There’s a lot of talk, always, here and in other communities about who works and who won’t.
In these “conversations,” run mostly on Facebook — where people type the words their lips might hesitate to form — there’s very little room for “those who can’t.”
You’ve read as much. The threads go from concerned to full-on rants for “people too lazy to work.”
I get it. My grandparents, who raised me, had no higher god than employment. The job, the career, was everything. When I got my first paying job at age 11, I was lauded. When I walked into the bank with that first check for $31, I was hooked. Job = money = freedom.
This is exactly what Strong-Hearted Girl thinks, as well. Exactly.
We’ll rewind here. My daughter is 24 and was born learning-disabled because her birth mom ingested substances — some prescribed by doctors — that made holes in fetal brain tissue. That damage created behavioral issues so severe my child had to go into institutional care at age 10.
If you’re counting, that was 14 years and three months ago, come Saturday.
It’s called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, which we just call FASD at our house. Along with some other names.
FASD is a permanent birth defect and it is completely preventable. The changes brought about in the developing brain result in serious learning problems to behaviors, from childish to full-on rages to a perception of the world that’s impossible to decode or set straight.
All the issues making it impossible for my girl to live at home have made her entire life hard. Going to school regularly was highly difficult, having true friends impossible. Staying structured on her own is torture. Getting a job? Forget it.
Still, people tell her “get a job” when she expresses boredom or complains she can’t afford this or that. Sometimes that’s been me.
Not that there weren’t attempts. Nothing ended well, however, because brain damage is a significant jerk. Strong-Hearted Girl struggled to understand expectations, to not explode in frustration or dissolve into a deep pool of anxiety.
Not by choice; this disability leaves little choice.
In the past many months, however, one person (and this person’s team; in the disability universe no one is an island) has stood fast in the tornado that comes with serving Strong-Hearted Girl. That would be Irene.
Irene is a job developer for an agency where Strong-Hearted Girl lives. That agency, which uses tax dollars (get all the screams out now) helps people live real lives. Whenever possible, that includes employment.
People like Irene do a lot. In this case, she got my girl out into the community to learn about lots of different jobs. She helped with resumes. Irene ran between case managers, potential employers and my kiddo. For months and months, while also managing a small city of paperwork.
There has been a lot, overall, in constant danger of teetering over with a whiff of refusal from Strong-Hearted Girl.
That very nearly came at go time last week.
Irene landed my daughter a job shadow experience at TJMaxx, the sibling to Ross and Marshalls off-price retail stores. Much to her shock, Strong-Hearted Girl ate up her days there with a spoon. Loved it.
Working with others in constructive ways made her feel like she belonged, my girl told me. It turns out TJMaxx has a “social responsibility” arm that includes funding autism and cancer research. And hiring folks who live with disabilities.
This was really good news to my daughter.
“People don’t understand all the ropes you have to go through to try and work,” Strong-Hearted Girl pointed out.
“It’s not as easy as that. More so because of the social things that are really hard.”
Have I told you my child has a fabulous command of language? It’s just one of the ways her FASD stays hidden.
“A lot of the times I just shut down because it is just really overwhelming,” she added.
That’s definitely where we were last week, when I got a message that there was a job interview in the offing. But Strong-Hearted Girl was balking and threatening a melt down in an inferno of self-doubt. And cursing anyone who dared to think differently.
I left work, got to my house and contacted my child, computer to computer. And, bless her, she answered me.
Strong-Hearted Girl is good about that, even when I have ticked her off. When she stays silent on her end, she still listens. I can’t say how much I admire this. Imagine being brain damaged, something’s gone wrong yet again, and your mom is calling you, yet again. This daughter takes that call and on some days, that’s just brave.
But she wasn’t happy to hear from me now. She knew I meant business, that I was taking time from work to try and get her ready for the next day’s interview.
Our effort started out about as sour as possible. I wanted to role play and do mock interviews back and forth. I sent YouTubes about interviewing for the first time. She wanted to stop everything.
“Mom, this isn’t going to work, it’s too hard,” my girl pouted. “There’s no point in trying, I just can’t do it.”
I pulled, she pulled back. I pushed, she moved over.
Then the magic happened.
Somehow, from a deep well of distrust of anything being forced upon her, Strong-Hearted Girl found the strength to flip the switch. It was a massive shift that required superhuman effort and she did it. A new face looked back at me.
As advised in a YouTube video, we checked out TJMaxx’s website, learning about all the things the company does that isn’t selling clothes and home stuff.
Then, 300-plus miles apart, we watched online interview tutorials, pointing out to each other what went wrong and what went right. We played boss and job-seeker, back and forth. We predicted questions and answers, over and over.
After that, we went shopping for interview clothes via video. Strong-Hearted Girl and a staff were in Walmart across the state and I was here, but we found shoes, shirts and pants in record time. When I insisted on trying something on, my kid’s natural rebellion at this was tamped down.
She made herself consider shoes she thought she hated, or that they wouldn’t fit.
She listened and acquiesced, a towering victory for someone who has basically trademarked opposition as her default response.
By the time we finished I was exhausted. Strong-Hearted Girl was, too, from being several levels of tremendous.
The next day that girl nailed it. Flat out ran the laps with ease, Irene said in a jubilant call the pair made to me on their way back home.
My amazing girl had squelched the fear she has to be perfect in every answer and denied the awkwardness she feels in social situations, long enough to matter.
She hated the thought of letting me down, my child told me this week.
“You were doing everything you could.”
And God bless Irene, who’s never stopped trying.
My daughter begins her own job mid-month. She’ll unbox new inventory, put away returns, for four hours a day.
Some of her new co-workers are deaf; some are like her, born with invisible but debilitating issues.
The promise of being employed is filling Strong-Hearted Girl with helium at the moment.
“I still feel so free and so happy to earn the money to get things I need,” she said this week.
There are never any guarantees in the land where my daughter lives.
We can’t know how long this job will last, if old roadblocks will rear up and stop her again. We can only hope that all successes eventually layer atop each other to build a road to tomorrow.
You see it, right? Strong-Hearted Girl wants to work. She knows what adulting looks like and even with new things to learn (taking the bus, for example), she wants that.
So we’re going to tip our hats to TJMaxx. We acknowledge that without tax dollars that pay for all the Irenes, Strong-Hearted Girl could just be another subject of some Facebook whine — “Why doesn’t she get a job? She looks perfectly capable.”
Not every disability announces itself, remember. Not everyone has an Irene. Or even a crabby mom who keeps watch.
Not everyone is a Strong-Hearted Girl.