Mad-itude and attitude


Shooting a film in Montreal. [Thanks to Julie for housesitting with her friends!]  Will be having reviews on eateries The Green Panther, ChiChai, Sophie Sucre, Trois Brassierer, Grumpy’s and Biere & Compagnie.  I’ll update as they become available on

However, I had to learn a life lesson, AGAIN before I left.

If you have read earlier posts, you know I am a part-time dietitian for a residential treatment facility in Philadelphia whose clientele are teens with anger management issues. I drive 2 hours there, work 10 hours and drive 2 hours home.  Why do I do this – mucho better dinero than is found in my little burg.

Most of these teens have been through a number of foster care situations and other residential facilities before they get to us.  Most only have one parent that may or may not be biological, have another parent either non-existent or incarcerated, and/or being raised by a relative with children of their own.  The history of many of them would not only break your heart, but also leave you wondering how they every made it to age 15. It is little wonder that these kids are apt to break into fights or have a personal melt down replete with screams, self injuries and fists flying.

My primary job is to conduct one-on-one assessments with every client within 30 days of them arriving.  I am the conduit of informing the kitchen and nursing department of allergies, dietary problems, eating disorders and food preferences s.

One of my goals when I was hired was to teach cooking classes.  Many of these kids will age out of the system into life on their own with little life skills to succeed.  Having been cash-challenged at times in my life, I know how to eat healthily and on a tiny budget.  In fact, that is usually when I am eating the best because every calorie and penny counts.

However, the idea of having a few acting out teens cook every week with boiling water, blender blades and knives was daunting for my higher-ups.  Amazingly, our school principal got some funding and made it happen.  We rotate one class at 8-9am with one of the sets of boys and another at 3-4pm with one of the sets of girls each week.

A couple of weeks ago, I stayed overnight in Philly and did back to back 10 hour days.  Big mistake, sort of.

I had little sleep the night before the first day.  I went from cooking class to meetings to consulting with a few kids on the fly to realizing I forgot my lunch to finally reading all my emails from the last week at 1pm to buying additional supplies to prepping for the next cooking class.  By the end of the day and the younger girls class, I was totally beat.  They are very nice girls with your average teenage distractions and sense of respectful boundary testing.  At the end of class, I was going to visit a friend who had just had surgery.  The only thing stopping me from running out the door and getting to my surgery friend in a sane manner was that the storage room door for our equipment was locked with no one around to open it.  It took every fiber of my being not to yell out, “I asked housekeeping to open this 2 hours ago.”  I took a deep breath and thought what am I going to do with all this cooking equipment in the hallway.  How can I end this day?

I found the school secretary who promised she would get housekeeping to open the door.  One of my students said, “Miss, take all the knives with you.”  Good idea.  I put them in my bag, took the girls to their floor and ran for the car.

My parked my car where I was staying overnight and walked a mile or so to see my surgery buddy who was, thankfully, pretty doped up and not into talking.  On my walk back I started to crash quickly from the 29 hour day. I bought some food and ended up chatting at my friend’s apartment longer than prudent.

I woke up early the next day and anxious.  So, the day began.

Again, I cooked with a set of guys, the older ones, who were on Planet Oppositional.  They tested boundaries and whether the corn chowder recipe we were making was worth eating.  All the spices “stink”.   I tried explaining how ingredients change when you bring them together.  No one was buying it.

The day sprinted past and my head was swimming by the time of the second cooking class – the older girls.  I went to get them on their unit.  No one was ready.  I thought, “Maybe no one will come. Yay!” Two decided not to come, and one was screaming my name and nasty language as the other three went downstairs with me.

I wanted to leave and not teach the class, but I thought I would tough it out.  It was only one more hour.

By the time one participant, who kept insisting I stop having her use a knife safely because she KNOWS how to cook, almost chopped off the tip of her finger, I lost it.  I yelled, “I’m done.  We are done.  Let’s go upstairs.”

Ms. Chop-off-finger repeatedly informed me that holding a knife in an upright position and telling me that I should leave her alone was not a confrontation.  I snapped, “You’re done.  We’re done.  This class is over.”

What really ticked me off is that some 17 year old goof ball that I will never see after two months was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  She was gloating a bit in her ability to get under my skin.  But I had to apologize, which I did, for getting angry and exploding verbally.  I am the adult.  I was so embarrassed I felt a tear roll down my cheek.

Another staff member took the girls into her room and reminded me that everyone has breaking points.  She told me, “What these kids need to see is how you deal with it.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

I agreed, but personally didn’t because I saw the train wreck coming and didn’t do anything to derail it.  I had those quiet, slow set of tears.

Now, my eyes were red. Great. The other staff member asked the girls and me if we wanted to finish the cooking class.  They said yes and I agreed.

My nose ran a little.  Ms. Chop-her-finger-off came back.  I don’t know why, but she did.

At one point the girls asked how I learned to cook.  I told them how I started at age 9, but learned recipe reading at 14.  I said that when I was their age I was in a body cast for nine months.  My father decided we would cook together on his days off.  For some reason going back to being in the cast, being out of school that year, never leaving the house due to my illness, the glares from people seeing me in this huge cast hit me like a tidal wave.  But I decided to not let it stop me talking or cooking.  I talked right through the slow, quiet tears because to me they were an emotional release, not a lack of strength.  The other girls and I finished the recipe and relaxed into a regular conversation.  Ms. Chop wouldn’t do anything and complained about the visuals of the chowder. Whatever.  We cleaned up and I left.

There is a saying in this business, When you are no longer therapeutic, it’s time to get out.  I almost quit my job.   I felt defeated and stupid.  I had a Mad-itude.  On the other hand, I have bills to pay.

My next work day, would encompass teaching all four sets of kids, conducting assessments, two meetings, emails and whatever else.  Yuck.

Then a day or so later I thought, change your attitude and everything changes.  You are just fearing the confrontations the kids have to anything new, to any mistakes you make in speech, or directions.  Release the fear and let any negativity be the sole property of the person dishing it out.  But, set some safety boundaries.  Not setting boundaries at the beginning of the class was my fault.  And it came back to bite me big time.

I got to work, set up for the first class.  I told myself I was going to have a great day and that everything was going to work out.  I only have to own my attitude.

The guys came in and I stated a safety policy about knives and equipment.  We had a great class.  The older guys came in, one kid in particular that had mad-itude during the last class, said he had to help set something up, but wanted to come back.  My meetings went off with no conflicts.  The younger girls were making jokes off each other and helping each other.  I went to get the older girls.

Ms. Chop came and brought her mad-itude.  We had a new student in the class.  It took three weeks to do a one-on-one assessment with New Student when she arrived at our facility because she had so many meltdowns and fights.  I reminded myself to let everyone own their attitude and I keep mine.  The class started with my safety announcement.  Everyone took it in stride.  New Student was FAB.

We made Sweet Potato Black Bean Burritos.  Ms. Chop said how bad everything looked.  She said nobody would eat that crap.  I didn’t play into Ms. Chop.  Silently, I designated her dishwasher.  I just handed her dish after dish and said, Thanks for washing this up.

Class was easy and fun.  The girls LUVED the burritos and wanted to share them.  Ms. Chop picked up a piece of the burrito and ate it.  I looked at her.

“You don’t have to eat it or try it.”

“I know”. Sullen look.  “It taste okay.”

“Great.”  I left it at there and got everyone back to clean up.

When we got to the storage room, the door was open.  Will wonders never cease?  No, just ask Ms. Chop after she finishes that other burrito.  Drat, I thought dinner was made.


Any thoughts, Darling?

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