It was a left handed compliment. The President of a children’s home telephoned me two or three weeks ago and asked for shared time. He wanted an opportunity to visit with me to ask about my thoughts regarding the future of residential childcare. He said he was hopeful his program director could join us. I mentioned in passing that I was scheduled for a meeting in Dallas and if it would be easier for them, I could visit with them while I was in close proximity. He said, “Great! Why don’t we meet for lunch?
As the date of our scheduled meeting came close, he subsequently asked where I’d like to meet for lunch. I responded, “I’m open and flexible. Since you’re more familiar with the area, it is your call”. Later he emailed me the name of a restaurant I’d never heard of before. He added the notation that it was one of his favorite places to eat. It was Bread Winners Café & Bakery on McKinney Avenue. Reportedly, the restaurant has been in that same location for years. It has the reputation for being exceptional.
The building is both old and architecturally interesting. Both indoor and outdoor dining is available. The three of us congregated outside initially and we almost opted to stay outside. As a second thought, the program director suggested that we dine indoors since I had not been there before. She said she thought I’d enjoy seeing the building. She was right. There were interior walls of exposed brick, stained glass other objects of interest. It was a very interesting building.
The thing that most fascinated me about the building and restaurant is that it is located on the same street I lived on when I lived in Dallas. The apartment complex I lived in was less than ten to twelve blocks away. I guess at some level I’m a creature of habit. I had never driven by the restaurant before. The route I took to work and back was within a block of the restaurant. I always turned one block short of discovering an interesting place to eat.
So what am I supposed to learn from that? I think what is true for me could possibly be true for many. Don’t we have a tendency to be creatures of habit? Is it possible that our life “settles for less than the best” because we don’t give ourselves permission or motivation to do it differently. “Same ole, same ole” is often used to denounce that which is boring or annoying. Do you remember the lyrics to the song, “Is That All There Is?” The song is not a happy song. How many people do you know who appear to find absolutely no enjoyment in living? They appear to simply be going through the motions. Sometimes we need to broaden our boundaries, give ourselves permission to experience new things, color outside the lines and add variety to our lives.
Once we were seated, the three of us immediately engaged in conversation. The waiter, stopped by with menus, took our drink orders and delivered appetizers for our consumption. He was very personable and engaging. A short time later, he stopped back by and of course, we had to confess that we had not yet looked at the menu.
The third time, we opted to quickly look at the menu. I was the last to order, but I opted to do something I’ve never done before. I turned to the waiter and said, “Billy, You work here. You know what’s good. I’d like to ask a favor of you without any pressure. Would you place my order for me. I’d like whatever you would order if you were having lunch here. You don’t even have to tell me what it is. I’ll gladly take whatever you choose. How’s that for being bold and daring?
As it turned out, my lunch was exceptional. The conversation was as well. In the course of discussing the future of residential child care, several things about their program came to light that I found interesting. The agency where these folks work chooses to refer to their staffing plan as “an extended family model.” Initially, I wasn’t really sure what that meant, but it sounded very positive. They reportedly moved from the live-in houseparent model after they had a really negative experience with one houseparent. In essence he said, “We had a houseparent who moved out. The apartment was totally trashed. Another guy and I cleaned it out. It was obvious the houseparent’s dog was never permitted to go outside for any reason. In addition to the dog’s mess, we found drug pariphenalia. Consequently we resolved to do it differently going forward”. In essence they moved from a live-in family care model to a shift-staff arrangement. They very cleverly camouflage the staffing pattern by calling it the “extended family model”. The way they describe their experience, it sounds positive. They are primarily using students in both undergraduate and graduate programs. Consequently their work force is youthful, bright, energetic, idealistic, creative and very well received by the children with whom they work. We use that same model in our emergency shelter, but I still strongly support the live-in houseparent model for longer-term care due to the longevity of relationships. When your workforce is college students, you receive great benefits from their idealism and energy level, but it is time limited. Most often it is not a career track for them.
They mentioned in passing that they once re-employed an individual who had previously done an exceptional job. The second time around was over a decade later and the employee’s performance was less than anticipated. The staff person had lost their enthusiasm, their passion for doing the work and there was no indication she experienced any degree of satisfaction from her investment of time. That, too, is sad.
At any rate, my friend then shared a story that very closely resembled a poem entitled “The Barnyard Ducks”. It is a vivid reminder that life lived under the threshold of “same ole, same ole” negates the discovery of adventure and sense of purpose. As you inventory your life, do you sense that you are not the duck you might have been? Maybe life gets stagnant because we don’t give ourselves permission or motivation to do it differently.
The Barnyard Ducks
There are three ducks in our backyard
Dabbling in the mud and trying hard
To get their share, or even more,
Of the overflowing barnyard store
Satisfied with the task they’re at
Of eating, and sleeping, and just getting fat
But whenever the free, wild ducks fly by
Their long line streaming across the sky
They cock a quizzical, puzzled eye
And flap their wings and try to fly
Oh, I think my soul is a tame old duck
Dabbling around in barnyard muck
Fat and lazy, with useless wings
Yet sometimes, when the North wind sings
And wild ones hurtle overhead
It remembers something lost and dead
And cocks a lazy, bewildered eye
And flaps its wings, and tries to fly
Oh it’s content with the state it’s in
But it’s not the duck it might have been
All My Best!