If you had told me in January of 2015 that in six years, my son would be applying for a summer job, I’d have been flabbergasted. Every so often I’m reminded of what I consider the “early diagnosis” days. I don’t know what I saw in my son’s future, but I do know that I didn’t think it particularly bright in terms of mobility. My heart broke for him, and my view was a glass half-empty future for my kid. Everything changed that day.
But. Six and one-half years already have passed. My son isn’t an elementary school student; he is heading into his senior year of high school. He’s achieved some benchmark life events unimaginable to me back in those early days: he plays in a competition drumline, he is a member of a calypso steel pan ensemble (and let’s face it, there just aren’t that many kids who can say that), he got his driver’s license, he grew his hair rock star long, and subsequently lopped off those rockin’ locks.
Next in the progression from high school couch potato to productive member of society comes the summer job. As industrious as I am as a real adult person, my parents too shoved me into the abyss of the world of work my senior year. I recall, not proudly, high school summer days that I slept til the early afternoon. It takes a special kind of sloth to sleep through the noon airing of Days of Our Lives, but hey, at least I made it to vertical to catch General Hospital, which aired here at 2:00 PM. I was positively petrified to work. Not OF work, but TO work. The prospect of a job interview and working with people I didn’t know was paralyzing. I now recognize that fear as not-sloth but anxiousness, but I am certain sloth was my parents’ perception.
Recently we met with friends whose son is off to college in fall. Their son is as eager as ours to leap in to the pool of wage-earners, which is to say not much at all, and Sean put it into words perfectly: You don’t need a job because you need money, you need a job so you can learn how to work. THIS. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I have repeated that since dinner that evening. And by the way, who flambés Bananas Foster on a quick “let’s hang out tonight” basis? Jane. Jane does.
At present, the service industry is suffering badly from a diminished workforce. If you’ve ventured back into the post-quarantine world of dining out and shopping, you’ve likely seen “Help Wanted” signs posted in the windows and on doors of retail and bar/restaurant establishments. Our school district sent email upon email with links for kids to explore local job opportunities. We were hopeful our son would become, shall we say, one such explorer?
The boy can procrastinate like it’s his job (yeah, I know. . . sorry about that particular turn of phrase here), but blah, blah, blah, long story short, my kid had a job interview last week. I work with students my son’s age in speech-language therapy. While many high schoolers think having to go to Speech therapy in high school is super lame (read: they ditch unless you take great care to build relationships with them, working on concepts they view relevant and important or meaningful to them), they almost all tune into therapy activities involving language and social skills needed for the world of work. There is so much nuanced language and social communication required for applications and interviews alone, so it’s therapy time well spent.
SLP mama here worked with her boy to practice interview questions and answers. I don’t know why this surprised me, but my kid looked at me like I was magical when he discovered I actually knew what the hell I was talking about! Nevermind that I have interviewed SLP candidates for jobs in our district for almost twenty years now, so I am PRACTICED when it comes to interview behavior on both sides of the table. . . I think it was a window into his mom as an actual person who knows actual things that threw him so. Anyway, I thought he was as ready as he’d be as did my son, and off he went. During the post-interview
interview interrogation with his dad and me, he reported feeling that the interview had gone well.
To my understanding, it is not legal to ask a job candidate if he or she has a disability, but we did tell our son that it might come up indirectly. There are some quite real physical limitations inherent in a muscular dystrophy diagnosis, and it’s also required that one be truthful in a job interview. He thinks so rarely about MD that he says he sometimes forgets he has it. I guess when you don’t know life any other way, you just plow through, right? He’s never known the ease of fluid movement or tremendous strength, so you don’t miss what you never had. Something like that.
His practice answers made me cry. He was forthright and direct: here’s what the disease is and what it means, and suggested possible easy accommodations and strategies. I do not know exactly what he disclosed in the interview, and I’m not going to beat him over the head about it. He did speak about both the interview and MD with his friends in the days leading up, and the very fact that he even mentioned it says how much it had to have been on his mind. Teenagers aren’t known for their top-notch decision-making skills under the best, most comfortable of circumstances–I’m going to hope he said or did what felt right and good and safe for him.
My husband and I walked the dog that evening, chatting about our kid’s big first. The job sounds like a nice fit, and I asked if my husband thought our son would land it. He said that he thought he would if he played the MD card. Ugh. Really?? Who would choose that card if they weren’t dealt it? No one. No one would select degenerative neuromuscular disease over no degenerative neuromuscular disease, and no one would want to “play” it. My kid just wants to shut us up, earn a couple bucks, and dip his toes into the world of what comes next. I’m not even hammering on him to check his email every 10 minutes or so. He is supposed to hear back in the next week or so, once he clears the criminal background check (background check???). My fingers are all kinds of crossed. For the job offer, not the criminal background check thing! As guileless as they come, that one is.
As he gets older, my son has to face and make more and more mature, complex decisions. And more and more I realize that my story to tell is nearing its end. Everything changed that day. For me. Not for him.