I said good-bye to thousands of people in the past several days, and then threw them in the trash. Details of restoration and recovery of skills, details of loss and re-birth, notes of triumphs and tears – documented in manila files. I finger-traced all the names, recalling our sessions, the compliments, concerns, and questions of the clients, their family members and friends. The trust, the labor, the M&Ms, the play with blocks on the floor. Behavior management enforced, even when I didn’t want to; delicious variable reinforcement precisely administered, too. Gliding among the scope of talents I’d learned like an Olympic skater.
I recall vividly the three-year-old in my office when the Challenger disaster struck – emotion does that to you. I’d delayed our session to be able to witness the launch on the waiting room tv, ever the space enthusiast. Going into my office to conduct a therapy session with that doe-eyed little girl – surging my best cheery attitude as armor – strained every ligament of my professionalism. I learned well how to smile and carry on, skills that would help me when my parents died, in turn.
That the little girl’s name was Smiley couldn’t have been a coincidence. Her chin length hair even flipped up like smile lines beside her ears. Mine did, too. Perhaps this small detail lifted our spirits to bless the new residents of heaven. A metaphor, if You will.
The wonderful little girl named Annie who requested a shiny penny as reward – for an entire session of effort. Pennies were cheaper than stickers at the time, so I went for it, selling the notion to many a child thereafter.
But the penny had to be shiny new, not some trivial piece of copper. As if I’d made it myself that morning. Which I sort of had – because her mother paid me cash.
Then there’s the child with a doting family who fell into psychosis at age five, calling me a dumb bitch after kicking me; the two-year-old bully whose older sister was the only one who told him no; the several toddlers who impulsively slapped me in the face.
You gotta work close when you’re helping children talk, but those were too close for comfort. I mourned the respect that these children’s parents likely never received. No joy in being a parent.
The therapy plans, behavior charting, the SOAP notes, the carefully written clinical reports. Goodbye to a life of paperwork, from 1983 – present.
My practice will be paperless, saving trees in addition to salvaging people’s communication skills. What good is a life when you can’t even say “Papa”, let alone “paper”. Or “M&M” when you want or deserve to have one. What good is the people’s planet without green?
I will remain an SLP, as I remain a writer. Knowing that who I am makes a difference has kept me solid in a career I adore. It’s nice to give for a living – and then to give more. I am grateful.
As I often said to clients and their families, the goal of therapy was to progress and move on, into a life with communication ease. I said good-bye over and over again, with simultaneous sad and glad heart.
Although I said good-bye to people on paper, they remain imprinted in my soul: the local political figures, the grandchildren of many pediatricians who’d referred their patients to me, the ones whose parents declined the labeling of PDD – as did I. Thank goodness the American Psychological Association finally caught onto my POV and slammed the wide open door of the diagnostic criteria.
The younger and older siblings whose feelings I affirmed, having grown up with siblings who had communication problems and knowing the impact primally…I hope that they are growing up well and moving on, too.
I especially acknowledge the speech-language pathology peers who trusted me with their children: one of them helped me maintain my private practice by subbing for me through chemotherapy days.
Soars to glory, moments in the pits – each workday resounded with bits of wonderful. Hero days of purpose. Resurrection and rescue. Cherish.