ARE WE THERE YET? (or The Art of Employment)

My character Alice has a son with Aspergers Syndrome which makes leaving him a dreaded choice to make. I didn't pluck the syndrome from my imagination. It's a cruel cosmic roll of the dice that puts families on different paths than they planned. Today's blog is a showcase for memoirist, Lyn Ujlaky. You can read more at www.aspergersgirlfliessolo.com

lynn

Who among us hasn’t heard those exact words coming from the backseat when tooling our kids around? And who hasn’t responded with something as mindless as, “Almost.”  

The barely audible whisper from behind follows. “Do you think she’s crossing her fingers and toes?”

Or maybe you wanted to avoid the question altogether. “I’ll let you know when we get there.”

“Duh, we’re not blind!” You hit a chord.

If you were in a placating mood, you tried some cajoling. “Why don’t you see how many out-of-state license plates you can count? It will make the time go by.”

“Seriously!” They’re not buying.

It was going to be a long ride.

After twenty-five years of playing the Are We There Yet game as parent and chief pilot, I’m now the one relegated to the back. No longer the sole navigator of my daughter’s world, the lack of definitive answers is choking the breath right out of me.

What’s the destination? A job. I want to know when Cait will finally arrive at the employment entrance, where she’s ready for work, especially now that she’s an adult. I’m looking for job status, not the occasional volunteer gig she gravitates to, but the real deal that comes with a punch card and direct deposit. I used to think college was the answer. I was wrong. So I find myself still asking, no matter the direction, “Are we there?” And to quote the famous Hillel the Elder, “If not now, when?”

Since Cait turned 16 – that’s nearing a decade ago – I’ve been priming this pump. I looked into every available volunteer offering I thought would peak her interest and build her resume. Though it’s true Cait had some volunteer successes, her failures overshadowed them. And maybe, just maybe, I was reading the map too close to see the big picture. I avoided the “little” jobs: bagger at the register, dishwasher at a local restaurant, stock boy (or girl.) Was I worried about heaving lifting? No, instead I was convinced if she started there, she’d end there, and the thought terrified me.

While she was still in high school, a local wildlife rehabilitation center offered a summer volunteer position feeding baby birds. We attended their orientation together. I was worried that Cait’s attention issues would surface, but she made it through with lots of oohs and ahs after each slide detailing how to hold and feed the fledglings. There was a strict schedule as these birds were dependent on continuous feedings. Cait was required to be there twice a week, and if she was going to be absent, she needed to find a sub on the list of feeders. I gave up a chunk of my summer vacation and availed myself to transporting Cait.  The shifts were four hours in close quarters.  So close, that Cait couldn’t resist peeking around corners as rescuers performed surgery on raptors, or wandering into caged areas with off-limit signs. When redirected, she got mouthy. The day the young director called to tell me Cait wasn’t working out, I thanked her, hung up and cried, angry that a youthful staff didn’t get my daughter. I struggled telling an unsuspecting Cait who didn’t think anything she had done was enough of an offense to warrant dismissal. I secretly agreed with her, and swore off anything to do with the center, even several years later when her vocational counselor wanted to approach them again.

I tried to build up Cait’s social skills with endless group sessions based on Michelle Winner’s Social Thinking program led by an area speech and language pathologist. Cait could recite back every strategy. She could talk the talk, but when she walked, she stumbled. Somehow the “hidden” social rules that most of the population explicitly got didn’t sink in. Now I was in the backseat asking How long does it take to prime this pump?