This lovely September Saturday was a day of triumph at our house: Duncan earned his first "real" paycheck today. It is the first money he has earned on his own, at a real job, and not just doing odd jobs for family or friends. He got the chance to work at the Weber State football game today, helping out with the sound for the TV broadcast. It was just a one day job, but it will give him a little money until his real job starts, hopefully next week. It was also a great confidence booster for him, being given a job to do, and doing it by himself. And I learned something important today too: sometimes, Duncan is not limited so much by his disability as he is by my anxiety about his disability.
See, if it had been up to me, Duncan would not have gone to work at the football game today. Dan's friend called yesterday to tell him that he had an opening for one of our boys to work with him, and in my head, I was thinking, Will. It should be Will. I wasn't even going to let Duncan know about it. I automatically assumed that Duncan would not be able to follow through or pay attention throughout the whole game. I thought that he should wait for a chance to work at a game where Dan was able to be there with him, or where both he and Will could work together, so there would be somebody there to keep an eye on him. Make sure he was paying attention. Make sure he didn't wander off. Protect him from the mean guys.
As it turned out, Dan just blurted out to both boys that he had the chance for one of them to work at the game. Will had a ton of homework to get done, and, being that he is determined to get good grades this year, wasn't too interested. Duncan, upon hearing that the job paid $100 for an afternoon of holding a microphone, jumped at the chance. And I cringed inside. He is going to fail, I thought. He is going to get mad during the game and walk out. He is not going to know which direction to point the mike. He is going to be bored, hungry and thirsty. He is going to have to go the bathroom and not be able to find it. And on and on and on went my doubts. In my defense, I was only trying to protect my sweet boy from hurt or disappointment. I never doubted that he could actually perform the job, I only doubted his social skills in dealing with everything else that goes along with performing a task with a bunch of other people, especially when nobody else there knew him.
I don't know if Duncan picked up on my worries, but what happened next was that Duncan started doubting himself. He said he wasn't sure he could do it. He was worried about what would happen if he did something wrong, or if he dropped the microphone. And I heard myself saying things to him like, "it's just a football game... the world won't end if you make a mistake" and "everybody is worried about doing new things they have never done before" and "if you goof up, you won't be the first person to goof up" and "you can do it, just go have fun, and at the end of the day you will be $100 richer." And somewhere along the way, in the process of convincing him that he could do this, I also convinced myself.
Sometimes I try so hard to protect him from the hard stuff. He is just so darn guileless, and so kind, I don't want anybody to ever hurt him. I worry all the time that people will be so busy seeing his weaknesses that they won't see how his strengths are so much greater. I worry that they won't give him a chance to show them what a great person he is. And like all moms, I want his life to be wonderful all the time. But the truth is, autism is not a free ticket to a stress free life. He is going to have to learn by failing sometimes. He is going to have to face his fears and overcome them by jumping in over his head, just like we all do. He is going to have to learn to put up with jerks. And I have to learn how to let him do all that. I have fought his battles, and advocated for him his whole life, and now I have to learn to keep my mouth shut and let him try new things. I intend on being his advocate for the rest of my life, but I realized tonight that if I ever want him to actually make that much discussed "transition to adulthood", I have to let him start fighting some of his own battles.
So, off he went. I dropped him off at the production truck (okay, I admit, I did go with him to make sure he found the guy in charge), drove home, and worried only slightly for the rest of the day. I didn't hear a thing from him all afternoon, and I figured no news was good news. At the end of the game, he called me and I headed out to pick him up. He was waiting in our designated meeting spot, and climbed in the car, characteristically quiet. I asked him how it went. He said, "It was fine, but I only did it for the money, you know. And they played Zelda music at halftime."
Welcome to the world of work, my boy. We all only do what we do mostly for the money. If they play your favorite music at half time, then you don't have much to complain about.