A Caseworker’s Case by Winslow Wonderer

It had seemed out of reach at the time. But Peter returned from the university one day with the news that they might be able to spend six weeks abroad. “How can we?” Pauline asked. His answer: the French Department might select him to tutor their summer program in Dijon. No, he’s not in that department; but having studied philosophy in Belgium, his French is adequate.
Peter was eventually offered the position. He then arranged things so Pauline could go with him for her first ever trip to Europe. His mother and grandmother agreed to come over from Kansas to mind their two grade school age kids. He and she, in turn, bought a pair of Eurail passes to facilitate traveling on the continent. Peter knew, of course, that he would not be nearly as free to leave Dijon as she.
Together with his class of twenty-five students they flew to Paris, visited the Tour Eiffel, then boarded a bus for Dijon. Once there, they were assigned rather sparse adjoining rooms in a dormitory not being used by the university. Peter spent the next few days formalizing his students’ enrollment in a class and eligibility for credit in the Dijon university’s system. Enrollment taken care of, Peter then met with each of his students to help him or her select an essay topic for the course and be advised of the nature of the final exam. Pauline, meanwhile, had been off somewhere by train. When she returned, he agreed to accompany her on a short trip to the Lido outside Venice.
This trip didn’t go well. On the way, Pauline expressed her disappointment at his failure to accompany her more often. In Venice they argued about some petty purchase in a grocery store; and she remained in a somber mood throughout their exploration of the Lido shore where, it seemed, every mother was busy preparing pasta for her vacationing brood. This tourist experience completed, they returned to the city, boarded a train northbound. Peter got off in Dijon. Pauline continued on to Scandinavia.
Residing alone in their ill kept rooms, Peter managed to put on a happy face for each student who came there for a mid-term oral exam. By this time, a few students had dropped out and gone off to see Europe. Those remaining all did fairly well. When Pauline returned from up north she told Peter he should accompany her one more time. He yielded reluctantly provided they go to Leuven, Belgium, where he had studied some years earlier. There they dined at a few restaurants and visited two of Leuven’s four abbeys. Then they took a train to Koln and changed to a train southbound along the Rhine, destination Switzerland.
The Rhine was enchanting, though not as immortalized in legend. The weather was overcast. That was appropriate, because Pauline chose this occasion to tell Peter she would be leaving him once they were back in the States. Surprised, he asked her why she agreed to accompany him on this summer abroad. Her response: “Because I earned it.” Facts unfolded, one might or might not see the merits of this claim.
For quite some time before the travel opportunity arose, Pauline had been recuperating from an illness that had led to her being hospitalized for a time. The symptoms of her illness were such that Peter had requested she be given a psychiatric evaluation. In that setting the attending physician ordered that she be heavily medicated on the basis of a controversial diagnosis. She refused, insisted Peter hire her an attorney, and shortly thereafter she was released with a prescription to counter hypothyroidism. On that regimen she gradually improved. But her association with psychiatric care, however brief, was not compatible with the image of competence that a practicing social worker wishes to convey. Leaving her response for later, we will first identify factors that contributed to her falling ill in the first place.
Having completed two years of social work study, Pauline was duly licensed to practice in the field and in time she obtained employment at the School for the Blind. She found this job much to her liking. Her satisfaction, however, wouldn’t last. First of all, her mother, who had an undergraduate degree, decided to take up social work herself. She spent two years in the school her daughter had attended, then took a job at the same School for the Blind where Pauline was employed. Her traditional ideas about familial distribution of authority soon created conflict in the workplace, as a result of which her daughter resigned. Said daughter thereupon took an utterly brainless job with the local public school system. This job involved visiting the homes of families that sought funds to buy shoes for their school-age children. At first she made home visits as specified. But she never found any reason for denial, so she sometimes authorized shoe purchases without first making the mandatory investigation. As a presumably unintended consequence, this tactic freed up time that she devoted to dancing.
Why dancing? Perhaps because she felt it would lead to prize-winning competitive success. If so, it would be just another step forward in a career that began with her winning a high school roller skating championship and also doing well in figure skating on ice. In fact, when she first met Peter she had been dating a younger man who was an excellent dancer. So at first she was not at all taken with Peter’s marital aspirations. Her mother persuaded her, though, that academician Peter would be a more reliable source of income over time. She thereupon consented and their marriage followed. For a time, she persuaded Peter to improve his ice skating skills and take some dance lessons too; but he displayed less talent for either than did she.
Nonetheless as years went by she accommodated her own aging by focusing her attention more exclusively on ballroom dancing. Following her hospitalization, she secretly increased the time she devoted to dance lessons. There then came a time when all this lesson taking came to a head: she simply disappeared.
Peter looked in vain for her. Then out of the blue she phoned, told him she was in Florida at a dance competition, and hoped to come home a winner. That didn’t happen, i.e., she neither won nor returned home. He sent her plane fare and she did in fact take the next plane back. He then retrieved her social worker badge and keys and returned them to her employer who had dismissed her but graciously filed no official complaint. What followed was the hospitalization and recuperation already described.
This account of her dancing activities remains incomplete, however, without adding another dimension yet unexplored, namely, her involvement with a widower who, Pauline found, was a much better dancer than her husband.
Greg (the widower in question) was an architect who had no regular job at the time. Yes, he was a good dancer. But in other respects his character credentials were less apparent. His wife had committed suicide and each of his four children had taken on some form of psychiatric problem trying to adjust to the upsetting aspects of their lives. Their father had been of little help in this regard. Whence his interest in bringing a trained social worker into his family to fill the gap in supportive assistance. Pauline, for her part, was drawn right in by the opportunity to intervene in a quasi-professional capacity. This willingness to be thus used, in turn, can be traced to aspects of her character that had manifested years earlier.
Upon finishing high school, Pauline found mainstream career options open to her to be too empty of drama and purpose. This eventually led her to enter a Maryknoll convent with the objective of becoming a nun who would work in some remote part of the world where health care and salvation were each needed. With this life plan in mind, she spent a few years studying and preparing to be posted. Instead she was eventually informed by her superiors that her religious role would be a more conventional assignment stateside. Once this news had sunk in, she notified her superiors that she would no longer remain under their jurisdiction. She thereupon left the convent and went off to study social work as the next best career after that of bringing needy foreigners into the fold.
The foregoing goes a long way towards bringing this account to completion; but there does remain one uncovered dimension that calls for some exploration. As any careful reader might ask, why would Pauline leave the children in Peter’s care, she being a social worker and thus presumably more caring than he? The answer is that she felt unable to care adequately for the children while still recuperating and pursuing her social worker career. Not that no one could do this; it’s just that no one can do it well in the absence of far greater resources. This much she had learned from her failed efforts, with Peter’s concurrence, to solve this problem with housing choices.
Peter having accepted a job at New University, they moved to Pleasant City and took up residence in a nice upscale apartment. Once Pauline had completed her studies, they moved to a small two-bedroom house in preparation for the arrival of their baby. Their boy arrived as planned, but soon thereafter Pauline’s mother implored them to adopt a two-year-old girl whom Pauline’s teenage sister had borne and kept, but had proven unable to care for properly. This child Peter and Pauline adopted and soon after they began looking for a larger house. They found one, moved again, and spent seven years there until such time as both children were attending school. At that point, Pauline announced that they needed to move again to facilitate her working full time. Her plan, which they promptly carried out, involved residing within walking distance of the Jewish Community Center, which provided after-school day care for children. This plan proved unsatisfactory, not because of the JCC but because the children made no friends at their new school as they had done in abundance at their previous school. So the family moved again, this time to a different house in the old neighborhood. From there the children walked to their old school and old friends, and Pauline went forth to her unfulfilling social work job and her dancing activities.
Peter lived in their fourth house for five years, but Pauline was by then off and gone, having recovered from her illness enough to take on the world. Thenceforth she would be sharing her life with a problematic architect and going by the name of Elizabeth. She even took custody of her daughter during her teenage years. Neither of her children, however, took a liking to their stepfather. Pauline’s career? In contrast to her early vision as to how this was to be carried out, she in fact spent many years as a private practice social worker with a specialty in sex therapy.

 

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