You FINALLY get an offer for what promises to be a great job — and you accept! All there’s left to do is pack up, move out, and get settled in a new city. Penalties be damned, you cash in your last IRA to finance the move and a new (but small) wardrobe appropriate for your new job. And on the day you receive that first paycheck, you pop open a bottle of champagne to celebrate!
After so many months (or years!) of unemployment, you can finally breathe a deep, sincere sigh of relief. Oh, happy days!
There wasn’t time to sell your house before you moved — so, now that you’re unpacked and everyone knows your new address, you put your beloved family home on the market. Lord only knows when it will sell — and you’ll have to balance its mortgage with the rent on your new townhouse — but it’s fine; you’re employed! You live in a new city, you’re ready to make new friends, and you’re making a great salary! In fact, you have room in your budget for a new car payment — and you desperately need that new car. You realize you’re pushing the limit on that new salary, but after such a long struggle — after having to say “No” to any and every purchase beyond basic and essential requirements — it’s nice to say “Yes.”
Life is GOOD.
And then — 3 days before payday — you get “the word”, and you get it by text: “We’re closing your division, effective immediately. I’m sorry, but your next paycheck is the last. Please notify your team ASAP.”
When the Shoe Drops
Okay, so maybe this didn’t happen to YOU — but it did happen to ME. Seriously. And as much as I’d enjoy writing and publishing a scathing account that names names, I’ll take the high road and simply say, “Everything happens for a reason.”
Unemployed — Again
My immediate response to the layoff (and to my panic over how to pay the mortgage, the rent, the car payment, and so on) was to immediately hit the job boards. I fell right back into my initial bad habits that included sending out an average of 5 resume’s a day, answering EVERY job notice for which I am qualified. It lead to an early job offer, but from a company that I shouldn’t have applied to in the first place. It was a mistake I knew I couldn’t repeat.
My anxiety continued to grow at a rate nearly as high as my debt-to-income ratio.
In the mean time, I continued in my job as Mom. Thankfully, my assistance program for disadvantaged young adults was now formally closed and I was no longer supporting half-a-dozen kids at a time. But, I also could no longer afford the rent on the townhouse I’d leased for my son directly across the parking lot from my own townhouse. He would have to move back in with me, “for just a few weeks, till I find another job,” I assured him.
“You’re going to be a grandma, Mom. In November.”
And, so, my son AND his pregnant girlfriend (and a lizard, a snake, and some other freaky looking reptile that scares me senseless) all moved in with me.
The timing for a new baby couldn’t have been worse, of course. But, these things happen. Still, I knew the reality of the situation — a reality far different from most realities of this sort.
My son is a high-functioning autistic. This means that he appears “normal” to those who spend short bursts of time with him. It means that he can read and write, albeit at a delayed level. He can drive a car but can’t get from Point A to Point B until he first learns the route — a process that includes me driving my car as he follows behind in his car until he is comfortable and confident that he won’t get lost. Autism for him means that he cannot understand most abstract concepts, but he is intelligent. It means that he has behavioral issues that require super-human patience and understanding from those who are a part of his world, behavior issues that are beyond his control and therefore unavoidable. (“Unconditional love” takes on an entirely new meaning for parents of special-needs kids.)
It means that my son sees the world differently than most of us.
My son is also physically disabled. He has a rare, debilitating neuromuscular disease that requires him to wear leg braces in order to walk. Eventually, (and, sadly, sooner than later), he will be wheelchair-bound. And, it is a disease that causes a great deal of pain.
In spite of these and other challenges, my son is a charming character with many hobbies, goals, and dreams. His many friends will tell you all about his unyielding loyalty, his exceptional sense of humor, and a wit as sharp as a ginsu blade.
And, apparently, the ladies find him irresistible.
From his perspective, his impending fatherhood marks another milestone in the expected and natural course of things, albeit earlier than planned. From my perspective, it marks a dramatic detour that takes us so far off course, we’re not even in the same race anymore. He and his young girlfriend are excited; I am scared, worried, and anxious. And, I’m feeling my age — too old to be responsible for a newborn again, yet too young to be “Grandma.” Still, it is what it is — and I will love the baby no less than my own children.
Overcoming obstacles has become our expertise. There have been so many, and — as of yet — there’s no end in sight to them.
In spite of his challenges and the countless obstacles he’s had to overcome, my son is determined. His determination is unparalleled. He can’t fathom the concept of giving up. He can’t swallow the idea of quitting. He would never concede defeat.
My son loves superheros. It’s a love affair that began in his early childhood and has never waned. He’s a walking encyclopedia when it comes to superhero trivia. Yet, he has no idea (because he can’t understand the concept) that he is, himself, a real life superhero.
As I plugged away at the keyboard each day, sending out those damn resume’s, my son began (completely of his own accord) to “dumpster dive”. In a span of just 3 days, he found — and sold — nearly $500 worth of “recycled merchandise”. He then went through his drawers and closet, boxes and bookshelves, and found enough salvage to bring in another $650.
In short, he saved us that first month after my layoff. My superhero.
As the weeks turned to months, as his girlfriend’s baby-bump turned into a full fledge buddha-belly, his determination expanded as well. He set out to find a “real job.” In spite of my doubt about his ability to succeed with the task, I helped him fill in applications for entry-level jobs that (honestly) I didn’t think he’d be able to get — but, I wasn’t going to stop him from trying.
A few days ago, the caller ID on my cell phone displayed a number that I didn’t recognize. Bill collector, I suspected, so I ignored it at first. But when the same number popped up on the screen just a few minutes later, I decided perhaps I better answer.
“Is Mr. Watts available?”
Mr. Watts? I’ve been divorced nearly 8 years, I thought. Why is someone calling for my ex-husband? And then it hit me: My SON is Mr. Watts.
I handed him the phone. Shamelessly, I listened intently in order to eavesdrop. I watched and listened, nearly in awe, as my son spoke so eloquently, so maturely, without a hint of his typical slang …. And then I heard the caller say, “We’d like you to start work tomorrow, if you can.”
My son got a job. A real job. And not once did he visit an online job board, submit a resume’, or doubt that it would happen.
The New Job
I was enormously proud and happy, but I worried, of course. My son would be on his feet for an 8-hour shift — a shift that didn’t begin until 3:00 p.m. I couldn’t recall him ever spending even an hour on his feet, much less 8 hours straight! But, without a complaint in the world, he strapped on his leg braces and faced his new job (and all of the “normal” people there) with the courage of a front line soldier.
At midnight, he came home, gimping and limping, clearly wracked with pain. But the look of pride on his face melted my heart. In spite of the pain and what was obviously extreme fatigue, he was eager to tell his girlfriend and me all about his first shift at work.
Keeping in mind that autistics seldom have a filter and almost always speak at a level of honesty most people can’t imagine, my son said, “It’s hard work but I’m doing what I have to do as a man to take care of this family. We’ll be okay now.”
It was his honest perspective. He believed it, fully — as fully as one can believe anything.
Raining, Pouring … Flooding
The next day, my son was injured. Seriously injured.
It was early in the day, and he hadn’t yet put on his leg braces. His legs were weak and tired from the 8-hour shift the night before, causing him to lose his balance and trip over some cords on the floor. He fell. Hard.
The x-ray showed a fractured knee, and the ER physician suspected that a major ligament was also ruptured. His knee was as swollen as a football by the time they placed it in a soft cast, gave us a prescription for morphine, and told us to follow-up with an orthopaedic surgeon on Monday.
That Unyielding Determination
As my son lie writhing in pain, unable to walk, facing months of recovery, and realizing that continued employment at his new job was now out of the question, he called his girlfriend and me in for a family meeting.
There was a lot to talk about. What would we do now? I still had no real prospects, and I certainly didn’t have the income we needed to make ends meet the coming month. We’d learned that we’d be welcoming a baby girl to the family, but we’d yet to begin buying items for a nursery — or a residence into which those things would be used. There were details to work out regarding how to best care for my son’s knee injury and his inability to walk. My lease about to expire, jobs to be had, bills to pay, medical concerns to face, a pregnancy: Yes … there was much to discuss.
But, the meeting was short. Very short. There was much to say and discuss and worry over, yet my son managed to say it all with one simple sentence:
“Well, guys, I guess it’s time for Plan C. “
We all face hard times. Adversity is unavoidable. For some of us, the challenges and obstacles happen far too often. Others are luckier in life, somehow, and seem to only rarely find themselves knocked off of their center.
In the current economic climate, many of you face challenges that are foreign to you. Never before have you struggled as you now struggle. Lacking much experience with adversity, it may be much harder for you, then, to handle. It may be seemingly impossible for you to see beyond the crisis, to find your balance in the midst of the storm.
It is for this reason that I’ve shared this personal story with you, with the hope that at least some of my son’s strength can somehow pass along to you — as he so often passes it along to me.
Once again, my “disabled” son taught me yet another life-lesson — something he’s been doing since he was 2.
No matter how bad it gets …
No matter how many times Adversity knocks you on your arse …
There’s always “Plan C”
… or D,
… or E,
… or F . . . .
~Lynda C. Watts
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