In the past nine months, since I started my new job, I have met some dynamic and inspiring individuals. Some are living with a disability, some are parents or family members of an individual and some are working in the field, passionate about inclusion of everyone in the community. Typically conversations with new people are difficult for me, I never know what to say, I suck at small talk. With these people though, I am loving the conversations. It's almost like a drug, I get so charged by what they share. I find myself thinking new things, posing new questions to myself, challenging my former ways of thinking or doing. I LOVE it.
One of these individuals will likely never know the impact just a few of words have had on me. It was during a break at a training event and I was saying that the instructor was really opening my eyes to what we would need to do to prepare our son for adulthood. It was daunting but exhilarating at the same time. This woman, let's call her Jane, is a facilitator working with adults and their families to achieve the life they want to live, in part through individualized funding.
We were talking about giving all of our children, no matter what their challenges, the same life experiences. Many times when our children are young, respite dollars and Special Services at Home (SSAH) dollars are dedicated to providing a break for parents and fun for the child or even extra school type tutoring. What doesn't happen often enough is using these dollars for paid staff to support an individual in being a productive member of his family as he/she gets older, such as cutting the lawn or getting a part time job. Jane followed it up later by sharing with me how many individuals, because they have been given some sort of a diagnosis, have never had a job as a teen - paid or volunteer. She stressed how important it is for all of us to have those experiences. "How do you know what you absolutely hate to do if you never had to endure one of those horrible teen jobs?" as she put it. It's true - I had lots of those jobs as a teen - paper delivery, bus girl at a family run diner, later a waitress at a restaurant run by a deviant.
No matter how hard those jobs were, I learnt something from all of them. Not just how to carry multiple plates and make change but how to deal with difficult people, how assert myself and what I do not enjoy doing in life.
This is what prompted me to start making a plan for C to get a job. We thought about being a dog walker because he loves dogs but A is adamantly opposed to getting one. We have a large apartment building filled with retirees across the street but in the end I decided it would be best to wait until he was a little older for this job. Not to mention I was not too eager to have to poop and scoop for other people's dogs, cause we know I would end up doing it most of the time.
I called a weekly supplement paper here in town and was appalled at the wages they pay - 4 cents a paper. No way I could justify the time it would take to put the thing together and then delver. If I wanted him to volunteer we would pick something more worthy than an advertising conglomerate. Finally we settled on Sears catalogues. We know some other families whose kids have this job and they have had no issues. There is no prep to do the job, you can have a route as big or as small as you want and it is not every week. The intent was to have C do the route a couple of times with me and then I would begin having his support workers go with him.
The ideas behind this are three-fold, learn about responsibility, earn some money and connect with the community. Already after three separate deliveries I see people chatting it up with my boy and I marvel at how easy he finds it to make small talk. Older people seem to delight in his little phrases such as "gee, it's a glorious day isn't it?" (it was dark, windy and frigidly cold). This is one of the ways our son will be known and connect with his community which is so important to vulnerable people.
What I didn't stop to think about when I called and signed him up in October was snow. Where we live we don't tend to get a lot of snow, particularly not until after Christmas. We got dumped on last week, the same day that I pulled into my driveway after driving 4 hours round trip to pick up my mother. There in the driveway before me sat stacks of catalogues being quickly covered in snow. I also didn't stop to ask more questions about the catalogues being delivered just before Christmas. Did you know that the Spring & Summer catalogue needed to be delivered by today? Did you know it is about 1.5 inches thick and weighs a ton (okay I exaggerate but the bundles did bend the wheel in our wagon from the sheer weight)? I also didn't stop to realize that our 60 houses would more than double because people had ordered for Christmas which means they automatically get the next catalogue.
I was determined not to give up, we would get this done. But I ended up being THAT mom, the one that drives around in her van while her son leaps out delivering to each house. I, at times, thought it was going to kill me. But you know, last night while C and I drove around in the frigid cold with the heat on high and a flashlight in hand to try to make out house numbers, I realized I was having fun. Life had thrown us a curveball and we were figuring it out together. C's whining actually ceased last night when we got to the last bundle and the end was clearly in sight. We were working on pure adrenaline as we raced to see who could deliver to the house and get back to the van first. He fell into bed last night and was asleep within minutes, a rarity for him. This morning we are still hi-fiving each other over our accomplishment.