Care-osel: A play in nine scenes
SCENE ONE…THE CRISIS
Nighttime in a home. A lone parent paces, angry fists clenched by the side. Parent stops pacing and faces a wall. Begins to address the wall. The wall remains still, as walls often do…
PARENT: I lost my job today. I may get a new job tomorrow, but boy, do I feel rotten now. My spouse is a louse. My steamed celery and crackers diet is a complete flop. My kid! My kid has the messiest room in the world. It’s not funny. God, my kid’s a slob. Here I am talking to the wall. Why? I’ll tell you why. Because there is no one else here to talk to, that’s why. My kid is out there) points fingers and sweeps the air) I have no idea where my kid is. Or what my kid is doing. Up to no good, I bet. I read the papers. I can’t believe what kids get into these days. When I was a kid, all we did…Well, I guess I can’t remember but I turned out all right, not like kids today.
(Child enters, tries tiptoeing past Parent.)
PARENT: (Catching sight of Child) It’s about time!
CHILD: I’m not that late.
PARENT: You’re late…Believe me, you are late. Where have you been?
CHILD: Oh, just around.
PARENT: Just around, my ass. Are you stoned?
CHILD: No, I’m not stoned. You ALWAYS think I’m stone.
PARENT: Well, stoned or not, you’re always late. WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?
CHILD: I TOLD YOU. OUT. HAVING FUN. THERE’S NO FUN AROUND THIS HOUSE.
PARENT: DON’T GET SMART WITH ME.
CHILD: (Exasperated, as is Parent.) Oh, Wow!
PARENT: Go to your room. Your messy room. And clean it!
CHILD: I will…in a minute. I’m hungry.
PARENT: Now! GO TO YOUR ROOM NOW!
CHILD: I will. After I eat. I’m starving to death.
PARENT: You go to your room this minute…or…or…you can get out of this house.
CHILD: Okay! Okay! I’ll leave. But first, I’m going to have some munchies. (Child stomps off. Parent paces.)
PARENT: I don’t know what’s gotten into kids these days. You just can’t talk to them anymore. (Parent picks up phone)
PARENT: Hello, Police? I don’t know what to say. My child has run away.
Scene Two…The Street
(A couple of nights later. Child is strolling down a supposedly unsavory street in the Big City. Child ids visibly impressed by the action, the flashing lights, the elaborately dressed street people. Two police folk observe the child)
CHILD: Wow, Sesame Street was never like this.
COP A: Hey, Kid. What’s your name?
COP B: We asked you what your name is, Kid. You stoned, Kid? Your eyes look kinda glassed!
COP A: (To Partner) That’s glazed, Ralph. Not glassed. Glazed.
COP B: Glassed…glazed, the kid still looks stoned. We asked you what your name was, Kid. Speak up. We won’t bite.
CHILD: My names Child.
COP A: Where you live, Child?
COP B: You got an address to go with that? And a phone number?
CHILD: AH…we…a…we just moved there. I don’t know the address yet. We don’t have a phone yet.
COP A: What are you doing down here this time of night, Child? This is a rough part of town.
COP B: Yeah, Kid. Say, you wouldn’t be prostituting yourself, would ya?
CHILD: (Shocked a bit) What? No, not me. Honest. I’m just walking. Looking around.
COP A: Sure, kid. Sure. Looking around for trouble. We see it all the time. I think you better come with us, Kid.
CHILD: Where to? Where you taking me?
COP B: This looks like a case for EEEEMERRRRRGGGENNNNSEEEE SER VICES.
(Scene quickly shifts to the Emergency Services Office. SOCIAL WORKER is interviewing CHILD
S.W.: They are just doing their job, Child. Now, you are on the run, aren’t you? CHILD: Well, maybe.
S.W.: Yeah, we know. Your parent reported you missing.
CHILD: I got kicked out.
S.W.: Well, your Parent is pretty upset. Your parent figures you are unmanageable.
CHILD: I manage okay.
S.W.: I’m sure you do. But you’re still pretty young. Where have you been staying?
CHILD: Around. With friends.
S.W.: Well, we have a good place where kids stay for a while until things get fixed up at home.
CHILD: Couldn’t I stay with my friends?
S.W.: Would your parent approve of your friends?
CHILD: My parent doesn’t even approve of me.
S.W.: Okay, Child, I’ll drive you to the HOLIDAY INMAN.
SCENE THREE…HOLIDAY INMAN
(A place to stay temporarily. Safe, but strange in its newness, a bed, meals. A good place but still rather an odd place, with children of many backgrounds and needs stay…temporarily)
HOUSE MOM: Hi! You’re Child, right? I’m House Mom. Most of the other kids are asleep right now. I was asleep, too until you came but that’s all right, I’m House Mom. It’s my job to get out of my comfy bed and my beautiful dreams to welcome you. I don’t mind. Really, I don’t. Are you tired?
CHILD: I don’t know. Sort of, I guess.
HOUSE MOM: Well, we’ll have you in bed in no time. But first, lets go into the office and get acquainted
(House Mom picks up two enormous books)
HOUSE MOM: Here! (Passes big books to Child) These are the rules. Learn them before you go to bed. There will be a small quiz in the morning.
CHILD: I’m not very good at tests.
HOUSE MOM: Oh, don’t worry. All the rules are common sense. You see, we have lots of children coming here. Busy, Busy, Busy, so we have to have rules. And in the Book of Rules, you’ll find a map. It’ll show you how to find the bathroom. Children do like to know where the bathroom is, don’t they?
HOUSE MOM: I thought so. Anyways, the most important rules are: No Drugs, No Sex, No Blood Sacrifices, No Obscene Telephone Calls…well, I do run on. But it’s all common sense. Do you snore?
CHILD: Huh. No, I…I don’t think so.
HOUSE MOM: Oh, good. Then I’ll put you in with Stinky. You don’t mind the occasional, peculiar smell, do you?
HOUSE MOM: Good. Stinky is a very light sleeper and wee don’t want Stinky to wake up. Stinky also has a one to one so IF Stinky does wake up, you won’t have to worry about Stinky…you know…doing something to you. Any questions?
HOUSE MOM: Well, I’ll show you to your room. Sweet dreams, child.
CHILD: What’s a one to one?
HOUSE MOM: Not what. Who. A one to one is a child care worker who watches you while you sleep.
HOUSE MOM: You’ll like, Gorgo, Stinky’s one to one. Why, he even laughs once in a while. Well, once again, sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.
SCENE FOUR…THE WAITING ROOM AND THE COURT
Waiting for Court is a long agonizing process. Everyone is fidgety, nervous. PARENT is angry at the long wait. Social Worker for the area is out of sorts. CHILD is confused, chain smoking, pacing, slouching. Everyone but Child is wearing a mask of some sort.
Everyone but child says together, pointing at Child:
Got here at nine; its almost three,
What a waste of a beautiful day,
And all because this awful child,
Decided to run away.
CHILD cowers in a corner, feeling like ten-day old porridge.
PARENT: All I’m trying to do is be a good parent., but Child is so willful. Why do I have to be put through this? I could be home baking a cake. I do love cake. How can I diet when my kid is being so bad? Children are such a burden.
S.W.: It doesn’t make any sense. I’ve studied for my Social Worker degree for years and where do I end up? Waiting. Always waiting. Waiting for this Judge or that child. It never fails. Boring! Boring! Boring! I should take up knitting.
LAWYER: Some lawyers get interesting murders, or drug trials. What do I get? Some dumb kid who runs away. Its humiliating, that’s what it is. Who’s going to notice me here? I mean, even the press can’t cover this on the oft chance that I do say something brilliant. Ghastly children. Would I love a juicy case of corruption?
PARENT: I do love my kid, but I do hope no one sees me here. It would be so awkward to explain.
CLERK: Oyez, oyez, oyez. The whole ponderous weight of the Legal System is here to deal with this poor, misguided little wretch who is causing everyone a lot of trouble. All rise for the court.
(Everyone remains seated)
CLERK: Aw, come on. Please rise. It makes the Judge feel better. And its good exercise. (Yells to the Judge offstage) Hold it up a minute, Judge. We are having a bit of trouble with the rising part.
JUDGE: Well, Clerk, make it snappy. I fail to see why you seem to be incapable of running a ship-shape ship…er, Court.
CLERK: Oh Dear, now see what you have all done, Judge is in such a snit, now.
(Everyone dutifully rises.)
CLERK: It’s about time. We’re ready, your Honour.
JUDGE: Mr. Prosecutor, read the charges.
PROSECUTOR: It is alleged, Your Honour, that Child is unmanageable, uncontrollable, untrainable, inconsiderate, insolent, ungracious, argumentative, obstinate, obsequious, unpleasant, nasty, sloppy and generally an embarrassment to the entire community.
JUDGE: I see. A complete felon. Is Child’s Parent in Court?
PARENT: I am, your most worthy Judge.
JUDGE: You seem like an excellent parent. We have to identify your child for the record. Is THIS yours? (pointing to Child.)
PARENT: Shamefully, I must admit ownership, your most glorious Judge.
JUDGE: I can tell right away that it’s a most pathetic case. Is Social Worker in the crowd?
S.W.: I am, your Honour.
JUDGE: Are you prepared to make a recommendation?
S.W.: I am, your honour. I haven’t yet spoken to Child but I know the type. Snarky little devil. It is obvious to me as it is to your Honour that Parent has tried to no avail. Child needs reconditioning, altering, improvement in controlled surroundings.
LAWYER: I object, your Honour.
JUDGE: And to what are you objecting, Lawyer?
LAWYER: I am objecting to the fact that you haven’t asked me to demonstrate my keen intelligence, the masterful way that I weave words, in order to mesmerize the Court et al to accept my opinion on the matter.
JUDGE: It’s been a long day, Lawyer. Just what is your opinion on the matter?
LAWYER: I merely want to assist the Court, your Honour, in protecting this poor delinquent’s rights.
JUDGE: Yes, yes, I’m sure you do. Well, rest assured that this poor little specimen in front of me will not be sent to jail. Nor, I suspect, be drawn and quartered at dawn. You may consider, Lawyer, that you have served your client to the best of your ability. (To Social Worker) I assume, Social Worker, that you are recommending TREATMENT.
S.W.: Yes, your Honour, precisely.
JUDGE: Parent, are you in agreement with Social Workers suggestion.
PARENT: Oh, yes, most great and supremely confident Judge, I agree.
JUDGE: Child, will you stand?
JUDGE: Child, a group of your superiors have agreed that your behaviour is inexcusable, egregious to the max, so I order that, for your own good, and the good of your poor parent and society that you be tricked and treated until you learn to behave like the rest of us.
CLERK: I do hope everyone stands when you exit the Court, your Honour.
JUDGE: Nincompoop. Under Section KZ153 of the recently amended Act That Ensures that Children and other Household Pets Mind Their Manners and Their Elders. I further order that you be placed under the Superintendent of Child Welfare until your treatment is complete. Do you understand?
CHILD: Well…a…sort of…
JUDGE: It doesn’t really matter if you do, as long as all the adults do. Well, Clerk, I guess we can call this case closed.
SCENE FIVE…TIME’S UP
The allowable stay at the Holiday Inman is six weeks. During this time, so the theory goes, the social worker will develop a plan for the child.
HOUSE MOM: Child, you’ve been here five weeks. Have you heard from Social Worker? CHILD: There was the singing telegram last week.
HOUSE MOM: Innovative worker. You know you can only stay one more week?
HOUSE MOM: Even less if your behaviour doesn’t improve?
CHILD: Aw gee House mom, I’m sorry. Really, I am. It was only a simple exorcism.
HOUSE MOM: I know you’re sorry, but sorry doesn’t make the sun shine. Poor Stinky has been in that bathtub for five days. All shrivelled and wrinkled. Cleanliness is one thing, Child, but poor Stinky has gone crazy with it. No, I think I had better call Social Worker.
(Child leaves. House Mom calls Social Worker)
HOUSE MOM: Social Worker, you do know that Child can only stay here one more week? Uh huh, well, those are the rules of the Elizabeth Frazzled Society. And Child has been a bit strange. How strange? Well a …I suspect a drug-induced attempt at…Exorcism. Well, I agree, Child isn’t even Catholic. Neither is Stinky. Oh, of course, Social Worker, a little religion never hurt. Well, remember, one more week.
(Child on other side of the stage talking with another youth.)
CHILD: I don’t know where I’m going. My workers got to find a place
OTHER: Maybe you can go where I’m going.
CHILD: Where’s that?
OTHER: The Joe Clark Home for Kids Who Put People to Sleep When They Talk.
CHILD: (Yawning) Nah, I don’t think that’s for me.
OTHER: I guess not. Where do you want to go, Child?
CHILD: I don’t know. Home, I guess.
OTHER: Yeah, me too. But my folks are always falling asleep when I’m home. It’s something about my voice. The Doctors don’t know what it is because they usually fall asleep when they’re examining me.
CHILD: That’s rough.
OTHER: You don’t know the half of it. I’ve had twenty-seven remands in court because everyone falls asleep.
CHILD: They didn’t let me talk in Court.
OTHER: They don’t let me either. I just do. It’s my right.
CHILD: You’re strange, you know.
SCENE SIX… POINT ROBERTS RESORT
A longer stay home. Children are allowed to stay up to three months. During this time, so the theory goes, the Social Worker will develop a plan for the child. Conversation begins as Family Support Worker and Child approach Child’s new, temporary home.
CHILD: Who are you again?
F.S.W: Your Family Support Worker.
CHILD: Where’s Social Worker?
F.S.W: Right this moment?
F.S.W: Probably filling out the referral form for Point Roberts. Well, here we are.
CHILD: Wow, what a dump!
F.S.W: It’s better than nothing.
(Another young person interjects)
OTHER: You ain’t seen nothing yet. Hi, you coming to live here?
CHILD: Yeah, for a while.
OTHER: Then where you goin’?
CHILD: I think my Social Worker is looking for some kind of a Treatment Place.
OTHER: Oh yeah, pity. What’s wrong with you?
CHILD: Me and my Parent don’t get along.
OTHER: Yeah, same with me. But who needs the hassle, right?
CHILD: Right! What’s this place like?
OTHER: It’s okay. The top floor’s condemned. The Saint Leotard Society runs it and they’re lookin’ for a new house.
CHILD: I don’t think I’ll be here THAT long.
OTHER: Say, there’s a spare bed in my room. You want it?
CHILD: Sure. Don’t the staff assign beds?
OTHER: Oh yeah, for sure. But it’s the only bed left.
Time passes. House Director is on the phone to Child’s Social Worker.
HOUSE D: It’s been two and a half months, Social Worker. What’s happening? Well, the reason I bring it up at all is that Child has to be out of here in two weeks.
It’s nothing personal, Social Worker. We do have our rules.
I know, I know. There is a shortage of resources.
Child has been doing okay. A few broken curfews. And we think Child was the one who ordered the gravel that was dumped in our driveway but we can’t prove it.
Oh, there is a place lined up for Child. Tomorrow! Great.
HOUSE D: Child, come in here a minute, will you?
HOUSE D.: You’ll be moving tomorrow. Somebody will be coming for you sometime in the afternoon. So, will you stuff your garbage bags tonight?
CHILD: Sure. Ah, where am I going?
HOUSE D: The Social Worker won’t know for sure until tomorrow morning.
CHIILD: That’s nice.
SCENE SEVEN…HOME SWEET TREATMENT HOME
The Treatment Home is the critical step in Childs journey in Care for it is here that Child will hopefully learn to function appropriately in Society.
DIRECTOR: Well, Child, I’ve heard a great deal about you. Do you know why you are here?
CHILD: ‘Cause I’m unmanageable.
DIRECTOR: That’s right. And we’re gonna change all that. Are you going to school or working?
DIRECTOR: Well, here at the Home, we expect every child to be either going to school or working.
CHILD: I’d rather be working.
DIRECTOR: Yes, they all say that. But the law says you have to be in school.
DIRECTOR: It’s unfair I know, but that’s the real world. Your Social Worker wants you plugged into an alternative school.
CHILD: That sounds like a turn-on.
DIRECTOR: Good. It’s better to cooperate. Much more pleasant that way.
CHILD: How long will I be staying here?
DIRECTOR: Well, its too early to say. We’ll let you know. A lot of it depends on how many points you get.
CHILD: (Confused) Huh! Points?
DIRECTOR: Oh, you didn’t know about that. Well, no problem. Here at the home, we give points for just about everything.
CHILD: Oh, like what?
DIRECTOR: You’ll see, Child. Oh, by the way, I’m sorry but you are already five hundred points in the hole.
CHILD: What for?
DIRECTOR: For not having your Social Worker here at your Intake.
DIRECTOR: And another ten points off for sputtering. Sputtering is not acceptable.
CHILD: (Quickly puts hand over mouth)
Time marches on. Child has ups and downs.
NIGHT WORKER: Child, you’re late. This is going to cost you some points.
CHILD: Aw, come on. I’m not that late.
NIGHT W.: Late enough. (Looking at sheet on clipboard) My goodness, Child, you’ve lost more than a million points this week. It’s unbelievable.
CHILD: This whole place is unbelievable.
NIGHT W.: Now, now. Next week ‘s the Bake-off. If you do well, all those points will be ancient history. Now, go to bed and think Cake.
(It is now the following week. And time for the Home Sweet Treatment Home Fantastic Therapeutic Bake-off. A crowd of staff and kids are gathered to watch Child’s baking moves.)
STAFF A: remarkable, the way Child mixes the ingredients. STAFF B: Wherever did Child learn those moves?
STAFF C: Oh, didn’t you hear, Child’s parent is a much-revered baker. It’s in the blood.
KID A: I wish I could bake like that.
KID B: Don’t we all!
STAFF A: Such grace, such speed.
(Numbered cards are raised in Gong Show fashion)
STAFF B: Look, here it comes. The mixture is being poured by Child into the pan.
STAFF C: What confidence!
KID A: Excellent.
STAFF A: No doubt about it, Child is almost cured.
EVERYONE TOGETHER: WE ARE IMPRESSED BY YOUR PROGRESS.
(The group disperses.)
DIRECTOR: Child, we are going to recommend your discharge to a Group Home.
CHILD: Not to my Parent? That’s where I want to go.
DIRECTOR: I know, but your Parent has sort of gotten use to not having you there.
CHILD: Yeah, I know.
DIRECTOR: You’ll be allowed to visit, you know. At Christmas. That sort of thing.
CHILD: Can I bake my Parent a cake?
DIRECTOR: Well, you know your Parent is really trying to make this latest diet work. Your Parent hasn’t baked so much as a muffin in six months. It would be kind of cruel to show up on Parent’s doorstep with a million calories in your arm, wouldn’t it?
CHILD: Yeah, I guess so.
DIRECTOR: Maybe this will cheer you up. Social Worker will actually be taking you for your pre-placement visit to the Group Home. Tomorrow. You will get your garbage bags loaded up tonight, won’t you?
CHILD: I’ve been packed for six months.
DIRECTOR: Good. There is nothing like being prepared.
SCENE EIGHT… THE PRE-PLACEMENT
(CHILD has been in the system for at least a year, now. CHILD has made great strides. You would think that a pre-placement visit would be a…a piece of cake for Child.
S.W.: Now Child, remember, this is like a real home. It’s not temporary and its not treatment. Got it?
CHILD: Let’s see. Real Home. Not Temporary. Not Treatment. Got it.
S.W.: Good. Wonderful.
CHILD: Does that mean no points?
S.W.: Well…a…maybe a few. Ah, here we are.
(Salutations are exchanged.)
S.W.: Mr. and Mrs. Perma, this is Child.
MRS. P. What a lovely child. Here’s our list of rules. (Unfurls a roll of toilet paper)
- P: Mom and I feel that its best to b absolutely clear about what is expected.
MRS.P.: Right, Dadsy. Child, do you still go to school?
S.W.: Child is going part-time, Mrs. Perma. And Child holds down a part-time job.
- P.: Industrious little tyke. Where do you work, Child?
S.W.: What Child is trying to say that Child is a chicken chaser for the Canuck Poultry Company.
- P.: That’s fantastic. Amazing coincidence. I used to be a chicken chaser when I was about Child’s age.
MRS. P: Oh, my, Mr. Perma often talks about his wild and randy chicken chasing youth.
CHILD: It’s only a weekend job. I just started last week.
MRS. P: Well, we all have to start somewhere.
S.W. So true, Mrs. Perma
MRS. P: Child, do you want to come and live with us?
CHILD: Sure! Okay!
MRS. P: Good. We want you to feel right at home. I’m sure you’ll fit in real well.
MR.P.: I agree. A real snug fit.
S.W. (Breathing a big sigh of relief) Well, that’s settled. Would it be all right if Child stayed for dinner and meets the other children?
MR.P. Sounds all right to me. What do you say, Momsy?
MRS. P. Oh, I think that’ll be just fine. I’ll just add a tad more water to the soup. You do like Cow’s Hoof soup, don’t you? All of our other children just adore it.
MRS. P. Are you all right, Social Worker?
(A few short weeks later)
MRS. P. I’m so glad you could come, Social Worker. I’m afraid it’s not working out with Child.
- P. You tell ‘em, Momsy.
S.W. What exactly is going wrong, Mrs. Perma?
MRS. P. Well, for starters, Child took its first paycheck and spent the entire amount. On clothes, would you believe? And then came home reeling and reeking…of liquor. Oh, it was awful.
S.W. Oh dear, I’m so ashamed that I brought you such an imperfect child.
- P. We know you try your best, Social Worker.
S.W. I do, I really do.
MR.: P. There’s more, though.
S.W.: I thought there might be.
MRS. P. Child…well Child…(boo hoo as tears flow)
- P. There, there, Momsy. Pull yourself together.
MRS. P. I’ll try. Well, Social Worker, Child laughs…at my Betty Crocker Cakes. Child is so, so rude.
- P. Chicken Chaser or not, I will not stand by and Momsy and her perfectly good, store bought cakes insulted by that ungrateful, little offspring of a…bbb…baker.
MRS. P. Oh Dadsy, thank you.
S.W. The child will be gone in the morning.
SCENE 9…HOLIDAY INMAN REVISITED
(For any number of reasons, a child may return for another temporary stay at the Receiving Home. Several children are sitting around, in more or less of a circle, discussing…you guessed it…the Wonderful World of Care.
CHILD: So, how are you doing, Stinky?
STINKY: Never smelt better in my life, Child. How are you?
CHILD: Tired. Really tired.
STINKY: I bet it’s the old burnout syndrome.
CHILD: Yeah, you could be right. You know, the last couple of months, I wake up and the very thought of seeing another social worker or a child care worker…and I get the shakes.
OTHER: Hey, hey, I know that feeling…Oooo, it’s awful.
STINKY: Scientists call it a staff infection.
CHILD: It’s not contagious, is it?
STINKY: Only with prolonged exposure.
OTHER: Yeah, I hear the only way to minimize the long-term effects is to insist on a reduced caseload.
STINKY: My God, wouldn’t that be heaven. You know, I have a caseload of tree social workers, five child care workers, two psychiatrists, two probation officers, three Judges, seven sets of foster parents, a Public Health Nurse, and thirteen teachers who are interested in my progress.
CHILD: You’ve got me beat by a hair.
OTHER: Gee, I’ve just come into care. I got it easy compared to you two.
CHILD: Not for long, right Stinky? STINKY: Right, Child. Just don’t let it get to you. That’s all I can say.
CHILD: Wiser words were never spoken, Stinky.