Thursday, October 18, 2018

Giant Steps

My friend's son is in high school now. I've known him since he was a little boy. He's disabled, and some things that we take for granted don't come easily to him. Nonetheless, he's very charming and I'm happy every time I see him.

He hit a kind of milestone a few weeks ago by getting an actual job. This is something he's never done before. He's had training, in school, and I suppose at home, but he's pretty much spent his whole life under the watchful eyes of teachers and family. There were a lot of things involved in having a job that he'd never encountered before.

The first thing he had to do was take a bus, by himself, to the workplace and back. His mom was totally freaked out over that. "He'll be fine," I said, and so did everyone else. But you know how moms are.

She decided he would do a practice run to make sure her son didn't get lost and go who knows where. She set up Google maps so that the entire family could keep tabs on one another. And just in case that proved insufficient, after he got on the bus she got in her car and followed him. After a while she felt silly doing that, so she passed the bus and went home.

"I saw your car while I was on the bus," her son told her.

"No, that wasn't me," she said. "Lots of cars look like mine."

"Maybe," he said. "But I checked you on Google maps and you were in that car that looked like yours."

"I'm sorry," she said. "I was nervous."

When the big day arrived, Mom decided to let him go on his own. This time she checked Google maps and her son was exactly where he was supposed to be. She had arranged to pick him up that evening. The manager came out to speak to her.

"He said he was tired and hungry," she said. "Please give him a good meal next time, or we might not need him anymore."

This was no good, Mom thought. She had a long talk with her son.

"Why did you tell the manager you were tired and hungry?" she asked.

"Because I was tired and hungry," he said. "You don't want me to lie, do you?"

She realized that he had never been in a situation before where he couldn't simply say what he wanted. In school, even at worksites, he could always speak to a teacher, and the teacher always understood. Maybe the prep he'd gotten wasn't perfect after all.

"This is different," she told him. "When you are in school, everyone wants to help you. But when you are at work, your bosses are just concerned with getting the work done. Maybe you can talk about how you feel after work. You can sleep if you want. You can eat if you want. But if you're working, you need to do your job."

After a while, he understood.

The next day, he had slept very well. He had a big meal before he went to work.

Mom went to pick him up. The boss had good news.

"He did a great job today. First, he apologized for yesterday, and said it would never happen again. I told him we could have a fresh start and he was very happy. Now I'm very happy too. I think this will work out fine."

Mom is still freaked out, of course. But not as much as before.
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