"Metamorphosis" seems an apt title for what happened next in our life journey. Last week, in my memoir post entitled "Gifts in Strange Packages," I told the story of how in 1983, a challenging, busy, but very happy period of our lives that lasted for almost ten years, came to an end.
For the previous 9 and a half years, we had lived side by side with a group of people with developmental disabilities as house parents, but with the closure of the nearby institution: Pine Ridge, we were led to Christian Horizons, a small faith based agency with about 10 group homes throughout the province of Ontario. Christian Horizons agreed to assume responsibility for the group of 12 men we had cared for, and hire me as the director of the home.
The decision to do this happened in November, with a goal of my making the transition from "house mother" to "director" somewhere around January 1st 1984. This involved our moving out of the home, and into a home we had bought in nearby Holland Landing.
Looking back now, it was such a huge undertaking. We had lived there for almost a decade. Our children were 2 and 4 years old when we moved in. We ourselves were just 24 and 27 respectively. Now our children were almost 12 and 14 and we were almost 34 and 37. In many ways this was the home we had known for the most significant period in our lives so far.
We had two months in which to dismantle our lives in that house and try to replace it with a different structure of support--and it was incredibly difficult.
November and December are months that are normally insanely busy without a move and this one involved setting up a new household while still managing the old one. I spent those months packing and cleaning. I can't even remember how we celebrated Christmas, although I am sure that we did.
At the same time, I was so excited at the thought of being hired to work for Christian Horizons, that for the first day or so after it was decided, I just couldn't stop smiling with joy.
I had to hire staff since I would only be there for 8 hours out of 24. I had never interviewed anyone in my life or supervised another person. Christian Horizons had hired someone with a great deal of a certain kind of very valuable experience, but with a huge learning curve in others.
Ed was very patient with me. He was far away in Kitchener, but he was my boss. He told me not to hesitate to call if necessary and that he would rather I call and ask if I didn't know the answer to a question. I took him at his word and remember placing an advertisement for staff in the local paper at his direction, then calling him excitedly just to tell him that I had done it! I laugh at that now, but the lessons I learned from his kind leadership then, have helped to form my own leadership style.
Things had run pretty smoothly with our family living there 24/7. I had no idea how many staff it would take to cover all of those hours with people working shifts. One by one Ed brought candidates forward for interviews, which we did together. The first four staff hired were, Judy, Kim, Chris and Donna. We really needed at least two people for every 8 hour shift, and one for overnight. That is a lot more than four people--five counting me. I had never done scheduling before, and I struggled with a weekly schedule and a pencil, trying to somehow make the impossible, work. I was so stressed that eating seemed impossibly difficult. The food wouldn't go down and besides I had no time.
Meanwhile we did move, shortly after New Year's Day, but the move brought with it new challenges. Peter and Brenda now had a mom who went out to work and was not at home when they arrived home from school. But they did have my phone number and they used it! I had phone calls where it sounded like World War 3 had broken out and they were in the next town and I was at work. I had long ago learned that they needed to work out their own differences together, but it was scary hearing them going at it so far away.
I began to lose weight,and Paul was going through stress of his own. The closure of any facility is fraught with raw emotions and uncertainty on a day to day basis and he was working to close the place he had worked for 12 years. The environment at work was stressful and home was also a stressed place.
Gradually, one by one, staff were added to our small team: Debbie, Desmond, Gloria and others. We often started our shifts with prayer and a tight bond formed between us.
A young behavioural consultant by the name of Dave Hingsburger became part of our multi disciplinary team, supporting us with helpful strategies to teach replacement skills for difficult behaviour. We would pour out our hearts in dismay to him and he, with outside eyes, would see the answer we had been blind to. More than once I wondered why I had not seen the obvious. 26 years later, Dave has become a dear friend of ours and a faithful reader of this blog. He is also now a celebrated lecturer, writer and leader in the field of disabilities, especially abuse prevention and sexuality.
I remember Dave commenting on the level of laughter on the young team that was forming. We did laugh a lot, pray a lot and we learned a lot on our feet.
And all of this is why the unusual events of that night in November, which I wrote about last week, were so important to have to cling to as a sign that we were on the right track. The decision we made had resulted in so much stress that we needed to know that we really, really, had made the right one. We knew that for sure because of that night.
Stay tuned for further adventures next week!