-workers were able to get Cassie off of me and into a hold where she wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone else or herself. I just remember, after much struggling and screaming and crying, I was suddenly free. I quickly scrambled to the furthest corner of the room and waited the few minutes it took to get the “bouncers” of the Home to come and take Cassie to, essentially, a locked cell until she could be calm enough to be returned to the cottage.
After that I was required to wait in my boss’s office in the cottage until I gave my statement about the events that transpired — all the while crying hysterically and pulling clumps of hair from my head that Cassie had pried loose.
Luckily there were enough people on staff that day so that I was able to go home without finishing my shift… Unluckily, I had walked to work that day. I had to call my husband to come and pick me up from what turned out to be my last day of work at the Home. I hope I never have to make that sort of phone call to my husband ever again! How unsuspecting he was…trying to prepare a lovely dinner with flowers and wine to celebrate Mother’s Day when I was scheduled to leave work a few hours later in the day. Nathan had to drive the few blocks with J.J. to pick up his hysterical, disheveled, and mascara-smeared wife. Immediately he demanded that I quit my job, and I concurred. Strangely enough, despite the horrific events of that day, I felt a sense of loss at the thought of leaving the Home.
I did indeed leave my job. I was called in to speak with one of the social workers the following Tuesday. The cottages were all well-equipped with security cameras, so the whole altercation was on film. The social worker told me that in all her years at the Home, she had never seen an attack quite so bad before, especially from the girls. She was kind enough to understand my emotional inability to return to work. I felt an enormous sense of relief, as you can imagine, that I would no longer face the fear of being attacked whenever I went to work.
That three-month experience taught me a lot, though I still get a sick feeling in my stomach whenever I drive past the Home, which as I said, is only a few blocks from my house. I still wish I could have helped the girls more…and I hope they have all grown up into better lives…though I know, for some, that is unlikely.
It took a great deal of time for my hair to fill the thin spot where Cassie’s hands held tight. Looking at me now, you would never know the hair I lost, nor the internal scars I developed. It is something I don’t often think about any longer, yet there are moments when it causes me to pause and contemplate what became of the girls who called me Mrs. Monkey.