INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK
21 DECEMBER 2000
A Christmas Story from Ireland:
Jonathon the Goose and Child and Youth Care Work. Some Observations.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Thursday the 14th of December 2000 and I was sitting at my computer in the Centre for Social Care Research writing up my final lecture for the academic term. I had a Christmas CD on in the background (more of this later) and had a large box with about fifty oxygen holes punched into it. In the box, sitting bright and alert was Jonathon.
Perhaps I should explain myself. On completion of his studies this year, one of my students asked could he come back to the college and study for his Masters Degree in CYC work under my academic supervision. I knew he was involved in organic farming and answered in the affirmative — so long as he grow something for me. Six months later he returned on the last day of term with my present. A live Goose called Jonathon, in a box, with a note attached for my wife and I as follows:
Dear Niall and Susan,
My name is Jonathon and I'm your new pet. I promise that I'm really easy to keep. I'll only eat grass and any scraps that you are throwing out, so you'll hardly know that I'm there. I know that sometimes I can be bit cross with strangers, but hey! Can't we all, any I am trying to change. I'm looking forward to getting to know Freud (my Golden Retriever dog) and spending many Christmases in my new home. Thanks for having me. I know that you'll both take good care of me.
Jonathon the Goose.
So, surprised yet thankful for my Christmas present, I sat in my office attempting to work when the first delegation arrived up to me from my year one CYC students. "Niall, you're the Head of Social Studies, how can you kill the poor pet?" "What does this say about the state of CYC work in Ireland?" and the most potentially wounding statement of them all, "We're going to report you and your wife to the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals". I could picture some of my colleagues in the Irish media running a Christmas story about the guy who usually attempts to defend the rights of the poor, the destitute and the marginalized… "Frenzied axe attack on innocent Christmas Goose by Head of Social Studies". What began as a wonderful gesture from one of my postgraduate students was quickly deteriorating into farce. But more about this later.
At this stage, my Mario Lanza Christmas CD had moved to O Holy Night and I started to recall more innocent times when one didn't have to worry about where the Christmas dinner actually came from. The magic of Father Christmas and the sound of laughter throughout my house as the six of us children (yes, a good Irish Catholic family!) vied for attention and presents. I awoke out of my daydream with a start to find that the new Acting Director of the College was standing in my office wondering (a) what was in the massive box and (b) what was the terrible smell? She has come down to our campus to make wishing her staff a personal Christmas message and, delighted as I was to see her and welcome her to my centre, I was also mindful of the fact that animals are not allowed into the building and it is pretty unusual to have a massive free-range Goose on the loose… Nonetheless, she saw the humour in it and was pleased that I had the type of relationship with my students where they would give me such a present at Yuletide. At about this stage, the phone calls started to come in from my year two and three CYC students who had decided to become involved in the "Save Jonathon the CYC Goose Christmas Appeal". The bloody Goose had started to become symbolic of all that was wrong with CYC work in Ireland!
I phoned my wife Susan, herself a CYC Worker in Community Child Care, hoping that she would provide some moral support. After all, I actually wanted to keep the Goose and build a run for him in my back garden as we live in an old Irish cottage on about an acre (Jack Phelan from CYC ON-Line in Canada, help me out here!). To my horror, my wife wanted the Goose dead! There was no way she was "going to have that smelly creature around the house when he would probably be eaten by a fox within a couple of days anyway…"So it was apparent. I could not rely on practice to assist me on this matter.
I brought Jonathon home despite Susan's protestations (itself a serious miscalculation on my account) and things were beginning to look up. "Out of sight, out of mind" I thought. I cleaned out one of my coach houses, put newspapers on the ground to keep Jonathon warm, gave him some grain and water and locked him in. Meanwhile Freud (my dog) was wondering why he had been displaced from his normal habitat and was sulking in a corner. Susan came home, took one look around the Coach house and informed me that Jonathon would shortly be meeting his maker. It was obvious to me. She was now a hardened practitioner and I was Frankenstein. I had helped to create this monster myself!
* * *
Two days later, we were still communicating and the Goose was alive and minding his own business prospering from my occasional visits and salutations. It was Saturday morning at 10.00 am and I decided that Jonathon would benefit from being set free to roam the garden. Of course, this is a sound theory, but in practice does not have the outcomes one might wish for. Susan informed me that, like so many CYC workers, I had set the Goose loose for my own needs. I wanted to see him walking around the garden and I was a hopeless City-boy romantic with not a clue about country life. Both of these observations were, in part, correct but I require more personal development before I can get the courage to develop this point. Perhaps next Christmas if CYC Net readers are interested.
About 12.00 noon we were set to travel the thirteen miles into town to complete our Christmas shopping (Goose pate had been struck off the list in deference to Jonathon). The Goose would not (surprisingly) return to his abode no matter how much cajoling we engaged in. I then chased him around the garden for half an hour with a hurling stick but this strategy also failed. I decided to leave him to his own devices and considered that he would become either bored, cold or hungry and would return to his quarters for sustenance.
At this stage the similarities between my Goose story and CYC practice issues should become obvious. The team was divided down the centre as to an effective coping strategy… Eventually, when Susan got tired from chasing the Goose around our property, we left for town. We arrived home at about 10.30 pm and I immediately went out to check on Jonathon. He was now a serial absconder and had failed to return home to the unit. Alarmingly, he was not to be found anywhere in the garden. We got a flashlight and started the rescue operation, but he Goose was gone. Happily, I did not come across any of his feathers in the garden, so I still had some hope for his survival.
At my wits end I went to the very bottom of my garden and shone the high-powered flashlight into the pitch-dark 8 acre field that lies behind our house. There, centre in the field was a white moving object. It was, of course, an adult Goose. It was Jonathon. My heat lifted. I ran excitedly into the house to house to inform Susan that rumours of the Goose's demise were greatly exaggerated and we should recommence the operation. Out into the field, armed this time with two hurling sticks, a box and a blanket, went the two of us. We were again a CYC team united in the quest to save Jonathon from a certain death at the hands of one of the many foxes that patrol our fields.
Of course, an 8 acre field is quite a large expanse when one has to spend over half an hour chasing an unwilling Goose around it. First of all there were about fifty pairs of eyes watching us. Lambs had been placed in the field. Now, I don't' know how many CYC Net readers are agriculturally minded, but lambs tend to follow humans around, especially at this time of night. The symbolism of it all was nearly too much for me. Repeatedly tripping up in cow pats was certainly too much for me. But, we cornered Jonathon and managed to coax him into the box. Fatigued but pleased with ourselves we walked back through the huge field and into our garden. Jonathon was safe. The day was not lost.
It is now Sunday afternoon and we four are all well. I am up in my study again listening to my Mario Lanza CD. He has returned to O Holy Night. Freud, my dog, has been placated with three large bones and is slurping away contentedly and Susan is wrapping the presents. I am almost afraid to return to my students in the new year as they will all want to know what became of Jonathon the CYC Goose. I'm not sure if my wife and I will still be talking to each other and we still have not decided on what we are going to eat on Christmas day for our dinner. Jonathon has already looked death in the face twice and survived. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
In Conclusion I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my colleagues on the CYC Net (students, child and youth care workers, managers, academics and researchers) a wonderful festive season from Kilkenny, Ireland. Look after one another and take a well-deserved break, particularly to Thom and Brian who do so much good work to bring all of us closer to one another. Although they do this all year round, it has particular resonance at Christmas. Happy new year and I hope to hear from you all in 2001.
C. Niall McElwee.
President, Irish Association of Social Care Educators.
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