While people call me Lexie, I am very aware that my name is Alexandra Vriend – which means something big to me. I take great pride in the fact that Alexandra means “Defender or Protector of the People” and my last name, Vriend, means “Friend” in Dutch. I’ve found myself forming an identity of sorts around that name. Defender of the People; Friend. I am always asking things like “Who can I befriend? Who needs a protector? How can I help?”
I am currently studying Psychology and Counseling so that I can learn how to most effectively ‘befriend’ and ‘defend’ people of all different stories and stages of life. I read textbook after textbook about healthy helping strategies and volunteer hour after hour with different populations honing my interpersonal skills. I analyze my surroundings constantly. I look at life through a counseling lens. I am very used to slipping on my careful, non-judgmental, calm, impervious counseling-face rather than showing emotion. Yet, this week at Project Transformation was the first week working with our urban children, and I have been reminded that sometimes people don’t need my counseling face – sometimes they need just me.
On Monday, a first-grade girl (who for the purposes of this blog entry I will call “Stacey”) ran up to me with tears in her eyes and said “Ms. Lexie! I just hurt my finger!” We went to get some magic ice to solve the problem. As the ice and the Band-Aid did their job, I waited for my young patient to stop crying. I tried all my favorite “techniques” to calm her down, but she was determined to stay upset about the all too deeply traumatic ordeal her finger had suffered.
Nothing was working and I was getting frustrated. Finally, I abandoned all of my usual strategies and simply asked, “Stacey, how much pain are you in?”
“A lot,” she whimpered.
“Are you going to die?!?!” I asked, showing anxiety and concern
“Yes!” she cried.
“Oh! Well, that’s against the rules, and I know that you are so well behaved that you would never break the rules, so I don’t think we have to worry about if you are going to die! Isn’t that a relief?” I said with as much humor as I could muster while still keeping my voice level.
Stacey burst out laughing and stopped crying almost at that moment.
Later that day, I recognized that the only reason I dared ask a question as sassy as “Are you going to die?” was that I was so desperate to offer this girl some sort of emotional comfort that I said the first thing that came to mind. I didn’t lean on responses that I had been trained to give. I spoke out of who I was and what my personality dictated. I was authentic with that darling tiny human and gave my real self to her without holding back or measuring my words – and THAT is what made a difference.
I am so grateful that Stacey reminded me of the importance of authenticity so early in the summer because I can’t imagine going through a week, or day, of working with these kids without giving of myself – my true self. As much as these kids teach me, and as much joy as they bring me on an hourly basis, they deserve the best of me – the best of Alexandra Vriend, Ms. Lexie – rather than a knock-off version that I’ve created in an effort to be helpful.
Casa Linda Intern
University of North Texas