Best Day Ever, Part One - Unexpected Pre-Vocational Skills
Before heading to bed last night, A. took a minute to tell me that yesterday was the Best Day Ever. It goes without saying, of course, that Little Miss Drama Queen has a tendency to label every other day the Best Day Ever or Worst Day Ever, but I had to agree with her on yesterday -- it was a pretty amazing day.
This week has been A.'s spring break from school, and her day care was only open Monday and Tuesday of this week. This meant that I've been bringing A. in to work with me, at least for Wednesday and part of Thursday. I think the novelty of Going-To-Work-With-Mommy has worn off a bit, but she still seems to enjoy it -- probably because it isn't school and because she can listen to her music with headphones all day if she wants. For Thursday, I only worked until about 11:30am, and A. drew comic strips based on Angry Birds all over the back of discarded shipping forms. It was pretty fun.
Once a month, my workplace gathers together a small group of volunteers to serve lunch to the homeless at one of the agencies in town that work to assist them. I'd asked if I could bring my daughter with me on this excursion and was told that would be fine, so after we were finished at work, we headed over to the Volunteer Ministry Center to help serve lunch. I did a great deal of prep work with A. -- tried to explain to her what was and was not acceptable as far as things to say and ways to react. I was concerned, because of course A. has a very difficult time understanding appropriate social behavior, and since I was used to this environment, I knew that it would be easy for A. to accidentally comment on someone's manner of speaking, or way of dressing, or mannerisms, and wind up being unintentionally offensive. So, I did my best to coach her for the experience.
When we arrived at the VMC, we had to wait a while, but that didn't really bother A. too much -- she was really excited about being in a big industrial kitchen. She wished she'd brought a chef's hat, and went around investigating everything. Once we started serving, A. was put in charge of the Green Jell-O, and I stood beside her divvying out deviled eggs and keep an eye on how she was doing. And it was absolutely amazing. A. was cheerful, peppy, asking every single person as soon as they walked up if they wanted some delicious jello, *continuing* to ask them until she got a response, and sometimes commenting on their decision with an "All right!" if they agreed to jello and an "Awww, man!" if they declined. After she served the jello, she politely told every person, "Enjoy your lunch!" and would then move on to the next person. She did struggle whenever someone would try to make a joke about green jello or tried to use sarcasm with her, but overall I was simply floored, not only with how well she did, but with how much she seemed to be enjoying herself. The other ladies serving with us said that A. was going to be a good salesperson one day, and mentioned we needed to get her working in our restaurants and upselling to all of our customers. And I found myself for the first time picturing an adult A. in an adult job, or even a teenage A. in a teenage job, working the register and serving customers, or using her incredible memory skills as a waitress, or working as a chef in a big industrial kitchen. For the first time, it all really seemed like it could be possible.
Which is not to suggest that I had no hope before, or didn't think she would be capable of holding down a job or succeeding in a career. I had simply decided to let go of any and all expectations for her future, and simply enjoy her successes and assist her in the present, working on and celebrating all the small goals. Suddenly, however, I could see real, honest, marketable strengths I could assist her with developing and honing for long-term, reachable goals. And yes -- I am sure that other parents may find it odd that I'm just as excited about the prospect of my child working in the food service industry one day as I would be if she decides to become a scientist for NASA, but all of it -- every possible outcome where A. finds happiness, is self-sufficient, and develops life and learning skills -- will be the biggest achievement to celebrate that I can even imagine, and I intend to cheer her on through whatever path she follows.
At any rate, she really enjoyed herself serving lunch for the homeless at the Volunteer Ministry Center, so I intend to research and see if this is something we can do on a regular basis -- perhaps once a month. It gives A. great practice with some much-needed life and learning skills, and it's also helping her understand how to give and volunteer time and effort to those in need -- so, an exercise in compassion, as well. That's something to be said for autism -- the world becomes a giant classroom, and every normal life event becomes a teachable moment! Though, truly, we could probably all stand to learn a lesson from our everyday teachable moments, as well.