Right-now Jobs

A friend called me last night to ask me how I like my new job. I thought for a moment about the best way to describe it to her. Finally, I said “You know your worst nightmare about having kids?” She’s childless by choice. “Yeess,” she said slowly. “OK,” I said. “Now multiply that by a roomful of 10 or 12 toddler brains in the bodies of full grown adults, who aren’t ever going to get any older mentally.” I gave that a moment to sink in. “Now, consider that some of these people have so little going on that they just sit there and stare at you, never saying a coherent word. Some of them, on the other hand, will babble nonstop, only what they’re babbling isn’t coherent either. But they’re demanding your attention and you have to respond. Some of them have ideas about what they want to be doing, which isn’t what they are supposed to be doing, according to the powers that be, which you have to reflect. So you’ve got a battle of wills going on to prevent them from acting out on their impulses, which don’t seem to be affected by being told a gazillion times that the particular activity they wish to engage in is off limits, no longer available to them, or my favorite, inappropriate.” I could hear my friend take a deep breath and slowly exhale. “Then you’ve got the ones that want to hold your hand all the time, sit in your lap if you’ll let them, and get upset when they discover you have boundaries.” I paused, and sighed. “You know how I am,” I reminded her. “I can only take social activities of any kind in limited doses.” I’m the one at the cocktail party on the fringe of the circle, sipping my drink and listening to what everyone else is saying, slipping off in my mind every few minutes to someplace else I’d rather be. “At this job,” I told her, “I have to be socially engaged every single minute, I can’t even retreat into myself to escape. All my energy is directed outward toward the constant care of these people.”

As I was talking, I was thinking about women who get pregnant in their 40’s with Downs Syndrome babies and choose to give birth to them. I was wondering if they have any idea what they’re in for. These people I’m caring for are in my custody for 8 hours a day. How could I manage to care for even one of them 24 hours a day, for years on end? It isn’t about a lack of compassion or understanding, it’s about having the energy it takes to try and relate to someone who will never, no matter what you do or how much love and attention you give him, be able to care for himself in even the most basic of ways. It’s about being surrogate mother to a dozen little kids when it’s all I can do to be a mother to my own teenager.

“I’m just not cut out for this kind of work,” I said. If it was my own child, my parent, even my spouse who could no longer care for himself, I’d find the strength and the will because of the heart connection. But I’m not altruistic enough to want to earn a living this way.

“So what are you gonna do?” my friend asked.
“For now, I’ll go to work, do the best I can, and save every penny possible. It’s not a forever job. It’s a right now job.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “I’ve had a few of those.”

We talked a few minutes more and hung up. All I could think about was crashing, I was so exhausted from my day. As I fell asleep I thought about what it must be like to see the world through a three year old’s eyes your whole life. It probably isn’t so bad for them. The ones it’s so hard on are the ones who love them most, their parents usually, who know they can’t always care for them, and who wish in vain their children could grow up to experience some sort of choice in life. Yet they never will. All their choices, large and small, all their lives, will be made for them. Many of them won’t even realize it could be any other way. For the rest of us, our successes and our failures – however affected by others, by luck, by circumstances – belong to us, if only because at some point, we were able to make a choice about something.

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